“I cannot forget where it is that I come from,
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be.”
— John Mellencamp’s
It was about a month ago that I just happened to be standing in my driveway working on a balky lawnmower when a long, white delivery truck pulled into my place. The driver had brought a pair of catalogue-order pants to me all the way from Maine, so the least I could do was put the work I had in my hands down so I could sign his clipboard and send him onto his next doorstep.
Since he was “our” deliveryman, after all, I asked him how his day was going.
For some reason or another, he began to talk about Rosedale, the little town that’s situated a mile or so south of my home. He said it seemed, to him anyway, as though the town was empty; he’d seen no one out and about as he’d cruised through.
It was a blistering hot afternoon despite the shade of my maples, so I knew he’d seen Main Street as deserted as a scene from “High Noon.” If folks in town weren’t at work, they’d be inside, off the streets, in their own air conditioning. Even the town’s dogs had probably tucked themselves under a bush somewhere in an attempt to stay cool.
He said his own hometown was going through similar changes — I think he mentioned a burg over in Clay County — and it was sad for him to see small towns like his dry up and face such tough times.
He was on the clock, of course, and I wasn’t, so I tried not to bend his ear too long, but he said that when he was a boy, his town buzzed with activity, that there were several grocery stores and a movie house and a barber shop. People were always on the streets. Many of them came into town from outlying farms and whistlestops. Friday nights and Saturday mornings were particularly busy there.
I knew exactly what he meant. I used to ride my bike into Rosedale years and years ago, most often with a dime or quarter to spend. On occasion, I’d stop in at the big lumberyard. My dad worked there for a while with Frank McCord; I remembered that because his showroom was air-conditioned. You could buy everything from 2-by-4s to cabinets to a new television from Frank.
I almost always went to Morgan’s Variety, too. I’ve written about that place before; it had a little bit of everything there. My grandmother was particularly interested in Helen Morgan’s notions — her cloth and thread and buttons — and if Helen didn’t have it, Magdalene’s next door did.
It seemed to me that walking through Magdalene’s big, black screen door was a little like stepping a century back into time. The place had an incredibly high ceiling adorned with oily, whispering fans, and the old woman who ran the place still used the creaky, wheeled ladder that ran on a track around the store to retrieve items that only my grandmother could have wanted to see. I think the ancient proprietor still wore button-up shoes and long dark dresses, and she always seemed to be standing behind her glass-topped display cases stoically waiting for customers who were still interested in bloomers or brilliantine.
In those days I could get my hair trimmed on Main Street, although my mom was my primary barber at home; she got hair-cutting instructions with the box when she bought our clippers. I could also stop in at Hickman’s IGA. I thought even then that it was interesting that both Wilbur Hickman and Jess Morgan — two wonderfully kind men — could be selling groceries in the same little town, but both businesses made it, and I know both men were friends. As a matter of fact, I remember being told at one store to go to the other to find something it didn’t have.
There was a DX gas station and a bank and a regular dime store, too — Tilford’s, I think — and right next to the always-full beauty parlor was a pharmacy. I’m not sure when Max Williams brought the latter store to town, but until he closed up shop a few years back to retire, my family bought all our medicine there. Max was handy with dosages, both medicinal and political, and I enjoyed his company.
Rosedale had a creaking old relic of an elevator, too. It was a marvel of engineering. My uncle owned his own semi and regularly hauled grain there, and I often went with him just so I could explore its dusty nooks and crannies and passages. Dee Cottrell’s funeral parlor wasn’t too far away — it’s still there as Cottrell-Gooch — and less than a block south of it was Hookey’s Garage. You could buy a new Chevy there in the town’s heyday; there were at least two other garages in town, too.
Garrigus’ Insurance Agency was on Main, and there were at least three cafés in town for a while. I may be straining my memory a bit too far, but I think Rosedale had its own telephone company before Ma Bell came to town.
I’d like to think that this latest story of mine has a point, and it’s this: We’re losing something pretty precious in this country. Much, but thankfully not all, of small town America is fading into oblivion. I like and use supercenters and shopping malls as much as the next all-American consumer, but what’s it going to hurt by more of us going into the small town down the road to buy a quart of oil or a cup of coffee?
Not too many years ago, Steve and Carol Rukes owned a nice little hardware store in Rosedale. Being the new owner of an old house, I frequented his place often. I can still remember calling Steve — on more than one occasion — to ask if he’d open up past closing time to sell a little copper tubing or plastic fitting to me. He always said yes, even at suppertime. One of the last things I bought from Steve was my water heater, but I know he couldn’t sell enough of them, or anything else, to stay open, and that’s a shame. I’ve missed that store and will continue to every time I need a screen patched or a pound of nails.
In just the past few months, we’ve seen our diner close and our grocery store go up for sale, and we’re going to miss them, too. I sure hope our gas station and our insurance company and our farm supply store and our bank, and a handful of other businesses left in town, continue to make it.
Now, I think I’ll run into town; we need a gallon of milk.
Mike Lunsford can be reached at email@example.com, or through regular mail c/o the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. His book, “The Off Season: The Newspaper Stories of Mike Lunsford,” is scheduled to be released in late September.
We’ve seen a diner close, our grocery store go up for sal
“I cannot forget where it is that I come from,
- Mike Lunsford
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’
If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.
Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?
I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘I’m going simply because I’ve got to … ’
Late in the year 1944, the great Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mentally and physically exhausted from his months reporting from the battlefields of Europe, came home for the last time. He was scrawny and gray.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife
My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy
It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.
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It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.
