Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Evening Stroll through Town

Bed and Breakfast

Karen from Minnesota recently noted that I hadn't written about any hikes or canoe trips recently...  I realized I need to get out more.  I took this walk on Tuesday night.   We’re having unseasonably warm weather this winter!  The photos were taken a few years ago, on another unseasonable warm Christmas, when I walked around town with a camera and tripod.  On this trip, it’s just me and the dog, but I invite you to join us as we stroll through town a few nights before Christmas. 

This evening I found myself needing to “walk my mind to an easy time.”  The last few days have been stressful.  It’s a busy season and on Sunday, a friend committed suicide.  I need some air and since we’re having somewhat balmy weather for December (it was actually a few degrees above freezing when I set out) and there's no snow on the ground, I head out.  Unlike James Taylor, I don't have to worry about the sun burning my back and shoulders as it's already dark.  Before I get to the end of the block, the skies begin to spit sleet.  I like the way it sounds popping on my rain jacket.  At 6 PM, I hear the faint electronic bells from the Methodist Church ring out a couple of Christmas Carols.  My dog is with me.  I don’t even turn on my ipod to listen to a book, as I often do, as I need to clear my head.  Instead, I just walk and look and think as I head toward the city center.  It’s just shy of a mile to the old section of town.
It seems to me that there are fewer holiday lights this season.  Maybe the warmer weather is keeping folks from getting into the spirit. Or maybe it's the economy.  I don’t like gaudy displays of lights, but a well decorated tree visible through a living room window and perhaps a few electric candles (single blubs) in the rest of the windows and maybe a few white lights on an evergreen out front is tasteful.   I pass the funeral home, a homey old building and I think about Ray.  We’re the same age and he’s been in this business his whole life.  When he was in college, his dad had a heart attack and he had to take over the business.  Now, thirty-some years later, he’s still at it.  A lot of folks are stand-offish with undertakers, but I wonder if it’s not one of the highest callings in a small town as Ray has to bury his friend’s parents, his friends and tragically at times, friends of his own children.  Ray’s been busy this week, including handling my friend's remains.

I turn left on Broadway, and walk in front of the Episcopal Church, an brick edifice built in the 1890s.  It’s a lovely chapel.  Across the street is the old Presbyterian Church, with its large white columns and the steps leading up to the sanctuary.  It was built in 1853 and served the congregation until a year or so ago when the faithful moved outside of town into a new church.  Today it’s being reclaimed as a community center and I’m thankful they've placed wreaths on the double doors in the front. It keeps it looking like a church.

Next, I walk by the local bed-and-breakfast, a beautifully restored Victorian home, tastefully decorated with white lights.  As I cross Broadway at the courthouse, a majestic brick building that was constructed in the 19th Century, I notice the sleet has turned to rain.  At the corner of Broadway and State (in most towns this would be Main Street) is a life-sized Nativity: camels and wise men, sheep and shepherds, angels and the holy family.  It’s amazing how many folks in town who never go to church insist on keeping the Nativity at the corner of the courthouse.  It’s not only in the South that you find ornery folks who don’t want the government or the ACLU telling them what to do.  Last year, or was it the year before, someone stole Baby Jesus and everyone got upset.  Smugly, perhaps too much so, I thought to myself that if we keep him in our hearts and not on display where he creates an ongoing controversy, no one would be stealing him and he’d do a lot more good.
Courthouse (nativity to the right of the photo)

After passing the courthouse, I cross Church Street and look in at the folks having dinner at the Seasonal Grill, our fancy local Italian Restaurant.  When I moved here, this was a printing shop, but that closed and reminded empty for a while.  Then, a couple years ago, a family renovated the old brick building, creating a delightful restaurant.  Next door is Richie’s, where they ground their hamburger fresh daily.   I suspect the burger that isn’t fried on the grill goes into the next day’s soup.  They are closing up for the evening; a guy places the chairs on the tables as another guy was mopping the floor.  Tomorrow morning at five, Sandy will be opening up, making coffee and the day’s soup as well as setting the chairs down as she prepares for another day’s business.  Next is the music store and I spot Steve in the back, sitting by the piano with a student on the bench playing.  The appliance store is still open and Tim is measuring a large screen TV for a sharply dressed woman with a short pleated wool skirt and dark tights, who looks on intently.  I don’t know her, but wonder if this is what her family will find hanging on their wall Christmas morning.  The windows in the jewelry store are lighted, as well as the used clothing store with beautiful dresses displayed in front, but both are already closed.  The lights are also out at Kimmy’s Kitchen, except for back in the kitchen where I see a few girls working, probably making fudge for the Christmas season.   I stop at the Second-Hand Corner, a favorite store to rummage around in, and examine the tools and the musical instruments in the windows.  

