Biographical Non-Fiction posted August 4, 2018


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My small hometown through eyes 18 and 70

My Home Town, The Road to Nowhere

by livelylinda


It was June, 1967, and she was about to leave her two-bit town far behind, never to return. She grew up in Lapeer, Michigan, population 7,000, the county seat in a rural farming county. It had little to offer an 18 year old recently graduated from high school. Milking cows and baling hay seemed like it would only get her a good suntan and muscles. But, she wanted much, much more. She yearned to explore large cities and places of which she had only read. This sleepy, everything closes at 5 p.m. town, was a big yawn. She could picture no fulfilling future there.

"These little town blues . . ."

Her grandmother, like many Lapeer inhabitants, had been born, lived, died and was buried there. Life was simple . . .way too simple for her exploring mind.

She spent hours at the public library and had a voracious appetite for reading. She also poured
over all the magazines which arrived once a month. They told her about amazing places and the pictures let her actually "be there". She was especially drawn to "New Yorker" magazine and loved looking at the latest fashions in clothes and shoes, vowing to, one day soon, have them all in her closet. They were very expensive but she just knew she would be able to get a good paying job to pay for them. "National Geographic" and "Life" magazines allowed her to tour the world, see faces and places otherwise beyond her reach. They opened the doors to explore. She liked reading about Broadway plays, concerts, so many activities from which to choose. She wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty and discover, first hand, if New York City really never "slept".

Just outside the town, there was a 12 block by 12 block subdivision. It was referred to as "across the tracks" or birdland. Upon leaving Lapeer in an easternly direction, one had to drive across the railroad tracks, hence, the nickname. Also, the streets had all been named for birds, i.e., oriel, robin, etc.

This is where the "untouchables" lived. The houses were all tiny, square and neglected, just like the families within. These were the families whose fathers either didn't work at all, or very little. What income he earned went directly to buy booze. Each family had about 8 children. They had a few clothes never washed and no one bathed. During the winter months, they never had adequate warm clothes, coats, boots, mittens, to keep them protected from the cold. They had little food, mom and/or dad were usually intoxicated and there were frequent child beatings and fights. During the hot and humid part of summer, when you drove through Birdland, the terrible smell was enough to keep your gag reflexes working overtime. All house windows and doors would be open due to the heat so the dirty smells from inside the houses would waft outside. One boy who lived there, Raymond, was caught stealing her lunch several weeks in a row. On the walk home from school, he would dig through garbage cans along the way to find discarded food. When his sister would admonish him for this, he would loudly complain that he was hungry. He was quite thin and looked hungry. And, Birdland remains the same today because all those neglected kids grew up and continued the cycle, generation after generation.

Lapeer offered a few opportunities for recreational fun each year. On Friday nights, stores remained open until 9 p.m. to allow farmers to shop after their daily chores were completed. The six blocks of downtown were lit up and it was a busy beehive of shoppers and traffic. At Christmas time, there were holiday lights and music blaring. The shoppers seemed friendlier no matter how cold and snowy the weather. People hustled and bustled leaning into the wind and bitter blowing snow. It always looked like a Norman Rockwell painting!

Every year around the middle of August, was a week long Lapeer Days celebration. All the stores placed discount priced items on the sidewalk for sale, the things that had been gathering dust for months inside their stores. It was a last ditch effort to rid themselves of some unwanted inventory. There were no real bargans. But, children with a little loose change in their pockets could always find some worthless little treasure which made them momentarily happy.

There were a few tents in the street, one with games for kids, also a couple of food tents. And it wouldn't be a celebration without a beer tent and a Bingo tent! There was a stage and bleachers across from each other where you could sit and rest or listen to whatever third rate local band was playing. One night there was always a "Dancing in the Street" to current rock music form 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. A small carnival was set up in one of the 3 city parks offering the basic rides, games and cotton candy. Then, suddenly, it would end and all was quiet again.

July offered fireworks outside of town; a short and unimpressive display. Most people got more mosquito bites than surprise and delight from the fireworks. Even the kids fell asleep.

In the spring of each year, the city offers a guided walking tour of several Victorian style homes in the city whose owners had purchased and restored them to their original glory. Very few Lapeer residents seemed interested and only a few history buffs joined the tour. Perhaps,
it was not advertised widely enough. Small town people tend to think small.

Lapeer was a town of WASPS. Blacks were not allowed to live in the city. There was a small enclave about two miles outside of town where two families lived. A couple of their children had gone through the Lapeer school system without incident and occasionally, a black man would be spotted in a local grocery store. A few young black men worked in Lapeer's small factories but after work, they hurried out of town. Rumor had it that they were too afraid to even stop to eat dinner in a Lapeer restaurant.

There were never loud protests in the streets of Lapeer. The towns prejudices were quiet and enforced. They didn't want blacks, Jews, Asian's, gays or hippies ruining their town. However, there was one 80 year old Jewish widow who lived in her apartment downtown Lapeer. She was active and spoke her mind but never provoked any religious issues. She spent her winters on Miami Beach.

