Friday, August 15, 2014

Goodbye Hastings...

Early this month, after a nearly 3 decade exile, I moved back South.  More about my new home later.  This is my reflection of my last walk through Hastings, taken on August 4, 2014.  I had lived in Hastings for a little over ten years 

The Old Presbyterian Church, now a community center.
This photo was taken in late April.
The air is notably cooler following the earlier thunderstorm.  There is no wind and the humidity is high and the air heavy.  I walk down Green Street toward town.  In the past decade, I've walked down this street a thousand times.  I've covered this mile in the snow, in the fog, at night, in the sun and occasionally (by accident or lack of foresight) in the rain.  This will be my last walk, least as a resident of this town. Next time, I'll be a visitor.  Wednesday morning, I'll be on the road with my dog, heading south. 

 Tomorrow is the primary election in Michigan and signs clutter many yards.  Most are for Hoot or Jerry, who are squaring off for a slot as a county commissioner.  On a personal level, I like them both.  A few people weigh in for Justin Amash, our current congressman who has managed to piss-off everyone in politics, especially his fellow Republicans.  Brian Ellis is running against him and is being supported by the establishment that once seated Gerald Ford in the House of Representatives.  As I won't be a resident in November, I've decided to sit out the primary election.  I'd feel bad voting for someone right before driving out-to-town for the final time.  Mixed in with the campaign signs are a few "no fracking" and a handful of real estate signs.  There are fewer of the latter than they were four or five years ago when the economy was really bad.  Fracking, a method of harvesting natural gas, is still a hot topic.

I've crossed Cass, Benton, and Young Streets, which I've been told were named for our town fathers.  I know many of the people on this street.  I pass Don's house.  He's a hard worker, often holding down a couple of part-time jobs in addition to his primary work at Flexfab.  Currently, he is preparing for another sale of collected antiques.  At Market, where Steve, a retired dentist lives, Green Street turns almost 35 degrees to the right and heads into town due east.  The homes here are older; some sport a detached garage with a hayloft above that remains as a reminder of a by-gone era.  In one older home, made into apartments, Sue lives with her daughter.  She'd escaped an abusive relationship in Tennessee and moved back to her home in Hastings and is now in college.  The other apartment is empty, but the woman who used to live here had a boxer that always barked when I walked by with my dog. 

Catty-cornered across the intersection with Washington is the Goodyear house, named from an early merchant family in town.  Most all houses in Hastings are known by their former tenants!  This home has a large porch with a flat roof.  When my daughter was young and they still had teenagers at home, they were a special stop on Halloween.  These kids (and a few adults) would set up as a rock band on the roof of the porch and pantomime to music blasting out of speakers, acting as if they were KISS or Motley Crew.   Halloween was always a big night on Green Street as hundreds of kids roamed around and everyone decorating their yards and handing out tons of candy.  One Halloween, a kid ahead of me darted across the street in front of a car.  Luckily, the driver was going slow and watching carefully and screeched to a stop as did my heart.  In the last few years, the police closed off the street, creating a safer environment for kids wandering around in the dark extorting candy.

A ways down on the north side of the street is Amy and Brian's.  She's a judge and he retired early and now runs a window cleaning business.  Then there's Lori's home with her Nantucket sign on a front porch, perhaps as a reminder of her hopes and dreams of where she'd like to be.  Back on the south side of the street in one of the many beautifully restored homes resides Dave, my pharmacist.  When I walk downtown early in the morning, I often see him walking into town to Bosley's Pharmacy.  As I approach the light at Broadway, I see that the huge house on the rise to the south has a new labyrinth, laid out in stone in the yard beside the project house in which the owners have been working on for the past ten years.  When I moved to town, the place was falling down and looked haunted or at least like a movie set for an episode of the Adam's Family.  Although it still isn't fully restored, they've done a remarkable amount of work on it.

