As if my trip to the US wasn’t miraculous enough, I could hardly believe it when even more unexpected pleasures came my way.
After that fascinating meeting with Ohio’s finest, I was given a tour of the state crime lab at BCI. I hadn’t expected it to look like a set for CSI and it didn’t. What was interesting, particularly for me as a mystery writer, was how passionate the people at BCI are about their work. From the forensic document examiners to the DNA lab technicians, everyone I met has a kind of enthusiasm that doesn’t bode well for anyone planning on a life of crime in Ohio. It was research that I hadn’t planned on doing but it fit perfectly with one aspect of my novel and I was able to get a lot of questions answered by the expects, saving me many hours of trawling through the internet.
Another thing I hadn’t planned on was a trip to Holmes county, OH, but my deputy sheriff friend had it on his agenda and it seemed rude not comply, especially since he’d gone out of his way to make this visit as productive as possible for me. Holmes county, as I understand it, is almost entirely Amish. (And I hadn’t known there were any Amish communities outside of Pennsylvania!)
I spent a very enlightening morning learning about this community while browsing the many shops and buying a whole lot of beautifully crafted goods, which cost me excess on my luggage on the way home, but what the heck. Interesting fact: The Amish don’t believe in ‘self-adornment’ or decorating their homes but they seem to make a good living selling the most exquisitely hand-crafted home decor items.
The owner of the buggy, pictured here, was intrigued to learn that I’d come ‘all the way from Africa’ and wanted to know if I spoke German. I don’t, but I explained that I do speak Afrikaans, a local language of Dutch origin. He wanted to hear it so I rattled off a few sentences and he was delighted, saying that he could hear the Dutch in it and it made him think of his grandfather who had come from Holland. He also added that meeting me had made his day. I could honestly return the compliment. There is something very special about Amish people and I’m glad they have the freedom to practice the lifestyle they chose. They make good apple pie, too.
Among the many experiences I had during that short visit to Ohio was that, not only did I get to attend a graduation party, I got to watch a real-deal American Memorial Day parade. Earlier that morning, I’d been invited to attend a Memorial Day service, held outside the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department. It was a touching tribute to those who had died in the line of duty and I appreciated the opportunity to be there.
But the parade that came later was lots of fun. It’s sort of like a waving fest. People in the parade, who are not marching, or looking terribly serious, wave at the people on the sidewalks who all wave back. A lot of flag-waving takes place too. A kind lady from the Wooster Emblem Club gave me a flag and, when she discovered that I was a visitor, gave me another one. (I cahn’t imagine whot gave me awaii.) Those flags now have a permanent place on my study wall.
Perhaps the most ‘miraculous’ of all the experiences of my Ohio visit was the trip to Lake Erie. Erie features heavily in my story, specifically, being out on it in a sailboat during a bad storm. I needed to speak with people who know this stretch of water and what sailing on it entails. My deputy sheriff friend had tried to arrange something with a friend of his who has a boat, but that friend was away on vacation. Nevertheless, on the day before my return to South Africa, we made the 1 hour drive to Cleveland and found a marina.
Of course, the security guy wouldn’t let us in. No, sir! He didn’t care if my friend was law enforcement (wrong county) or that I was a visitor from South Africa… or the moon for that matter. Members only. That was that. We were standing there, wondering what to do, when a middle-aged man stepped forward. He’d been listening to our discussions with the security guy. “So you just want to have a look around, eh? Wanna see my boat?” Did we? Oh, yeah. He signed us in and off we went to look at his boat. It was a 36’ sailboat, a little smaller than the one featured in my story but he sure kept it in good nick. “Wanna go for a sail?”
Man! This just kept getting better and better. In no time at all we were out on the lake. I couldn’t have wished for a more knowledgeable sailor. Dave, he’d introduced himself at the gate, has been a sailor for many decades and sailed all of the great lakes, though Erie is his favorite. He was able to give me every last bit of info I needed – prevailing winds, direction of high and low pressure systems, wave patterns, water temperatures at various times of the year, storm conditions, rescue procedures and a whole lot more. The man is a walking encyclopedia of Great Lakes sailing and another example of that fantastic Ohioan generosity. Although there was hardly a cloud in the sky that day, I got a very good picture of what it would be like to be caught out on Lake Erie in a storm. It’s seriously bad. I hope that my writing of that scene has done justice to it.
Now tell me, please, what are the odds of all of this happening? It’s as if the waters were parted for me, obstacles brushed aside, everything I needed just laid out in front of me. Happenstance just doesn’t cover it. See what I mean about the ‘m’ word?
The next day it was time to pack up and get ready to go to the airport. Lots of hugs and thanks and yes, some tears (mine). I said goodbye to all the very special people at the Salvation Army. Some of the women in the shelter even gave me little gifts, which touched me to the depths of my soul and which I shall keep forever. I had lunch with my deputy sheriff friend and his wonderful family before getting into that unmarked Crown Vic for the last time and heading back to Cleveland.
My flight, on Continental Airlines, left promptly at 8PM. As the plane gained altitude I had a last look at the Cuyahoga river, the one that caught fire, before we turned and headed east over Lake Erie. The plane kept a course along the lake and I watched the shoreline until it finally ended and the land was slowly cloaked in darkness. My heart filled with gratitude to the many people who turned a simple research expedition into smorgasbord of rich experiences that will fill much more than one book.
The novel is finished, but until now, the story behind the story had not been told. Thank you for letting me share it with you.