After my late father's funeral, we hosted a luncheon for his old friends and dear acquaintances, many of whom still claim Marshall as their hometown. While most of the chatter echoed the heartfelt condolences, there were also some CARRINGTON connections.
Are your books about Marshall or somewhere else?
As a legitimate observation from an astute reader, his question dogs my sense of place even unto Volume 7. You'll notice on the map above that the Fountain fits prominently into the CARRINGTON streetscape, although it's not in the center of town. Other than that landmark, what else continues to inspire my hobby?
There's more to a good story than meets the eye in dear old Carrington. For the sake of clarity, I'm happy to embellish the narrative with a bit of background, so please indulge the detour to Michigan. In real estate terminology, exaggeration is called 'puffery.' That's a bad thing. In literary criticism, Henry James or Taylor Caldwell's ramblings can be tedious. And yet, I cringe when the art of conversation in southern Michigan is reduced to the terse verb 'jawboning.' At the least, let's agree to disagree that just because we grew up in a beautiful small town does not grant to all a license to AKB - Always Know Best. Sometimes, we forget. Or we just stopped listening to the hometowners' lore.
I daresay the mavens of Marshall history were probably called to account on more than one occasion. The late H.C. Brooks, and his grandson, Lawrence B. Hughes, my brother-in-law, were taken down with the smack of hometown trash talk. When events or players on the Marshall scene got murky, both gifted orators died before they could recount more memories; and we are left with a sketchy timeline of the latter portion of our beloved 20th century. Their remarkable recall is sorely missed after the MARSHALL EVENING CHRONICLE's demise.
That's when a map would come in handy-- for those left-brain thrills when the spontaneous recall of who lived where might even fail a local. The merry wanderlusts in my fraternal order can still play Hometown Jeopardy with the enthusiasm of a lightning-round performance. But the devil is usually in the details as our recollections blur with changing times and places. I wish there were an almanac or block-by-block guidebook so we could retrace the steps of our childhood - if only for the pleasure of a self-guided tour on a spring day.
Pierce School, East Prospect Street, Marshall, Michigan c. 1911-1933 is now a residence. The dates of operation are cited in MARSHALL PUBLIC SCHOOLS
by Richard Caver and Robert Lowman.
When I consider who might know best, I think the locals delight in outwitting me. During one visit, I was shamed when I espoused a memory as fact, and a local ex-officio historian happened to be eavesdropping.
Me: "The Old Pierce School is a condominium now."
Hometowner: "Pierce School is a privately-owned residence, and it was never a condo." (as if...the lovely detached garage notwithstanding, it would have made two lovely units, in my humble opinion.)
Me: (Muttering to self at the corner table in one of Mayberry's noisy restaurants Well, excuse me!) Did the local zoning put up a fight? What is the property worth in today's market? Has it been on the historic home tour? It would make a great art school...but I digress.
Hometowners must grow weary when engaging the pests who moved away decades ago. Yet we persist with infrequent visits to the old homeplace and trivial pursuits of the past. Undaunted, we press on, endeared by facts & figures and also because I want to know:
What year did we first call our school mascot the Marshall Redskins? 1930
Where was the (first) Creamery located? Corner of Jefferson & Hanover
When real-life crime arrived on the scene, who among us can remember like it was yesterday? The bombing at the Tasty Cafe, 1967
Why I remember.
It was hot and humid that August day. A morning I'll never forget on the eve of entering the tenth grade as youth in the dog days of southern Michigan. But it is not an innocent recollection. My father was at a baseball tournament out west when the sordid news spread faster than an irrelevant tweet going viral. Mom, a housewife, never missed out on an ambulance chase towards the live-action, and she loaded us into the station wagon for a front-row seat. She parked in front of the post office as the tragedy unfolded on Michigan Avenue. All I heard was the B-word: a bomb was sent through the mail, and it exploded when the proprietor of a local coffee shop unexpectedly opened a deadly package addressed to herself.
As sad as this event was, it still works as a story arc for a culture addicted to crime. At least crime T.V. series. So do the timeless infidelities of extramarital relationships, the quest for power, or humankind desperate in the search for meaning. When faced with the obvious, I had no other alternative: to dispense with a fruitless, useless character in CARRINGTON's Season 6. Not Roxie, of course. But another starlet gets too big for her britches, and a liaison with an FBI agent sets the table for our climax. The memory at the Tasty Cafe triggered a tragedy that forever left a blemish on the purity of a small town. And that, dear readers, is when Marshall and CARRINGTON find themselves turning the pages together. Sometimes I cannot make this stuff up.
From SEVEN DAYS IN CARRINGTON
Volume 6 'Camp Carrington' Chapter 7
CAMEO: February 2020 in Marshall, Michigan
Reprinted with permission, copyright 2022
The Coffee Spot for business each day at 4:45 A.M. It had been serving breakfast in Marshall since 1947 when Richard B. "Root Beer" Lamson hung up his shingle on the corner of Grand and Main Street. His granddaughter, Roxie, inherited the building and ran the family restaurant now. She was a morning person who did not compete with the franchise chains or the 24-hour interstate joints. But she would have enjoyed talking with the truckers, the backbone of America.
Roxie still allowed smoking in the rear of her cafe, a small owner's P.C. pushback in exchange for loyal patronage. For the most part, nibbling on the local gossip over a third cup of coffee and savoring bacon and eggs with a side of white toast was her daily special.
She loved her job! Roxie was sure of only one truth: there would never be a day exactly like 2.17.2020 again, and she had better make the most of it. She started two stations of Bunn coffee and retrieved the Battle Creek Enquirer from the icy sidewalk. She turned on WBCK radio and then disappeared into the kitchen to roll out the cinnamon buns. The bell on the front door jingled, and a man with salt and pepper hair entered the restaurant. Roxie peeped through a small hole in the wall, surprised that town was stirring so early.
"Morning," she said. "Coffee's almost done. What can I do you for?"
The man stomped snow onto the vinyl mat. He mumbled something Roxie could not hear and then tucked his phone into his pocket.
"Do you serve steel-cut oatmeal with fresh berries?"
Roxie suppressed a laugh, not because the man looked exactly like Ron Howard. "No sirree, Bob. That would be the hoity-toity joint a couple blocks down on Main. They won't open 'til 7:00, sorry. We're just a little café that still cooks with lard." She offered her apology, but it sounded like a seal of approval.
"Just coffee then, with cream, please," the man said and shuffled to the back booth. He removed a black pea coat and then dived head-first back into the world of his mobile device...
Yes, Virginia, jawboning is alive in CARRINGTON.