It was my first week at Michigan State University, during one of those new rounds of introductions, when I realized two things: 1) Michigan has a lot of small towns, and 2) half the MSU population came from the Detroit area. Part and parcel with revelation #1 was that I too heralded from a small town. The town I claim is Greenville, Michigan.
Greenville is home to the Danish Festival (3rd weekend in August, annually). It used to be a manufacturing capital where it’s claim to fame is (was) the largest refrigerator factory (from Gibson’s to Frigidaire to Electrolux to bust) and the world’s first Meijer (formerly Thrify Acres, current competitor to Wal-Mart). Greenville, in the 1990 census boasted 8,100 residents. We had 4 elementary schools, one middle and one high school. By the middle of middle school, there were pretty good odds that you knew everybody.
Like many small towns, many of those who I grew up with moved away. We’ve gone across the world, the country, or state. And, in this day and age, we’ve reconnected with the Internet. First it was MySpace, and then it was Facebook. Now it’s various Facebook group’s. The most recent splurge of groups seem to be “You remember X if you grew up Y…” And true to trending form, my hometown has its own group.
I noticed the group on a break, while at work. A quick little Facebook peruse to get my mind off the task at hand and see if anything interesting has happened. Nothing interesting had happened, but this group was created. Suddenly, I’m flashing down memory lane.
I’m remembering things like:
- When a car crashed in the local JC Penney’s (years after it moved away from its former home downtown). I worked there for a short while after returning home post-high school, mid-college hiatus.
- The Dairy Queen that was a block and a half away from my house and only open during the summer… my siblings and I managed to squeeze a few dollars out of my mother a few times during the summer to go.
- When the “main street” was vibrant with places like my favorite gift shop, Chapter III books.
- The Candy Store across the street from the Dairy Queen, Old Mother’s Hubbard. We would buy candy cigarettes.
- The wading pool at the larger city park.
- The Historical Museum in my backyard. We’d wander through it when we were bored in the summer. I’d fantasize about living 100 years before. In the winter, there was a big hill in a neighbor’s back yard, where we’d basically sled into the parking lot hoping not to hit the river.
- That same parking lot served as the space where snow was dumped in the winter. It was a great place for forts, snowball fights, and wicked games of King on the Mountain.
I grew up in Small Town America. Small Town Michigan. Every place I lived in was dominated by some major manufacturing whether it was car related (making the parts that the manufacutresr use to build the cars), or tree related (paper mills, etc.). I loved many parts of my free range childhood, where we were allowed to walk down the safe streets of our small town. Where we knew the silly boys who tried to be in a gang (named the Lynch mob). Where daily the paper spit out who had an encounter with the police the night or day before. Where everyone’s business was everyone’s business.
Aside from stupid childhood cliques, I don’t remember it as a bad thing. I remember it as a community. It was the third place, a place where everyone knew your name. And, now, I have Facebook to thank for an “Epic” reunion with my childhood.