MIDDLETOWN — Thank you Preble County.
I became a part of your cornfields and covered bridges in 1966 when our family sought refuge from the big city. In 1984, after I officially entered adulthood and moved out of Preble County, your cornfields and covered bridges became a part of me. For that, I am ever grateful. So, dear Preble County: On the occasion of the month of your founding and the fiftieth anniversary of our relationship, I’d like to say thank you and acknowledge a few other gifts you gave me.
Thank you for providing me with stable ground. You are not only fertile soil for corn and beans, but you are good soil for developing personal roots. You provided good ground to help me develop and live out my faith. You helped me hone a firm handshake and gave me a county full of people who caused me to say, “I want to be like that.”
You instilled in me the honor of a good day’s work. In my high school summer jobs I baled your hay, baled your straw, and baled more of your hay. In my college summer job of land surveying I set some of your boundaries, staked out some of your new roads, plotted some of your old roads, and uncovered a few of your original cornerstones.
In my trips back, I’ve spied your one-room school houses still standing in your midst, once beacons of learning in a designated section of a township, now buildings in the background serving as homes and sheds. And yet, they are still monuments to the roots of learning and, for me, homages to the dedicated teachers you gave me. The steeples of your towns that jut into the air are like the stakes that hold the tarp down in the wind, offering shelter and stability in the storms, providing collection points for the faithful and the seeker.
You taught me the thrill of victory and the lessons of losing. I played under your Friday night lights. Being a mighty Twin Valley South Panther, I had the privilege of playing in your rivalries: the natural rivalry of Twin Valley North vs. Twin Valley South and the storied rivalry simply known as “the Eaton-South game.” The one trophy that has survived multiple moves and trophy de-hoarding is a trophy with the label, “All Preble County.” It is still on display.
Thank you for instilling in me an appreciation for familiarity. I had the privilege of hearing restaurant counter servers greet me with, “The usual?” and store clerks and bank tellers ask about my parents. To this day, deep into adult life, I love it when people say, “So you’re Miles’ and Bonnie’s boy.” Yes. Yes I am.
Working briefly for this paper, I enjoyed scribing an ever-so-small sliver of your history, covering your sports, your village councils, and your school boards. I witnessed your rugged entrepreneurship through the lens of a camera at your ribbon cuttings. I marveled at your quiet accomplishments through editing your obituaries. The fellow scribes I worked with and for at The Register-Herald made me a better person and a better writer, reigning me in when necessary, particularly with my proclivitation to make up words.
I have eaten your pork chops…oh, have I eaten your pork chops (five is my personal Pork Festival best, achieved many times), and I have been a Preble County pork ambassador all over the world.
You showed me, and taught me kindness, a kindness that I strive to pay forward. I was tractor-pulled out of a snowy ditch by one of your farmers, helped by your sheriffs, and had many a lunch spontaneously paid for. Your 4-H taught me how to train and care for my collie, opening up whole new ways to love on a dog who loved me every way a dog could love.
I have taken your resilience into the crucibles of life, particularly the loss of my wife Dana. I am now even more endeared to the good soil of Preble County in that she is buried in one of your cemeteries.
Years before Dana passed away and long before she was sick, and having only lived near Preble County but never in it, she had asked to be buried in your good ground.
I’m old enough to be a grandpa (a young grandpa, I will add), but I’m just now getting started on a family of my own. Watching so many of you forge through impossible situations helped give me fortitude to put one foot in front of the other in moving through my own loss, enabling me to stay open to the possibilities of new love, which I have been privileged to find. Graciously and mercifully, I’m actually enjoying a bumper crop of love which includes my wife Jessica, our son Reade, and our daughter Rachel.
Your land provides many spots where one can view both the sunrise and the sunset without moving a step, a fitting analogy for the many who were born and buried in Preble County. And this, I think, of all the traits of this great county is what sets it above the other 3,000-plus counties in our nation. Your commitment to stability and loyalty, to plowing and harvesting, to covered bridges and covered dishes, to steeples and silos, to fields of beans and fields of dreams, to supporting and helping — this is what gives Preble County its Preble County-ness. For those whose calling takes us away from the county, this is what we take with us. This is the tie that binds.
And as the old hymn says, the hymn our organist played at the close of every service in the Preble County church where I grew up, ‘Blest be the tie that binds.’ And that, I think, is a fitting prayer and wish with which to close.