Lessons From The Heartland

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - April 04, 2007
| Del.icio.us

My 11 regular readers know of my origins in the Great Midwest. Over the years, they’ve relished my tales of an Indiana boyhood, a Michigan adolescence and an Iowa education.

They know my relatives: dear, departed, anxiety-ridden mother; my father, who endured his in-laws by retreating to the barn; my 98-year-old, six-time-married Aunt Bet, and my Cousin Bim, beloved by women for his ability to fix leaks and plane warped doors.

So I know my “fit audience, though few” will tingle with excitement when I tell them that this week, once again, I write from the Great Midwest.

Yes, I flew into the Grand Rapids, Mich., airport two weeks ago. As all who watched his funeral last fall know, Grand Rapids was the home of President Gerald Ford. Ford represented the city and its environs for three decades in the United States Congress, was appointed vice president on the resignation of Spiro Agnew, and ascended to the presidency with the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Two years later, Ford lost a bid for a presidential term of his own to Jimmy Carter. The plain-spoken, thoroughly decent Ford then did what many Grand Rapids residents do: He got out of Grand Rapids, went out to Palm Springs, and played golf with the wealthy and famous for the rest of his days - which were many.

So, anyway, in Michigan I rented a Korean car, a Hyundai Sonata (save for an uncomfortable front seat, a nice car) and drove across the state to Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, where - eons ago - I spent a year studying for a graduate degree in English.

Along the way I passed through Stockbridge, Mich., population: not very many. Stockbridge looked tired. Oh, it had the requisite Civil War monument in the town square and friendly folks in the local Stop-and-Shop. At the town’s only traffic light, empathetic Stockbridgeians solicited funds for a local family in distress. (Yes, I gave. They visit Hawaii, fill our tax coffers, help pay me. I must give back.)

But things looked bad. A sign of Stockbridge’s hard times: road kill. Lots of road kill. Raccoons, three on the north edge of town, one on the south. A skunk. And (are you ready for this?) two deer. I’m not kidding here, two deer carcasses, both long gone, on Stockbridge’s murderous north side. You would have thought someone would have picked them up - town road crew, state road crew, a clean-living local farmer. I mean, we’re talking disease here.

A hoop and a holler down the road from Stockbridge, I drove through Chelsea, Mich., home of actor Jeff Daniels. Chelsea is an apparently successful Midwestern boutique town, a status to which all Midwestern towns aspire with the flight of business to the freeway entrances and the death of downtowns. Chelsea is one antiques store after another antiques store, followed by a flower-and-gift shop and a Teddy Bear factory. Yep, you read that right. A Teddy Bear factory.

Besides Daniels and boutiques, Chelsea’s other claim to fame is the biggest clock tower I’ve seen this side of London. Huge thing. I mean, we’re talking super-phallic.

I finally made it to Ann Arbor, which, I am sad to say, looks exactly as it did 41 years ago when I left it. Believe me, gotta dredge up a lot of nostalgia to love the University of Michigan campus. Indeed, next time anyone speaks critically of the planning and architectural mess that is UH-Manoa, tell them to give me a call.

I met a couple of college classmates for lunch: one’s a lawyer, the other is a computer specialist for a Ohio school district. We dredged up some nostalgia, remembered embarrassing conversations, ludicrous undergraduate situations, the children of our adulthood, marriages and divorces.

The stuff of the Great Midwest - and everywhere.

More on my travels next week. Can’t wait, can you?

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