Monday, November 9, 2009
One of the highlights of my trip back to my home town of Marion was driving down the street where I grew up. Of course after thirty or so years everything on Belmont Street was different. If I didn't know where my house was located I wouldn't have known it. The hill that we sledded on so many winters ago, the one that seemed to take forever to get back to the top of, it was just a small incline, almost unnoticable to me now. Everything seemed so much smaller- our house, our street, the hill. So many changes have taken place, which only makes sense; nothing can stay the same. It just seems like so many of the changes aren't necessarily for the better. The high school where Jan and I met has been expanded and is now the middle school. They built a new high school out on the edge of town- way out where everyone has to drive to now- no more walking to school. They changed the name of the street the school is on from Seminole Avenue to something like President's Way or some such thing. Why? What was wrong with the old name? The little grocery store that my family shopped at, Vine Street market, is all boarded up. Another victim to the modernization of America I guess. When I was growing up there were little neighborhood markets just like Vine Street scattered all over the town. The clerks all knew your name and we even had charge accounts for groceries.
One of my more pleasant memories was going down the street to Mac's Trading Post. I spent many an hour there looking at the glass case that was filled with plastic trays that rotated when Mac would push a toggle switch. Each tray had an assortment of brightly colored plugs or spoons or spinners- some for bass or walleyes and a few really huge ones for muskies. I lusted after that gear as sure as some men lust after a woman. I never saw anyone buy anything from that case- it seems like the same lures were there year after year- just as well, I always enjoyed looking at them.
E.P. MacAffee- Mac, was quite the salesman. Whether it was selling a nickle candy bar to a kid or an outboard motor to an adult, he could get the sale. If I walked in with a buddy he was always quick to say, "What can Iget for ya girls?" If you came in by yourself it was, "What can I do today to make you feel bad?" It always made me laugh. Mac had the only sporting goods store in town and just about any sport you wanted to engage in, he could provide the gear. He had baseball gloves, and golf clubs; shotguns, rifles, and fly rods. He sold boats and motors;ice skates and basketball shoes. There wasn't a season that he wasn't ready for. If you lettered in a sport he had the appropriate letter- and the jacket or sweater to put it on. The store was located right across the street from the (then) high school and every afternoon about three or so there was an influx of hungry teens parting with their money as fast as he could shove it in the till. He carried an assortment of snacks that could appeal to just about any taste. He even had a infra-red oven to cook the frozen sandwiches and pizzas that he kept in the freezer.
Every year around the end of October he would take off with his truck and head north. It was time to pick out the Christmas trees he would be selling. Scotch Pines from Michigan and Balsam from New Brunswick. Shortly before Thanksgiving Mac would return, usually with some kind of animal he'd shot; a deer or a black bear or a bob cat. He had a number of his trophies placed throughout the store. The first time I ever saw a Whitetail was at Mac's. He had it hanging upside down in his carport and was skinning it. I just about got sick- I couldn't stand the sight of blood back then. Shortly after his return, long stretches of hurricane fence were set up in anticipation of the coming trees, and then, one day, they would arrive. Tree after tree after tree were loaded into the carport until it was full to the ceiling, then they were piled in stacks all around the house and store. In the early years the branches were all tied with heavy brown hemp or jute strings to keep them from breaking and also from taking up too much space until it was time to shake them out and set up against the fencing. The smell of balsam was so clean and refreshing, like walking in a Northern forest. Mac would keep a barrel going as the season ramped up where all the branches and needles could be burned and the white smoke drifted across the lot. He thought it helped to enhance the season.
Both my older brother Mark and I worked for Mac and there were quite a few years where we didn't have to pay for our family's Christmas trees. For all the years I worked there I don't remember the price ever changing- "About a dollar a foot." he'd say to the customer, kind of hunkering down and speaking real low like he was giving you a bargain that no one else was getting. Ol' Mac. I saw him in the nursing home on a visit back to Marion so many years ago when I was in the navy. He was in a wheelchair and I don't think he knew who I was, but he was in good spirits and glad to have the company. I think he would turn over in his grave if he could see the store that he built up all those years. I wish they would tear it down. He deserves better than that. He deserves to have it remembered as it once was- a great place to get a snack and tell a joke and maybe buy a pair of ice skates or a box of shells.