As I wait for the light to change, before crossing Green Street and heading north on Broadway, I scope out the landscape on last time.  The next block to the south is Central School.  My daughter started attending there at the middle of her kindergarten year.  We could have sent her to the newer school, as many parents did, but were charmed with the old school (the main building was built in the 1930s).  Her kindergarten class had a fireplace and an in-floor goldfish pond.  That was pretty neat and overall the school was a good experience for her. She had wonderful teachers and a very caring principal.  Although John has retired as principal, hes still a good friend, and I will be ever in debt to Jean, her first grade teacher.   I'm going to miss those class field trips!   When I worked in town, I would walk up Broadway to school and my daughter would come running out into my arms to be picked up and swung around.  We'd walk back to my office, often hand-in-hand, where she'd hang around until it was time to head home. 

 I turn south on Broadway, walking in front of Girrbach's, one of two funeral homes in the town.  I'd been there many times to say goodbye to those no longer with us and to comfort friends.   At the next corner is Emmanuel Episcopal Church, a lovely brick chapel-looking church.  Across the street is the old Presbyterian Church with its slightly tipped steeple and huge white columns.  The old church building is looking nice as it is now the home of the Barry Community Resource Center, which is a wonderful use of the building that dates to the 1850s.  It houses a number of non-profit organizations and the sanctuary has been refurbished to a performing arts center.  The Presbyterians, of which I was a part, moved outside of town in 2010, onto a 34 acre tract of land next to the main highway heading toward Grand Rapids.  As a community center, the building continues to serve the town well and the new site has allowed the congregation to spread their wings. 

 In the next block, on the left side is the Adrounie House, a wonderful Bed and Breakfast run by Don and April.  I stayed there my first visit to this town, back in 2003.   Next to the Adrounie House is a parking lot.  Once Dr. Upjohns house sat there, but the home is now preserved at Charlton Park.  Upjohn started his drug business in Hastings.  Local legend has it that his machine to make capsules was so loud he was ordered to remove it out of town.  He did, to Kalamazoo and they enjoyed the success of his company (now a part of Pfizer).  Across the street from the Adrounie House is the stately courthouse, built in the 1890s.  I head over at Court Street and cross the front yard of the courthouse to State Street (not to be confused with State Road which is on the other side of the river).  I walk down State Street (which most people call Main Street as it is the business district), passing the movie theater and a host of other businesses and restaurants. On the east end, there is the town hall and the library.  They were raising money to build the latter when I arrived and it opened a few years later.  To the community's credit, all the money for the construction of the library came from the community.  Somewhere in there is a brick we purchased that has my daughter's name engraved on it.

I walk behind the library and across the footbridge over the Thornapple River, where I pause and look around and to listen to the water.  This bridge is one of the few remaining structures of the old CK&S (Chicago, Kalamazoo and Saginaw) Railroad which never made it to Chicago or Saginaw (it ran between Kalamazoo and Woodlawn), and went defunct in 1938.  At the time, the Michigan Central railroad, whose tracks paralleled the river as it ran from Jackson to Grand Rapids, acquired the trestle and used it to access the factories on the other side of the river.  The Michigan Central pulled up tracks in the early 1980s, at which time the trestle was made into a walking bridge. 
Old CK&S trestle.  This photo was taken by Vickie, a friend who paddled
the river yesterday, August 14, 2014

Darkness is descending and bats dart around scooping up mosquitoes and other insects.   Yesterday, I paddled under this bridge for the last time.  At the time, the airspace above the river seemed to be dominated by Cedar Waxwings, darting around doing their part at harvesting the insects that like to feast on human blood.   The trip was bittersweet as I haven't done much paddling of this section in the summer in recent years (I have tended to sail instead of paddle during the warmer months).  The local canoe livery has now started renting rubber tubes and the section closest to town was filled with tubers with their coolers and ubiquitous beer cans.  Cigarette smoke fouled the air and boom boxes drowned the sounds of the river and the birds.  Now it is quiet, except for the low roar where Fall Creek enters the river.  The last couple hundred yards of the creek has long been underground, as parking lots and buildings sit above it.  The huge culvert in which the creek flows into the river emits the roar as air blows through it.

