Monday, May 2, 2011

Our Town

Paper Mill, Menominee, Michigan

Dear George,

Recently Katja and I went to see Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” which the university’s theater department was putting on. Katja wasn’t that keen about it, since she isn’t a small town/nostalgia sort of person and prefers contemporary theater, but it was right up my alley. It didn’t disappoint. The polished student performers brought Grovers Corners, NH, to life on the stage, and the script touched on many different things: the vagaries of small town life, families, young love, social standing in the community, aging, marriage, social change, tragic death and grieving. The last act was set at a cemetery where all the residents who had died in recent years were sitting silently in chairs, occasionally chitchatting softly about events in the town. Both Katja and I got pretty choked up.

My home town has been on my mind a lot these days, partly because e-mail, Facebook, and blogging has brought me back in touch with several close childhood chums. One of my correspondents, Dooley Worth, recently e-mailed to us a collection of photographs that she’d gathered from her parents Jean and Margaret Worth’s family albums. I’d estimate that the images are mainly from the 1940’s, though I could be off a bit in either direction. They brought back lots of memories. Here are some that particularly caught my eye.

Menominee County Courthouse

The courthouse is Menominee’s most distinctive landmark. It was built in 1875 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. A lot of my dad’s legal activities as prosecuting attorney were centered there, though he rarely discussed any of his work in our presence.

Marina Park

Marina Park is on the Green Bay shore in the center of the town’s business district and is a major community gathering place. We hung out there a lot as teens, swimming and joking around. Years later we’d go there for the Waterfront Festival when home in August for family reunions.

Henes Park

Henes Park is Menominee’s top tourist attraction. It housed buffalo and deer herds in a huge fenced-in enclosure, later added a small zoo with a bear and other local animals. Plus swimming, picnics, softball, hiking, a duck pond, summer fun.

The Leisen-Henes Brewery

This is the home of Silver Cream Beer, my parents’ favorite summer beverage and ours too when we came of age. As a kid I used to go behind the brewery and gather up pieces of broken colored glass from bottles which had been worn down by the waves on the sand and turned into polished gems. The brewery closed its doors in 1961 and burned down in 1966.

The old Caley mansion

The Caley mansion, perhaps Menominee’s most distinguished architectural structure, was right next door to the brewery. Dooley and her younger sister Jeane used to go there on Xmas eve, along with a bunch of other kids, to watch Santa’s arrival (played by a doctor from Marinette). Jeane was scared of what certainly looked like a haunted house. It’s long gone now, replaced by a condominium complex.

The fire department

I’m surprised we needed a ladder this tall in Menominee, but I guess the brewery was that high. Both Dooley’s dad and our dad brought their kids to the fire department from time to time. Dooley got to work the engine’s fire siren, but had the tip of her finger cut off by the rotating blades.

Menekaunee Bridge

There were three bridges across the river between Menominee and Marinette. This was the easternmost and connected Sheridan Road in Menominee with the Menekaunee fishing neighborhood in Marinette. As teens we “cruised the loop” in our cars and were always annoyed when the swing section of the Menekaunee bridge was opened up to allow a sailboat to pass through, halting auto traffic for what seemed like forever.

J. W. Wells Lumber Co.

The Wells Lumber Co. was the last of its era, and it was still in operation in our youth. One of my friends used to take me over, and we’d walk around on the catwalks over the production floor. The company ended its business in 1966.

Totem pole

The man on the ladder is a Seattle artist named Tom Wells who is creating an ice sculpture of a totem pole. Jean Worth watches from below, along with his daughter Ann and her friends.

Hunting camp

We enjoyed many big family gatherings at the Worth hunting camp, just outside of Cedar River. When we reached our mid-teens, the sons joined their dads for deer-hunting expeditions, poker, and Jean’s many rich stories of Cedar River in the olden days.

Friends at camp

Our parents had a wonderful friendship group. Here they are at the Worth camp in a photo taken by my dad. This was an amazing bunch of people – creative, smart, knowledgeable, committed to their community, full of fun. It’s difficult to accept, even comprehend, that their entire generation has disappeared from the face of the earth.

So that’s why “Our Town” brought a tear to my eye.



G-Mail Comments

-John D (5-9): Dave: I saw Dooley’s post on your Blog. Dooley and her family were real good people to know as a kid. Her dad was as smart and articulate as anyone in town. Dooley and I went to grade school together and even then she and I shared something: irreverence. Then the Worth family moved to Marquette, but later I ran into Dooley in Ann Arbor. She had not become any more reverent. It was the mid 1960’s, and Dooley was leading the way for the social revolution that would sweep the country by the end of the decade. I especially liked the photo of the group at the hunting camp, and then the photo of the Caley Haunted House next the brewery. All the kids in the neighborhood remember that place more for the ghosts as for the visits by Santa Claus. Long after Santa quit visiting, the ghosts still lived there. And scared us! The best chestnut trees I have ever seen were in front of that Haunted House… John

1 comment:

  1. More than one tear welled up when viewing the "Friends at Camp" photo. I feel great gratitude to your Dad for that photo portraying our parents and their friends in the very prime of their lives. It is bitter sweet, indeed, to view it. I felt the end of that generation quite poignantly when my aunt Nan Jacobsen died, the last of the group pictured to do so.