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Monday, April 25, 2011

Impermanence, and what endures

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The tavern in the middle of our town looked like one of those windowless bars I rode by when I was a kid in the back of the station wagon on trips when for apparently moral reasons we couldn’t use the neon sign’s “Q” in “Liquor” for the alphabet game. Covered windows or no windows at all, I envisioned those bars dark, dirty and mysteriously bad inside, with men hunched under the roof around brown bottles of beer, like trolls under a bridge around unspeakable loot.

Don and I have lived a few years on a country road two miles from a town where a tavern has presided over its comings and goings for decades. Every weekday I drive through the village's eclectic row of houses and the four corners of downtown on my way to and from work. There is an alternate route I could take, but the town reassures me, with its thousand people who know each other and on summer evenings buy ice cream cones at the general store across from the tavern, leaning on posts while they lick Rocky Road, or lounging on the store steps smoking cigarettes. I fill up my gas tank on the third corner at the BP, deciding to support a business in town even as I support a company that administered a disaster. Maybe my gas money will help someone get compensation for the oil spill too. I can hope.

The tavern across from the general store is in a building that is 150 years old. That's when the Civil War began. We got to know the tavern, where neighbors and friends ate pizza and drank beer, Harley bikers stopped for breakfast on their smooth Sunday rides across the state, and cyclists by the dozen stopped for lunch and a rest. On Memorial Day the end of May, the owner sold barbecued ribs and chicken from his trailer in the parking lot during the parade. Once a month or so we got a booth in the smoky old joint and ate bar burgers or all you can eat Friday fish fries when we didn’t feel like cooking.

The tavern burned Wednesday in the middle of the night, no one hurt thankfully. Workers pulled down the hollow brick walls the next day when the fire had been put out by firefighters from all over. When I drove home Thursday, sort of forgetting that the tavern was gone, I turned the corner onto Jackson Street between the square of charred piles of bricks of the tavern and the general store, and suddenly I had to stop. I was in the midst of a crowd of hundreds of residents (half the town) who were standing in a vigil in the middle of the street gathered around the tavern’s owner standing by his pickup, letting him know they love him and want him to rebuild. Hands were held high with cell phones snapping pictures as friends stepped forward to hug him one by one. There I was, driving my little Aveo through the crowd (it was impossible to go back the way I’d come) dividing it like Moses parting the Red Sea, with the sea of people closing in together behind me. I may not know anybody in this town (I'm fine with that, we have good friends and big families), but I felt bolstered by their group hug that surrounded me like a living piece of cloth being unzipped and rezipped by me in my car and all that love.


The "trolls":
our son's friend Stephen and our son Peter
when we took Stephen, a world traveling
cruise ship videographer, to the town tavern
when he visited from Vancouver last year 

 Photo from the Lansing State Journal



Don snapped this pic with his cell phone;
what's left of the building in this shot
was pulled down the next day




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64 comments:

Marcie said...

So sad to have lost this piece of history. Love how you've described the experience of going thru the crowds as a parting of the red sea.

all ways 11 o'clock said...

it does make one understand the
impermanence loosing a land mark like this but will be in the memories of those who have sat at the bar or ordered wings and beer
for now...

great post.
has me thinking this monday morning.

~robert

Grandmother said...

The final photo is so poignant as is your description of the loss of a neighborhood hangout. Nice that your neighbors stood witness with the owner.

Bonnie said...

It is sad to see a communal gathering spot in ruins. Those walls held so many stories, secrets, joys, sorrows... A piece of personal and community history gone.

Heart-warming to hear how the town came out in support of the owner.

Brendan said...