A new Episcopal minister moved to town in the 1960's, with his Asian wife and their three children. They were Chinese. And, the reverend quietly made his way around town. On Saturday's, he was often spotted in the grocery store wearing shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and smoking a pipe . . . there was no simply blending in for him! Their two sons and one daughter grew up and left town but the reverend and his wife remained and are buried there.

A few other Asian families have moved to Lapeer over the years. They owned a laundramat and dry cleaning business. But, blacks still don't live there.

At last count, there were six gays living and working in Lapeer, closeted, of course, but everyone seems to know who they are. Maybe Lapeer is beginning to be a diverse community.

When she was growing up in Lapeer during the 1950's and 1960's, there was little reported crime. In the local newspaper there was noted a few speeders and an occasional DUI. But, no murders, car theft, drug offenses, arson, physical/sexual abuses reported. Of course, in those days, what went on behind the closed doors of a family's home, stayed there. There were battered wives and other wives would quietly talk about it. However, their husbands insisted that it was not their business what went on in other's houses, they should just feel lucky that they weren't beaten! "Oh, the Days of Our Lives"!

Sexual abuse was also a problem in Lapeer. It was a subject NEVER discussed by anyone, even in hushed tones. As an adult, Linda met a man who related his horrendous childhood sexual abuse to her. His intact family of father, mother, younger sister and brother, had a secret. His father was a pedophile and had a small "club" of Lapeer County men who preferred preteen boys. And, he was their first choice. They would handcuff him to a pole in his father's garage and sodomize him repeatedly over several years until he was big enough to fight them off.

Today, there are 103 registered sex offenders living in Lapeer County, one for every 86 residents.

Drunk drivers are often arrested and property theft is frequent. Illegal drugs flourish but murder is still non-existent.

With the exception of bars (5) and churches (9), there were few choices of stores in which to shop. When residents couldn't find what they needed in Lapeer, they would drive to Flint to shop.

The movie theatre shows the same movie every night for a week then introduces a new one.

The local newspaper produces its news every Wednesday, containing only local news. For more news, the Flint Journal, Detroit Free Press and Detroit News were attainable in Lapeer. Typical front page news was always about a farmer's cow who had escaped and found meandering down a country road or some farmer's barn which had burned down. Maybe the cow was bored and looking for entertainment in the city! However, she was returned home before she could get into any real trouble. Other front page news would include how tall had the corn grown near the end of the growing season. Some times there were pictures of newly married couples, pictures of those who had gone into the armed services or graduated from college.

Lapeer did not lose any young men or women to the Vietnam conflict. However, one returned in a wheelchair, another brain dead and many of them with PTSD and drug addictions. On Memorial Day each year, there is a parade and a ceremony at the Lapeer war memorial to remember the soldiers.

Today there are many choices of restaurants and they are open past 5 p.m. Stores and selection have improved. K-Mart, Wal-Mart and Kohl's are now rooted into Lapeer. A prison was built outside of town which helped Lapeer's employment rate. Lapeer residents once drove to Flint to work in the auto factories but they have all closed now. This must have strained the Lapeer economy but the census has increased to 8,841.

Lapeer is proud of its "claim to fame", the Lapeer County Courthouse, the oldest courthouse still in use in Michigan. Settlers first arrived in 1828 to settle in Lapeer County.

As an adult in the 1980's, Linda did get to explore New York, New York three times. She went out to the Statue of Liberty and stood at her feet in wonderment at how many immigrants saw her as a beacon to a better life. She saw the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, the Twin Towers while they were still standing tall in the NYC sky and she went to the Village. She toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art and ate hot dogs from street vendors (disgusting). She drove, walked, took cabs and city buses, scouring Manhattan and saw some strange sights which you would never see in Lapeer. She was overwhelmed with the noise (cab drivers constantly toot their horns) and the fast pace and homeless people sleeping in doorways and "shopping" inside garbage cans in front of brownstones. She saw "Cats" on Broadway and felt quite cosmopolitan. She witnessed pickpocket activity and was astounded how easily this occurs. But, most importantly, she is now able to accurately answer the big question . . . does NYC ever sleep? The answer is, YES. Between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., NYC takes a little nap and only occasional emergency vehicles are heard.

As Linda was thinking about her hometown, the feeling was rather peaceful nostalgia. Perhaps if she had not been raised so strictly, she might have found enjoyment and comfort there.

In three weeks Linda will have her 70th birthday. She is obsessed about taking her last leisurally drive from her home in Florida, north to Lapeer, Michigan to spend as many days as is necessary to say her final goodbye to that little town. Her ill health will soon not be conducive to travel, and she needs one more look.

"There's no place like home . ."

Wish Linda had ruby red shoes or knew a good witch!









My Home Town contest entry

Recognized


Thanks to MK Flood for use of the picture, My Home Town.

2272 word count
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by MKFlood at FanArtReview.com

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