As I cross Jefferson Street, I look down the block.  A gang of folks are outside the Old Town Tavern, smoking cigarettes.  It’s been a couple of years since Michigan instituted a ban on indoor smoking, forcing the addicted to brave the elements when they want to light up. Next to the tavern is the pharmacy, but I’m sure Dave has gone home for dinner by now.  His home is one of the nicely decorated ones I passed on my way into town.  Across the street from the bar and pharmacy is the sporting goods store, where I’ve brought a few rods and have examined a number of rifles and shotguns, just because its a guy thing to do. Next door is the dry cleaners.  I  remember there are a few shirts and a suit there, with my name of it, waiting to be picked up.  I walk by the other jewelry store, it’s window showing potential Christmas gifts, and then by our local coffee shop where a few patrons are enjoying  lattes.   I pause at the smoke shop, thinking about how robust good tobacco smells and how terrible it is for you.  The craft store is also closed, as well as the knitting store, but the new tattoo parlor next door, in what used to be a Thai and Chinese restaurant, is open.  “Would I really want those guys sticking a needle in me over and over?” I wonder.  At the corner of Michigan is another Italian place, not quite as swanky as the place at the other end of the town, but they have good subs and pizzas.  I cross Michigan and walk by the old grocery store.  It’s been nearly five years since they’ve closed up shop.  I continue walking as the rain turns to snow, heading passed Ace Lawn and Garden Center and to the old CK&S trestle over the Thornapple River. Last year, for Christmas, I added an old CK&S boxcar to the train under my Christmas tree.  The trestle is the last structure standing for the railroad that went bankrupt in 1937.  After they stopped running, the trestle was continued to be used by the Michigan Central to serve the manufacturing on the north side of the river, but the Central closed and pulled up their tracks in 1984 and today, the trestle is a walking bridge.  I stare a few minutes into the dark waters swirling around the pilings and wonder if we’ll get any snow, to speak of.  But as I turn to walk back to town, the snow stops. 

At the library, I see Ed is at the front desk talking to Gerardo.  Gerardo is British, but his grandfather was from the Gold Coast which is now Ghana.  I once hosted a visitor from Ghana and thought Gerardo might like to meet him, so I invited him to join us for lunch.  As the guy from Ghana had never been to a Mexican restaurant, we headed over to the Mexican Connection.  It was a truly international experience, a white guy treating an African and an African-Brit to a Mexican lunch at a restaurant run by Colombians.  There’s not much diversity here, but that day there was!  Also at the library are a group of guys playing chess by the front windows.  If I didn’t have a wet dog with me, I might be tempted to join them.  I keep hoofing it down the street, passing the town hall and police station and the sculpture that many think is obscene.  I just think it’s ugly.

I cross Michigan again and began the walk back through the old section of the city, on the opposite side of the road.  The hardware store that takes up 2/3s of a block, with a section devoted to paint, another to bicycles and another to knickknacks.  The brew pub comes, in a building that was the old furniture store before its renovation.  They have a nice banquet hall upstairs and above it, hanging from the roof, is the ball they'll drop at midnight on New Year's Eve.  I look into the window at the bar and the stainless steel brew tanks.  If I didn’t have my dog with me, I might stop in for a “State Street Stout” or to sample whatever seasonal brew they have on tap.  I cross Jefferson Street again.  Next up is one of a number of hair and nail establishments the town has, followed by our local health food store.  There’s a florist and Christian Bookstore combo, and I wonder how's Norm doing.  He's been fighting cancer lately.  Next to the florist is an antique store with some metal toy trains in the window that look neat, and next to that is a variety store that has a Confederate flag blanket to sell.  As a Southerner, I don’t particularly like seeing such flags down South, but I really get offended at seeing them up here.  I wonder what Billy Yank, the statue that used to be in front of the courthouse and now is in the park, would think about it.  The radio station is dark, but broadcasting on remote and I listen for a few minutes to Christmas music that’s played on the speaker outside their doors.  I pass a photography studio and a framing shop, and a real estate office before crossing the Church Street and pausing by the theater in front of the Courthouse to see what’s playing.  It doesn’t look like I’ll be going to the movies this week as none of the four playing seems interesting. 

Crossing Broadway, I pick up my pace as I enter the newer part of town.   The street is lined with banks, insurance agencies, gas stations, a car wash, an auto part stores and a Family Dollar Store, all sprinkled between fast food joints: Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Subway, Big Boys and McDonalds.  On the other side of the street is a strip mall: Kmart, clothing stores, more restaurants, another dollar store, a bank, a “rent-to-own” racket and a supermarket.  Further down the highway, after the county jail and sheriff’s office is Burger King and KFC.  I walk on out of town, toward the industrial area to the west of the city, turning on Cook Road, as I hear the bell from the courthouse, a good mile away, toll seven times.  I've been gone an hour.  Down below, to my left,  is Fish Hatchery Park, affectionately known as “Goose Poop Park” as the Canadian Geese seems to like the lakes where fish were once raised.  The ponds are not even frozen, which seem strange. The ball fields, playground and tennis courts are all dark.  At the corner of Green Street is Mt. Calvary Cemetery, where the Catholic faithful are planted.   I turn down Green Street, walking pass the cemetery and then the front entrance to Fish Hatchery Park, and up the hill by the hospital and into the residential section of town, toward the house with a Moravian Star hanging, like a beacon, from the front porch.   

