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Dirk Bauman

If you cotton to the idea that there is much to be learned about a town from the type and manner of its eateries, then you will understand when I say that The Willow restaurant is the storybook of Celina, Ohio. Within its rustic red brick confines one is instantly transported into a picturesque fairy-tale of an America some believe long lost. From the Regulator style wall clock hanging above the counter, down to the red and white checked tablecloths adorning the polished wooden tables, The Willow is a step back in time. The peach pie here is good and most likely made from peaches picked just down the road at the Milford Place. This small homey restaurant is the heart of the rural community of Celina. It is where the individuals who inhabit the land come together to perform the rituals that define a community. Each table tells a story about the people of Celina and the town in which they dwell. It is these stories, each as fresh as the coffee served that draw me again and again to The Willow.

The center tables are reserved (by unwritten rule) for the matriarchal hierarchy of Celina. It is at these tables where ancient gray hens come to roost above steaming hot cups of coffee and sugar cream pie to hold court upon the social goings-on of church and community. It is here where the rightness and wrongness of a thing is decided and whether or not a newcomer to town will be welcomed or shunned. Oftentimes the face of a young woman fresh to the ways of Celina will blanch when walking into The Willow for the first time and finding court in session. An offer to “Pull up a chair, dear, and sit a spell” is the equivalent of the Holy Mother’s blessing and may signal the beginning of a good new life here in the country. Church seems to be the center of the world at these tables. It is here where committees form for the planning of youth dances and menus are put together for the gathering of Deacons. If a young lady aspires to climb higher in the pecking order of this town these sessions are not to be missed. These tables are the core around which the rest of the townsfolk come to gather.

Surrounding the foundation of women at their center the men-folk sit (those involved in the performance of an honest days work) occupying the window seats of honor and theirs are the stories of labor. Dressed in working jeans, tee shirts, and battered old John Deere hats they sit quietly talking over the building of things and the cantankerous workings of machinery. Over burgers and ice cold Coca-Colas there is much talk about this year’s drought. There hasn’t been a lot of rain this summer and with the lake being down three feet or more there hasn’t been much available work from the tourists. The luxury boats were long ago stored on their trailers and hauled away. Already hopes are turning to next year and better times. Meanwhile there are trucks to fix and roofs to repair before the coming of winter. Over slices of peach pie and cups of coffee talk turns to Bulldog football and their chances in the new season.

Bulldog high-school football is a never-ending source of story in The Willow and the backbone of pride in Celina. Should one take a walk through the neighborhoods of town they would be quickly struck by the almost Christmas like displays celebrating fan support. If a visitor to town wished to acquaint themselves with any of the team members they could easily do so by walking up to any house sporting the “Home of a Bulldog Player” sign and petition for an interview. If you don’t hear Bulldog football being talked about in The Willow there is surely something wrong, and whatever that something might be you had best perk up your ears and take heed because it would surely be of a calamitous nature.

It is to the Willow restaurant I go to hear the stories of Celina, at least, whenever my hectic schedule allows me the time to visit. Whenever the rigors of retail sales become too much to bear and I am in need of something a bit slower paced, it is to this town and to this small eatery that I turn. As I relax over my slice of peach pie and coffee, l istening to the daily tales of The Willow unfold around me, I am embraced by the warmth of this close-knit community. Whatever it is that I could wish to learn about the coming and goings of this small town I will hear of it here first. The stories of The Willow are peace and serenity to me. They are the tales of a good people. It is through these stories that I first came to learn about this small town, and have since come to love the community nestled within its boundaries. The community of Celina has taught me an important lesson. It is the land, and it is the interaction of the people who work and inhabit the land, that make a place a home. Celina, Ohio is a good place to call home.