 Leaving the trestle on the north side of town, I walk between buildings owned by Hastings Manufacturing, the maker of Hastings Piston Rings.   At one time they employed thousands, but today only a little over a hundred.  Many of the buildings are empty, as the company which had been locally owned for three generations went bankrupt a year or so after my arrival.  There was fear the company would cease operations, but a group of investors purchased it and it continues to chug along making high quality rings (they are an inclusive supplier to Harley Davidson).  Others of the buildings were the former home of Viking, a manufacturer of fire suppression sprinklers.  Long before I moved here, Viking moved across the river and on the west side of town.  I walk east on Mill Street, back into a residential community with houses built on a steep bank above the river, and turn left at Michigan Street, crossing the Thornapple again on the new bridge.  Below me in the water, a family of mallards preen themselves in preparation for the night.

A block ahead, behind City Hall, I stop to admire the bronze sculpture of a young girl exploring a garden.  Flowers are all around her now.  She was created by Ruth, a local artist who has lately taken hundreds of photos of me in order to paint my portrait.  Although I may leave this town, a part of me will remain.  But before she can work on the portrait, she has a couple of other statues to finish, so it won't be ready until sometime next year.  The original will hang in the Presbyterian Church and I will receive a copy.  This will do nothing to ease my struggle with vainglory.  

I stop for a beer at Vinnies Woodfired Saloon, a new restaurant and bar in town, and watch the Tigers lose to the Yankees as I admire the craftsmanship of the establishment.  The owner, a carpenter, used lots of wood and the establishment has a warm feeling about it.  Finishing my beer, I head home, taking Jefferson Street, passing the Olde Towne Tavern (known for good burgers) and the boarded up Fall Creek Restaurant. This was a favorite restaurant, but the owner, Jeff, got cancer and it closed last summer, just weeks before his death.  I miss him and his subtle humor, and his love for Santana.  His funeral ended with some musically talented friends playing Europa.  The song has a subtitle, “Earth Cries, Heaven Smiles,” which seemed to be appropriate as there were lots of tears on earth that day.  At the other end of the block is Brian's Tire, ran by Jeff's brother.  They have serviced my vehicles since I arrived in town and I have always felt that they were honest and fair and will miss doing business with them.  At Green Street, there is the Thomas Jefferson Hall, which used to be the Methodist Church.  The building is now owned by the County Democratic Party, which rents it out for auctions and antique sales as well as occasionally holding a meeting there.  On the next block stands the new Methodist Church, with its huge dome.  Last year they celebrated their 100th anniversary of the "new building."  When I re-cross Broadway, I retrace my steps toward the house that will be my home for one more night.  The movers will finish up in the morning… 

For those interested, Amash and Hoot won the primary elections.  Soon, I'll have to do a post on my new home and the salt marsh that surrounds it...


  1. Sounds like you'll leave a quaint little town behind. All the best to you down south where I'm sure new adventures await.

  2. Your description as you guided us through town offered such insight it wasn't necessary to see any photos. Although the photo you did post is extremely quaint and appears like something from the east coast to me. Hardly Michigan, the state I was born and raised in! I have to Google where Hastings is, you mentioned the street leading to Grand Rapids a town where I have two cousins raising their families. They were originally from Grand Haven. I was first married in Saginaw and my first son was born there as well, but my main roots are in the Lansing, Mason and Eaton Rapids area. It sure does sound like you're leaving a major part of you, your soul and many friends behind. But just knowing what I do about you here, you will make many more new friends to add to your life, creating yet another safe harbor to roam your days about. Life is where ever we bloom! I wish you safe travels and I am hoping for an update and a first look around your new home town, which I already have visited and simply find magical!

