Old-fashioned lunch on tap at Hedlestens'

Wednesday, October 21, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Normally, I don't throw tomahawks on a full stomach. But I made an exception for Joy and Jerry Hedlesten.

When you meet people like the Hedlestens, you tend to make lots of exceptions. They know how to step back and appreciate life's essential ingredients -- keeping close to your family, working hard, having fun.

And, as I found during this week's "Lunch with Cliff," they're only too willing to share what they've learned. Even while tossing tomahawks at a target in their back yard.

I had an inkling this lunch was going to be a tad different when I pulled into the driveway of Jerry and Joy's house in Madeira. They greeted me looking like a well-dressed trapper and his wife.

Jerry was decked out with moccasins and a straw hat. Rows of leather fringe ran down the legs of his cotton pants. His belt held a leather pouch on one hip and a holstered tomahawk on the other.

A bonnet shielded Joy's face from the sun. An apron protected her dress from dirt. Jerry's shirt and Joy's long dress were cut from the same bolt of deep blue cloth.

"Let us tell you about our rendezvous," Joy said as we walked onto their back deck.

Joy and Jerry had just returned from living in a tent for 10 days on a 100-acre clearing in a Pennsylvania state park. They camped with 4,000 other history buffs re-creating life as it was in the years before 1840, when trappers could go West and get rich by dealing in beaver pelts.

The trappers would come out of the woods in the spring and fall. They'd gather to sell their furs and stock up on supplies at a central location called a "rendezvous."

"There was no running water at our gathering," Joy said. "We had to use chamber pots. Lanterns lit the tents. We cooked over campfires."

While Joy spoke, the sharp scent of smoldering wood filled the Hedlestens' back yard. Jerry stuck a ladle in an iron kettle and stirred a batch of beef stew as it simmered over a slow-burning campfire.

Lunch was served at a table on the back deck decorated with peppers, a buffalo skull and the seat from a John Deere tractor. "We both come from farm families," Jerry noted.

"We were high school sweethearts," Joy added.

"We've been married 42 years," Jerry said, giving his wife's hand a squeeze. "We raised two beautiful girls and have five grandchildren."

Over plates of stew and squares of hot corn bread, Joy told me about going to the rendezvous "for the fellowship. At night, we sat by our campfires and shared concerns about life. Like a great cheering section, it helped us think positive thoughts."

Far from Pennsylvania, Joy and Jerry act as their own cheerleaders at lunch. Joy can tell when work has Jerry feeling down. She boosts his spirits by reminding him about the fun things on their calendar -- dinner with high school friends, a grandchild's soccer game. "

Joy will drop everything she's doing to help someone," Jerry noted. "She helps our girls by washing windows and baby-sitting as well as making Halloween costumes."

Jerry and Joy run the family business from their home. Along with his brother, Jerry owns and maintains small shopping centers and apartments throughout Cincinnati. Joy makes "phone calls, checks on leases and schedules appointments." Jerry's mother is the firm's bookkeeper.

"Family is like this to me," Jerry said, holding up his hand and keeping his fingers as close together as possible. "Nothing can come between it. Everything good comes from it."

When lunch was over, we moved to a wooden target in the back yard. Jerry handed me his tomahawk, and I took aim. On the last of five throws, the blade finally sank into the target.

You would have thought I hit a bull's-eye on every throw. Jerry and Joy were laughing and cheering. They gave out hugs and pats on the back.

No need to rough it in Pennsylvania. I found happiness at the Hedlestens' backyard rendezvous.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.