Last week I made a journey back in time. While doing research for a new book, it became necessary to visit my home town. Although I drive through the place of my birth quite often, I've never actually stopped in any of my old stomping grounds. But last Friday I did just that and am so very glad I did.
The John Munhall Neighborhood House was our town's community center where everybody gathered to learn, laugh, and love. It was a place where everybody knew each other by name and most likely was related to in some way. As a kid, I learned to tap dance, make fudge, do somersaults, master the game of chess, and a gazillion other things. It was there that I made my first real friends and had the first crush of my life. My mom learned to sew there, my dad made us a kitchen set and cornices for the house there, my uncle Paul was the woodshop instructor there. It was from there that many families left for a week they'd spend together at summer camp.
Today the JMNH is an antiquated building that shows its age and no longer opens its doors to children. I parked in what was once the playground area and began snapping photos of all the familiar outdoor areas.
As I was about to leave, a woman approached me with a smile and an extended hand. She said she was the owner and wanted to know if she could assist me in any way.
After telling Lee Ann Sommerfeld that I was born and raised in Munhall, and that I had spent all of my childhood in the building she now owned, and was writing a book using the area as a backdrop for my story, she invited me in to have a look around.
Upon entering the huge wooden doors, I suddenly became six-years-old again. I could see and hear the faces of people that were so instrumental in my growth and development. Once inside, I began telling Lee Ann about every room in her facility, what it was used for, and what changes had been made since I last walked out of those same wooden doors. Lee Ann was already aware of some of its history, but was amazed at what I'd told her that she hadn't heard before.
Lee Ann Sommerfeld is the chief, cook, and bottle-washer of the Stay Tuned Distillery. Yes, I said distillery.
She and Eric make whiskey and gin. How appropriate I thought, being a place where families gathered to learn, laugh, and love, to a place where beverages are made for families who gather to learn, laugh, and love.
What struck me most was how committed Lee Ann is to keeping the JMNH structure as close to what it was in its hayday than changing it to something totally different. Even though she is too young to have enjoyed the experiences I had there, she seems to understand the importance this old relic had in the lives of our community and believes it deserves to be refurbished rather than reinvented.
As I prepared to take my leave, Lee Ann invited me to visit again if for no other reason than to say hi. Walking back to my car, I felt my heart both heavy and exhilirated at the same time. Heavy because I missed those happy days with folks that are no longer with me, and exhilirated because I got a chance to relive those happy days and meet a person who embraces the mission to keep the JMNH alive.
Yes, you CAN go back! And take good advice from one who did, not only CAN you go back, but you definitely SHOULD!
For further info.on the Stay Tuned Distillery, contact Lee Ann at: firstname.lastname@example.org and staytunedstills.com