“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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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
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.
MIKE LUNSFORD: On this day above all, ‘Peace on earth, good will to men’
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.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The wonders of wading in ‘The Iridescence of a Shallow Stream’
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.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A library is a good thing — even a little, homegrown one
I grew up with libraries, and I can’t imagine there ever being a time when I won’t want to wander one exploring it like some bookworm-Balboa, finding an author or title that I never really knew existed before. Creating those “Eureka” moments seems to be a dying interest now that so many of us download and digest books electronically without ever really considering that there just might be some hidden gem we’d have liked even more had we simply stumbled upon it on a shelf by accident. I think those moments of discovery are not unlike kicking up lost treasure a mile from where X marks the spot.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The ‘soothsayer’ who came to dinner
I’ve had a good time opening my mail these past few weeks. Sure, I still received the usual junk about lower credit card rates and satellite television packages, but the genuine letters made me smile; most were about a story I wrote in late August.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The agony of de‘feet’ has this writer on his heels
I don’t know if I can electrocute myself by using a computer and soaking my feet in a pan of warm water at the same time, but I am contemplating taking the risk. My feet, particularly the right foot, have staged a 10-digit rebellion over the past few months. After a half-century of commendable service, my pods are screaming to be taken in for repairs, a big inconvenience for a guy who works on his feet all day and whose “sole” form of serious exercise is putting one foot in front of another walking the local roadways.
Mike Lunsford: Summer’s hidden beauty worth the wait
The great naturalist John Burroughs once said that nature teaches more than she preaches. I can’t recall a summer where that rings true more than this one, for that old sun of ours truly taught us a thing or two these past three months.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It’s time to redefine the concept of ‘assisted living’
Although it has been nearly two months now, I can’t forget the few afternoon hours I spent on a hot June day this summer at a local “assisted living” facility in town. I had been asked to speak to a group of men there about Father’s Day, but for most part, the wonderful old guys who came to listen certainly made my day more memorable than I did theirs.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Observations on smooth stones and blue-green water…
It was raining when I began to write this. Although no one could rightfully call what we got this afternoon a “downpour,” it was nice to have my windows open to hear the steady drops of a passing shower tapping on my dry-as-dust deck and hard-as-concrete yard.
MIKE LUNSFORD: This summer has us recalling the heat of ’36
It was “only” 99 degrees one afternoon last week when I decided to work on a backyard deck. With a jack and a drill and a little more sweat than I wanted to invest in the project, I went about the business of leveling its sags and dips a bit. The sun pounded down on my head and shoulders like a thug’s blackjack, but as I packed my tools and drank a glass of cool water under a big maple tree a few hours later, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I’ve been these past few dusty and drought-stricken weeks. I have worked under this summer’s heat lamp for only a few hours at a time, but God help the roofers and utility linesmen and firemen, and so many others, who are out in it day after long hot day.
MIKE LUNSFORD: We had no better friend than Andy Taylor
The world is a sadder place now that Andy Griffith has died, but at least we still have Andy Taylor.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Wading deeper into the subject of Blue Herons
Like a relative who has worn out his welcome, the hot, parched weather of this young summer has already overstayed its visit with us, so my wife and I have found ourselves walking our road later in the evenings to keep our feet cool and our backs dry.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Thanking two dads whose gifts have never stopped coming…
It is nearly a week until Father’s Day, but I have had my dad, and my father-in-law — a second dad to me — on my mind today. I wrote about both men just a few weeks ago, but I have set my mind to write about them again anyway. I don’t want this story to be sad; they both loved to laugh and wouldn’t want that. No, I just wanted to tell them hello, and to thank them again for what they still do for me.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Raising a flag for my father, veteran or not
My daughter, Ellen, and I stood at my parents’ graves on Mother’s Day a few weeks back and talked about how it couldn’t possibly have been so long since we lost them. My dad, for instance, has been gone for 16 years, and that is nearly unimaginable
MIKE LUNSFORD: Time to become one of the boys of summer again …
Besides writing for a living, I teach school, and I’m not ashamed to tell people that I still love my classroom. I’ve been a teacher for 33 years, all of them in the same school district, and virtually all of them in the same building. But I also have to tell you that if the next few weeks don’t slide by pretty quickly, I may just let loose of the last thread of sanity from which I have been dangling for a while now. There are a lot of teachers out there who feel the same way.
MIKE LUNSFORD: It’s time for us to get the real lowdown on dirt…
I have had my hands in the soil as of late. Two Fridays ago, I planted a viburnum bush, three chrysanthemums and a yellow poplar, not because it happened to be Earth Day, but because it was sunny and warm, and I had the whole afternoon to myself. The dirt I scraped out of and back into the shallow holes I dug near a backyard picket fence smelled good, and when dampened with a few sprinkles of water, it soon found its way into the deep wrinkles of my knuckles and under my fingernails. For the most part, I have nothing but good things to say about dirt.
MIKE LUNSFORD: Make big money: Raise worms at home for fun and profit…
When I think about all of the crazy things my brother and sister and I did just to make a few dollars when we were kids, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for teens this summer as they try to find jobs in what is supposed to be a very tight market. Money, to say the least, was a rare commodity when we were growing up, but you have to at least give us credit for trying.
MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d…’
Had white lace curtains been hanging in the west window of my cabin, I would have had a perfect Wyeth painting to watch last Thursday. A gentle breeze was wafting through my screens, and the sunlight of a warm late March day was fractured by the window sill as it poured onto my legs and feet. I could catch the scent of lilacs as it was carried in by that wind, and it and the subtle melody of the chimes that hang just outside made me as lazy as an old cat.
MIKE LUNSFORD: A report from the country as a new season brings sense of renewal
Regardless of what the calendar may yet say, spring has happened. It couldn’t have come too soon, and it wasn’t just last week and its windy 70s that have convinced me. I have been keeping a journal of sorts in my head for a fortnight now, stashing away reports of birds and buds and sounds in the crammed cabinets of my mind, all in a file marked, “The New Season.”
MIKE LUNSFORD: Feeding time at the homestead draws a host of new guests
I stepped outside into the warmth of an unusually mild early March morning last week to do what I always do just before I grab my briefcase and book bag and lunch bag and head off to work. It’s nearly always dark when I leave, even as the sun gets up earlier and earlier in the late winter, so I often go about the business of feeding our cats with porch lights on and a flashlight in hand.
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- A walk in the woods