  3. Wow, you were living about an hours driving time from Lansing, where my sister is buried and another cousin of mine lives with her two sons and hubby. I wasn't too far from you last year when we came home for a reunion that was on Pleasant Lake and we stayed in Jackson! A small world isn't it.

  4. You and the town have invested much in each other. I'd say it bore dividends both ways! Best of luck, though with an eye and heart like yours, you fill make your own.

    ALOHA from Honolulu
    =^..^= . <3 . >< } } (°>

  5. Sage" Godspeed. Not only a well written post--your best but I felt as if I were along with you street by street. When I left Dallas, an Asian mechanic who serviced my car (I was his second customer) was tearful, as was my doctor. Your friends will remain with you in Hastings, but an exciting new chapter is opening up ahead. My best!

  6. How nice to hear from you. I just enjoyed your stroll through town. It was delightfully described! I felt in lock step with you as you reminenced and shared a bit of town history. So now you move south. Back to Carolina. Sometimes we need to go home. I will be spending a month in Boston and am breathlessly counting the day until I pop in the car and begin that journey.

    I have a bone marrow cancer ~ luekemia. It is a chronic form. It is my hope that this round will knock it into remission for awhile and I can take a break. :) I did retire and thats a good thing because I am tired and can rest guilt free and that is very good indeed.

    I look forward to hearing about your return. Safe journey!

  7. Like the other commenters said, reading this was like I was right there…
    (I love Savannah so I am really looking forward to your upcoming posts as well :-))

  8. It's nice to read this. I think it's pretty awesome of you to take the history of Hastings in to your heart and write about this cool town. As I read your blog, I pictured all those places and took the journey as I read. Thanks !
    I didn't know the history of the foot bridge that I had passed under. I just knew it was pretty neat. Glad you included it in your story. By the way, there was a young man painting (applying linseed oil I believe) to the bridge he waved. Glad it's being cared for.
    I will be waiting, as everyone else is, to read about your new town and new adventures. Blessings

  9. I look forward to seeing your painting and hearing about your new abode. Good luck in the move and the new surroundings.

  10. Jeff why? Why are you abandoning this lovely place? What I really want to say is man it kind of sucks that we never had lunch (my fault) and in my own isolated way feel like I am losing another reason to stay here too. Not to pry but I never was able to figure out what kind of work you do and how you were able to travel to so many places usually reserved for men and women younger than us now? I am ALMOST sorry I read this, but now I am going to look at real estate prices in Hastings, take a virtual tour of town and maybe try to convince Joann it may be time to leave DAYTWAH.

    Good luck brother and start working on some of those travel books.

    Be Well and may Home welcome you as much as you long to be there.

  11. Goodbyes are important. For a long time, I would just pull up stakes and go. But I came to realize that farewell rituals are needed to solace the soul. Knowing that I will be leaving a place I have come to know, I have walked and rewalked areas of it to name and say goodbye to everything that has had meaning for me. I wish you well in your transition.

  12. I'm sad for you and happy too.
    Get a bigger boat though. The great lady Atlantic can be really unforgiving to a small boat.
    I'm confused. Aren't you from further north on the coast.

  13. All my best wishes on your relocation, Sage.

  14. Very poignant to walk around your home towm knowing you're leaving, but as other commentators have said, it's important to do that. Good luck in your new home

  15. Love this. Feel as if I know your now old town!


  16. Great post. I could almost visualize some things from my couple of visits there but alas, nothing was open on the Sundays when I visited. :-)

  17. Sounds like you had a thorough farewell and walk through of your old town. Good luck with your move!

  18. welcome back to the south....and sounds like you walked a good farewell to where you were...i am sure you will carry those memories with you...and best wishes on the new home...any where near lynchburg va?

  19. I don't know if I've ever seen such a great description of what makes up a small town. It's people of course, but your descriptions and antidotes were awesome. It seems you and this this town will always have a connection. Jeff, this was one of the best posts I've read in quite a while. Best of luck to you in Savannah on your new adventure.