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Settling Down In Ohio After A Youth Spent Hitchhiking

Katie Henry and her father, Steve Henry.
Katie Henry and her father, Steve Henry.

Steve Henry was finishing out the 9th grade when his family decided to move from sunny California back to Ohio. Despite the move, he wasn’t going to let over 2,000 miles keep him from his friends out west.

For StoryCorps COLUMBUS, Steve sat down with his daughter Katie to talk about his adventures on the road and what made him stay in Columbus.

After three years living in California, Steve's parents broke the news that they would be moving back to Columbus. Steve had just completed 9th grade and was not happy about having to leave his friends and start all over.

"I remember crying and my dad geting mad," Steve said. "It felt like every time I was developing friendships, we would move."

His family moved in 1974, but he didn't feel particularly welcome in Ohio. On his first day of class at Upper Arlington High School, Steve rode his bike the wrong way down a one-way street and ended up getting a ticket. He also found it hard being the new kid in a tight-knit community where families had lived for generations.

Determined to get back to California, Steve worked evening at a Lawsons convenience store and saved his money. He told his mother what he was planning.

"When summer came, I told her, I'm going to hitchhike back to California. There's nothing you can do to stop me. I'm going to go," Steve said.

Though his mother was not happy about it, she eventually gave her blessing with one caveat: Steve would have to bring along his younger brother David, who was 15 at the time.

So that summer, their father dropped them off by I-70 and their hitchhiking journey began. They even had a note from their mom stating that they had her permission.

"I can not believe they just dropped you off and let you go," Katie said.

"And I think we had two t shirts, two pairs of pants and a canvas backpack and a sleeping bag each. That's all we had with us, honestly," Steve said. "We'd carry bologna sandwichs. We'd buy bologna and some bread and that's what we would eat. We'd sleep under highway bridges and we'd sleep in fields off the side of the road and not we didn't have a tent or anything. We just crashed wherever we crashed."

Steve said he continued hitchhiking across the country every summer over the next several years.

Photo of Steve Henry hitchhiking and holding a cardboard sign with his destination.
Credit Courtesy of Steve Henry
Photo of Steve Henry hitchhiking and holding a cardboard sign with his destination.

Given her father's free spirit, Katie wondered what made him settle down in Ohio. "When did you know that you wanted to marry mom?" she asked.

Even though they had been dating for a couple years, getting married was not part of Steve's plan.

"I left her to go hitchhiking and was planning on not coming back," Steve said. "But I couldn't do it because I missed her." They were married in 1983.

Katie says it's hard to reconcile the parents she grew up with and the "hippies" they seemed to be in their youth. She asked Steve about that change.

"You know, the Grateful Dead kind of maintained that ethos a little bit, but they could because they had money, they could play their music," Steve said. "And the rest of us grew up and had kids and had to have jobs."

"So your life probably didn't end up how you thought it would," Katie said. "But are you happy with how it's ended up?"

"Yeah, because for me, the most significant thing in my life is my kids and my wife," Steve said.

Steve and Katie Henry were recorded in the StoryCorps booth during its recent trip to Columbus.

To hear more stories from your neighbors, be sure to subscribe to the StoryCorps COLUMBUS podcast on AppleSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Michael De Bonis develops and produces digital content including podcasts, videos, and news stories. He is also the editor of WOSU's award-winning Curious Cbus project. He moved to Columbus in 2012 to work as the producer of All Sides with Ann Fisher, the live news talk show on 89.7 NPR News.