‘Dan + Sis’ forever

The waters of Mill Creek roar past Lanterman’s Mill under canyon walls that hold the names of some of the Valley’s past — amazingly carved into the sandstone walls — some nearing 150 years old.

Dan Marshall would have liked his carving to go on the walls as well. But he didn’t think his pocket knife was strong enough for the job.

But his love was strong enough for June.

He instead settled for a nearby tree to mark that love.

“Dan + Sis” he carved, wrapped inside a heart. That was 1962.

Go there today, and you can find it still if you know where to look.

Little did Dan know that Huck Finn-like demonstration of his love that day to June, who has gone by “Sis” her whole life, would link them for life and beyond.

It also would carry on to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Some people make their way past their old schools, childhood homes or whatever.

Dan and Sis are a Mill Creek couple, and that tree has been their beacon.

“Danny fished this spot as a boy. He made the heart right across from where he always fished. He knew the park inside out and upside down,” Sis said.

She, too, has Mill Creek in her blood — really.

A great-grandfather on her mom’s side of the family is Samuel Kimberly, brother-in-law to German Lanterman. The two men built what is now the existing Lanterman’s Mill in 1846.

Sis likes that family connection. But she likes her tree better.

We walked the wooden platforms last week to find Sis and Dan’s tree.

“This all used to be rough path like behind us. Then they put this walkway in.”

She turns back to count the platforms again. She started looking for the tree at the 15th platform. She needed to be at the 16th. At No. 16, her eyes work the gorge wall like a Secret Service agent scanning a crowd.

There. Buried behind the sprawling growth, 12 feet off the platform and a couple of feet up the gorge wall stands the tree about 30 feet tall.

And it takes our conversation back 52 years ...

“I loved the old mill. We were walking by here again one day. Danny said, ‘Sis, I’d like to make you a heart in one of these trees. But people say it kills the tree.’”

Believing that, she said to just pick a little one.

They had met the previous November and married the next July. The carving, she remembers, was made in the weeks before they were married.

“He was nervous he would get caught doing it. So he made me watch the path for anyone coming.”

They blossomed into a common Youngstown life: Four kids would come — Danny, Debra, John and Tony. Dan had a great career at GM, and they made the best of life.

“We started with nothing. We didn’t end up rich. But our kids got through college. They’ve all been married just once, like Danny and I. We must have done something right, even though babies don’t come with handbooks,” said Sis, laughing.

Sadly, the tree outlasted their union. Dan died 11 years ago — a young man just shy of 62. This July 16 would have marked 52 years of marriage.

“I had a great husband. We never had any problems. We’d bicker over small daily things once in a while — silly stuff. But I would marry him all over again the same way — if I could.”

That bond extended to Sis’ parents.

“My mom died in 1982, and my dad [Mike] would never have done well on his own,” said Sis.

There was loyal Danny again.

“He said, ‘Mike — you’re gonna come live with us.’ And that’s where he spent his last seven years. My dad always said, ‘You’re the son I never had.’”

No families are perfect. And their marriage had a cost.

To Dan’s mom, Sis was not right for him. She made that claim the first time they met.

“I wasn’t from money; I was Italian; I was not Catholic. I left her house in tears,” Sis said. And they never had a relationship afterward. But Dan followed his heart.

Until he died, he and Sis made it to the tree up to five times per year, she said. Nowadays, she gets there just every couple of years.

But she gets updates on it from the kids, grandkids, and now great-grandkids, who are regulars to it.

“That was a way of showing his love to the world,” said oldest son, also Dan, of Boardman. “Back then, there was no social media. That was a way to get the message out. It was the ‘young love’ thing to do.”

Dan laughs that, as a teen, he would take his girlfriends past his parents’ tree.

“And one of those girlfriends became my wife,” he said of wife Cari.

(Cari gets credit as the one who told me of this Mill Creek love story. I went to Vindy social media looking for a Poland Forest tree-carved love story and learned of this gem instead.)

“It’s something — as you’re younger — you don’t appreciate. When you’re older, you are more aware,” said Dan. “It’s a message of love that outlived the person who put it there.”

A final editor’s note: No trees were harmed in the making of this love story. The subject tree lived more than 50 years. The current study of tree carvings, officially called arborglyphs, involve trees in America’s West that have lived more than 200 years with carvings. The carvings have shown historians how people lived, loved and grew in early America. This one in Mill Creek does, too.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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