Going inside, I shed my Stetson and wet raincoat.  My dog shakes himself off.  He’s got that wet dog smell.  I plug in the Christmas tree and set a fire in the hearth at the other end of the room and enjoy its warmth. 
Downtown of "My Town"


  1. Oh thanks, this is just what the doctor of human spirit ordered! This walk through your town with your best friend at your side is exactly even better than a good old nature walk. Your town is just like what I remember of my old town growing up in Michigan. Where you knew most everyone in town, and the way of life was simple and enchanting. Nothing too hurried, just enjoying the people you know. Friendly faces, doors open everywhere you is about our journey of spirit in everything that makes life blissful....a time back then for me when you never expected things, they just happened....and you were always happy!...and familiar rountines eased pain and healing from any woes that came your's funny, or maybe good old Karma that you posted this, and these photos, because always this time of year my heart and soul reaches back to those days I grew up in Michigan as a child, I thrive on trying to recreate those feelings of magic and beliefs, still today!(and I return there(in my thoughts) whenever I need too....yes people just worried about doing the right thing back then, and being friendly and kind...and who was and wasn't going to be in this year's Christmas pagent! ...and if you were a child, and you had medicine to take for a sore throat once you finished the bottle, you ripped off the bottom of the label and took it in to your one and only drug store man dressed in a white coat behind a tall counter, and turned it in for ice cream...thank you Jeff, for this great reunion of spirit for me, and may peace be with you in the loss of your dear friend...

  2. Enjoyed taking this walk with you, my friend. Your town and your account of it have the feel of the 1950s about them. I share with you the feelings about morticians and think folks who don't should watch the Japanese film DEPARTURES. And I was saddened to hear about the death of your friend.

  3. It's hard to right oneself after something like that happens. You need the feel of the familiar; which somehow isn't so familiar any more.
    Just make certain you have more than adequate intake of vitamins. Especially the B's.
    Hugs fella.

    Have a Happy Christmas, you and all of yours.

  4. I like when we take these walks together... Sorry to hear about your friend -- I hope he has found peace...


  5. Your have a very picturesque town! Love the walk today. :)

  6. I enjoyed taking that walk with you, Sage, and I'm very sorry about your friend. I hope he can find peace, as suicide is not the answer to his problems (IMO)

    I love the part about the multicultural connections. We once remarked about how we - 2 WASPS from NC met and went to dinner with a couple from Burma, while on vacation in Barbados (and they were honeymooning)

    Merry Christmas, Sage!

  7. dude thanks for taking us around town...would love to visit it sometime...prayers for your friend as well...

  8. What a beautiful place you live in, I love those gorgeous illuminated buildings, so pretty! How sad about your friend, I'm glad you ae there for him.

    Merry Christmas, Sage, I hope it proves filled with joy and love for you and yours.

  9. Good stuff. Thanks for sharing your walk. It's worthy of James Joyce.


  10. What a beautiful place for a walk at this time of year. I loved hearing about the locals but I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend.

  11. Bummer about your friend, hold him close in your heart for a time.

    That first picture even though old has more lights on that one house than all the lights combined down here in the 'hood. I think everyone is keeping it close to the vest year and inside.

  12. I grew up living in a small town, sometimes I miss the intimacy of it. Thanks for sharing your walk.

    And I'm sorry about your friend...

  13. Enjoyed taking the walk with you, Sage. I'm sorry about your friend

  14. Sage: I'm very sorry to learn about the loss of your friend. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I've made these walks a lot in Ohio but not Texas or Arizona. Will be back here soon. Take care!

  15. Sage ............. Sorry about your friend.
    Thanks for the romantic stroll about town. I don't know why, but I told the 'good wife' the other day, I think our town is prettier this year than its ever been. Jesus is back, the town seems 'brighter' than its ever been before, hey maybe that's why. [Did you know we have a new 'lighter' in the street department that puts up our seasonal street decorations? The cynical side of me agrees with you about having Jesus in your heart - but maybe the outstanding defense of the nativity scene by those who don't go to church is a 'seed,' at the very least, 'an acknowledgement.' Your stroll has motivated me to take a shorter version of it sometime tonight before I attend your church's midnight candlelight worship. I'll definitely walk down the side street the Mexican Connection and Dave's Drug Store on because of the 'good wife's' favorite [and I like it too] store Al Fresco's; I'm quite convinced they have the best 'book selection' in town! When I congratulated the owner on that she said that the lady who chooses the books is very meticulous about it, and I believe that. Every Sunday morning about 5:30AM, before I begin to make sure everything human is in order for the mornings worship, I drive through our little town and rejoice that I'm privileged to live here. Get a cup of lukewarm coffee[barely; but then again who wants to burnt by it?!]at the only gas station open in town, before heading back to the office. I love going over the bridge that is our towns mason-dickson line. ha. Thanks again for the walk, the memories, and the motivation.
    Merry Christmas!

  16. Thank you for the wonderful tour of your town. One of the things I miss most about Boulder is the ready access to my beloved hikes. There is something about moving...outdoors...that allows you to better collect your thoughts, and your heart.

    I am so deeply sorry for the loss of your friend, Jeff. As you know, I'm well aware of the added layers of grief and bewilderment that a death by suicide carries with it. So sorry.

    May peace, love, and light find it's way to you this holiday.