Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ben Hayes’ One Hundredth Birthday, April 1, 2012

The sound of his Underwood: keys punched, the bell, carriage return. The smell of rubber cement, as articles and pictures were affixed to his scrapbook pages. The riot of Al Getchell drawings, odd photos and New Yorker cartoons above his desk.

His offbeat humor and creative energy spilling over into my child’s world: the “Ranch House,” an out-building at the Blacklick farmhouse that he fitted with newspaper negatives for wallpaper, a collection of kooky hats (his trademark at the time), a child-sized drum set and a big picture of a red-fruit-encased woman that said, “Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries.”

He rigged up a swing on the catalpa tree, painted it turquoise and then hot pink (it matched the front porch both times). In the fall he made me a house of cornstalks. .

He grew incredible sweet corn, asparagus, strawberries, gourds and beans. We had a lot of company in the summertime to help us eat it. He grew a splash of flowers; hollyhocks were my favorite, as I made them into doll skirts. We loved Queen Anne’s lace.

He taught me the names of flowers, both wild and domestic, birds, trees and fish. We hiked to the woods to visit the dwarf’s house in a hollow tree. I really believed. He read me books in various voices with dramatic intonations.

He was just at home in downtown Columbus. I spent coutless hours in restaurants (I befriended bartenders, waiters and waitresses, naming my dolls after the latter), theaters, openings and press parties. We had free passes to everything.

I accompanied him to museums, art galleries, graveyards, historic sites, visiting old-timers and celebrities. I spent a lot of time on local early television. The lights were bright and I had to squint as I was instructed to “look at the red light and wave.” My biggest thrill was meeting Roy Rogers.

Columbus was a fairyland to me, full of parks, flowers, fountains, the Ohio State Fair, fun rides, old mansions, a re-blooming German Village, hearty dinners, fancy buffets, beautiful people and characters of all ages. They wanted to talk to my father and he listened to them, folded copy paper and ball-point pen in hand.

He rarely got to eat his dinner in a restaurant without interruption. He never made it down a city block without being recognized and given a news tidbit or two.

After I went to college and for twenty-four years thereafter, he wrote me a letter a week, filling me in on a Columbus that was changing rapidly. On my trips home we had an exchange; I fixed his favorite foods, like cornbread and potato salad and he told me stories about Noble County and Columbus.

We had our favorite topics; Chautauqua, revival meetings, medicine shows, riverboat theater, characters from his hometown, Columbus characters, art, dreams (we both dreamed in color with many scenes per night).

He would yell out words when there was a lull, often the punch-line of a recent story or “Habiba!” (the name of a belly dancer at Benny Klein’s), “Excelsior! (from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem of the same name) or “Are you all right, Roy?” (once Dale Evans had said this while hitting her cowboy husband with her Stetson hat).

And now it is time to celebrated Ben Hayes’ One Hundredth Birthday, April 1, 2012. He left us in 1989, but we remember him and honor him by digging into Columbus history. Happy birthday, Dad. You are still loved!

Christine Hayes

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