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I’m a small-town boy at heart

Jim Whitehouse
A guy named John lives in my hometown of Morenci. He wrote me a letter to tell me he enjoys reading my columns, but only if they are about my hometown.

That’s OK. I’m a small-town person.

For 2.5 months one summer, I lived in Kansas City, Missouri, doing a college internship. The population at the time was 1,038,000. Fortunately for my small-town soul, I lived with a roommate in a night-watchman’s apartment in the middle of an 1,800-acre park — population two people and a zoo full of animals.

Other than that, the towns I have lived in feature populations of less than 10,000.

Jim Whitehouse
Jim Whitehouse

Growing up in Morenci was a joy. It was not a suburb of anything. It was a real, free-standing town filled with 1,980 wonderful people and 20 not-so-wonderful people, which is a pretty good ratio. It had stores, offices, schools and factories, surrounded by farms.

It was a half-circle. Half of a postal district. Half of a school district.


Well, you see, Morenci is located in the Deep South. The city limit on its south edge is the Ohio border. It is Michigan’s southernmost town.

When I was in high school, there was a contest to come up with a slogan for the town to be painted on a welcome sign.

Because the town dump was located on the edge of the school athletic fields, separated by a 24 inches high earthen berm, my classmate Max submitted his entry as “Over the Hump and to the Dump.” His entry did not win. The winner as I recall was “Gateway to the Water-Winter Wonderland.”

Max was a smart guy, the co-captain of our Morenci Bulldogs football team. During one pre-game pep rally in the school, someone came up with the brilliant idea that some of us football players would dress like cheerleaders, take to the floor during the rally, and do a spirited cheer to propel the team to greatness.

Clever Max wrote the cheer. “I like I like a bird. I like I like a cow. I like I like a bulldog, Bow Wow Wow!” The real cheerleaders never adopted the chant, but it is the only cheer I can remember so at least it lives on in my mind.

My friends and I were lucky that the limits on our activity, time and geography were nearly boundless. We were free to roam as far as we could go on foot or bicycle. We had to go home for dinner. We could do anything we wanted to do as long as we didn’t get caught by our parents or all of the people in town who kept vigilant eyes on the youth and snitched immediately if an infraction occurred.

When we learned to drive, our mothers’ cars carried us to the ends of the flat earth, as long as we had money for gasoline. That is how we learned that Planet Earth is only about 40 miles wide.

My father, on an impulse, bought my mom a little sports car which she never drove and never permitted me to drive. One day, I offered to wash it for her. She thanked me and gave me the keys so I could pull it out of the garage, closer to the hose. I returned home in the spotless car 2 hours later, explaining to my angry mother that the only automatic car wash in the region was in Toledo … population 460,000.

Yessiree. I may have been a small-town boy, but I was very comfortable driving a sports car to the big city to get a car washed.

Jim Whitehouse lives in Albion.

This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Looking Out: I’m a small-town boy at heart

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