Mike Lunsford: The golden rods of September
The sunflowers that are framed in my cabin’s eastside window are soon to become things of the past, for no matter how much I water and weed, the time has come for them to go.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …
I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night
We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Searching for Beulah Jane
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Mike Lunsford column is the second in a two-part story on his search to solve a family mystery. Part 1 was published in Monday’s Tribune-Star. Both are available at www.tribstar.com.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The girl who wasn’t my grandmother
EDITOR’S NOTE: We travel this week with Mike Lunsford on a journey across miles and memories, as he seeks answers to a long-ago family mystery. Today’s column is the first of a two-part story. Part II will run Tuesday.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Once more to the lake…’
We are heading home today after spending a few days on Lake Michigan, and I am a bit sad for the leaving. We have made it a habit to come here every year, dragging weary bones and beach towels and enough breakfast food to last us a week. And, as expected, when I turn my back on the cool blueness of the lake for the last time this afternoon, I’ll know that another year has gone by, and there’s no getting it back.
Poets at heart, writer, wife walk paths that Frost walked
A few summers ago, my family traveled to New England to see what we could see. Along the way, we dipped our toes into Walden Pond, holy waters to those who have read Henry David Thoreau. My wife and I returned to the region last month to seek shrines that poets at heart revere: the Vermont homes where Robert Frost wrote magical words.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Mice really do play when the cat’s away
I am rarely away from my place much in the summer. I like the quiet here and don’t yearn to be gone for very long at a time. To me, a vacation often means that I don’t have to start my car for days on end, or put on socks, for that matter. But this year has been different; my wife and I took a two-week driving trip through New England, the longest vacation we’ve ever had without our kids along for the ride. We had a great time, but when we got back, we were surprised to learn that all kinds of things had been going on in our absence.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A New England journal begins …
BAR HARBOR, MAINE — I am beginning this story before I can possibly know how it ends. The view from my window isthat of a green Maine countryside on a Thursday morning, so I felt compelled to get started, knowing a deadline looms. It is difficult work, not because I have so few ideas from which to draw, but because I have so many. …
MIKE LUNSFORD: We’ve created a honey of a problem
The Dutch clover is making its appearance in my yard this week. A cooler-than-usual spring has slowed its arrival by a few days, but it is here for now, bringing the honeybees and bumblebees with it.
A walk in the woods
I went for a walk in the woods one day last week after work. It was a warm and green afternoon, and a fresh blue breeze blew in from the west like a new spring friend.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Dowsers’ provide hope more than science
My grandfather was a man of God. Many times I saw him, his right hand held high in the air at his Wednesday night “prayer meeting,” praising the Lord before weeping at the altar on his knees. And yet, he was a “dowser,” a “diviner,” a “witcher” who, as a favor, would grab a forked sassafras stick and find water for some poor unfortunate whose well had gone dry.
MIKE LUNSFORD: As of today, it’s unofficially spring
Despite the calendar telling us not to rush things, I think it is all right to go ahead and say spring is here. The Ides of March has passed, Easter is coming soon, and I have already been out in my yard with a rake, getting my boots muddy. It looks like spring to me.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Twain’s Sawyer helps us yearn for ‘wilderness of childhood’
My cousin, Roger, stopped in one day last summer for a glass of tea and a little conversation. Rog has lived an hour’s drive away for years and now, and besides summer reunions, I don’t see him nearly often enough. He’s a good man who has raised a good family, and he owns a healthy sense of appreciation for not only the life he has now, but also the lives we had years ago as kids.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Cheerful green of wheat fights winter blahs
There is a light drizzle of freezing rain tapping at the door of my cabin today. It is little more than a week before the words I am writing are due to appear on your breakfast table or work desk with your morning coffee and scrambled eggs. But I write when I can, and today, despite a full schedule of televised football games, and the stacks of ungraded papers in my briefcase, and a good book lying open on my nightstand, I am clacking away on a keyboard to the whir of a heater and the steady drip of my gutters.
MIKE LUNSFORD: On the simple joys of watching it snow ...
It began to snow about 20 minutes ago, as I write this, light, wind-driven flakes that fall silently into my woods as I watch from a window.
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More than a year after his wife’s death, the great American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote in his diary on Christmas Day.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Remembering a Lefty Frizzell-kind of Christmas ...
My brother and sister and I sat around a Thanksgiving dinner table a month ago, shifting in our seats just enough to make our yet-to-be digested turkey sit a little more easily, and, as we often do when we get together, we reminisced about our childhoods for a while.
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I have no idea how many times I have written a story that begins with the wistful phrase, “When I was a boy. ...”
MIKE LUNSFORD: Little man who came to dinner changes feel of household
My 7-year-old nephew, Carson, came to visit us last week. That in itself isn’t earth-shattering news, for he often drops by with one of his parents or the other, the last time dressed as a ghoul for Halloween. But for a couple like Joanie and me, whose youngest child is now nearly two decades past Carson’s age, having a little guy like him in the house, even for a few hours, takes a bit of adjusting.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Reflections: a bit of red glass and our daily thanksgivings
I sat in the half-light of my old desk lamp a few nights ago, a chilly wind blowing in from the northwest that made me appreciative of my long-sleeved shirt and purring heater.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Growing up — and ‘old’ — with many mouths to feed
At our family reunion last summer, I asked my brother if I could borrow a pair of photo albums he had put together. Over the past couple of years, I have committed quite a few of our family’s old yellowing snapshots to newly cropped and digitalized lives, and I wanted to do the same with some of the pictures John has collected for himself.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Violets in October – a pleasant surprise
I guess I don’t pay much attention to the weather forecasts these days because it surprised me a bit when our furnace kicked on a few nights ago.
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