Florida has not real history, so its taverns are fleeting, too, my drinking ghost lost in so many of them, quickly torn down for the next suburban fad or reclaimed by vines. But in eastern Pennsylvania where my father lives, the same tavrerns you write so eloquently about here are everywhere, corner recluses from life in 'burbs like Bangor and Stroudsburg and the Delaware Water Gap. There was place in the Gap called the Fox Gap Inn which was notorious for jazz, rock 'n' roll, drug dealing and handouts by the tavern's owner, a rebel who loved his small town, threw rocks at passing semis and was a constant thorn in the city council's side. One day in the early '80 he was found murdered. The case was never solved - state police weren't really that interested in the case, believing a dead hippie to be a much less difficult one. The place closed for a while, reopened under new owners and went bankrupt, the building remaining a shuttered reminder of those good old bad old times, the motleyed rep of every local bar. Like churches of faded dreams. Glad to see your town rally round yours. Fine story and pics with this too.- Brendan

Expat From Hell said...

What a great piece of writing. A town and it's bar. So many places (especially here in Texas) are built around the local honky-tonk. Seeing the pictures, and reading your grim characterization of the folks gathering around the ruins in support of the owner - riveting. Thanks. EFH

VioletSky said...

It is heart-rending when a piece of history is destroyed, especially when a place has been so much a part of the community. I hope the new resurrection of this watering hole will be as blessed and beloved.

Lilith said...

It wasn't just a tavern, was it? It was a meeting place, a community, it had a soul of it's own. Love the photo of the interior of the tavern, it looked like a wonderful place to sit with friends.

ellen abbott said...

what a loss for the community. I hope he rebuilds.

Char said...

i'm sorry - not only for his loss but for the sense of history and family that his place provided. i hope he was insured well and that he can either re-build or find something he loves equally.

Raquel said...

For some reason, this makes me so sad. I too hope he rebuilds. Every town needs a gathering place like this, a place where everyone knows your name.

steven said...

it's so sad ruth. taverns just like this have been a fringe part of my life for a very long time. when i ride i love to stop in the old places for the whole sensory and emotional experience of being in places with such very human histories. it's so good that the townspeople gathered to give love. so good. steven

Babs-beetle said...

It's very sad when places we are so familiar with, are no longer. Something else, maybe another tavern, will be built there, and become the next generation's landmark and create their memories.

Sandy said...

I would so miss this. There is nothing quite so comforting as a tavern in a small town. I would miss ours ---"heroes' if something happened....it's like Cheers. How sad for the town and owner.

The Bug said...

I love this story - especially your description of your car zipping & unzipping...

Oliag said...

Local institutions like that are often such a great part of the community....it is sad to lose one by development or especially by tragedy such as this. I am happy to read that no one got hurt in the fire. We have a very similar sounding and looking local tavern which we don't actually go to very often...still it is nice to know it is there and I would miss it if it were gone. Maybe I will talk Mr O into going there soon...

izzy said...

Thanks for visiting! We passed a block of buildings that caved in from snow
( neighboring town) a hair salon, and 2 other small businesses... fortunately
no one was there at 3 am...

Dan Gurney said...

I love the title you gave to this post: impermanence and what endures. For the real story here is the gathering of the townsfolk to mark the loss of their tavern and to shower love on its owner and to encourage him to rebuild. That's what endures. And I hope that the energy of that crowd build a new tavern from the ashes of the old.

Wonderful post, Ruth!

Friko said...

Don't you wish you could be part of this community?

I often wonder why I still feel like an outsider after 13 years here and why it doesn't bother me, when everybody around me is always friendly, welcoming and willing to let me in.

It's me who doesn't want to join in, who prefers watching from the periphery, recording the feelings I attribute to the participants without really knowing if I have it right.

People are either joiners or observers;I know which one I am.

Anna said...

It is so sad to see this piece of our history go. I loved your story, and some parts brought lot of good memories when I lived in a really really small town :). Ruth hope all is well, and you and your family had a good Easter. Anna :)

Louise Gallagher said...

A beautifully told story of what happens when history disappears in flames -- and people rally round in support. the loss of the building is sad, but it wanes in comparison to the friendship, kindship and support of the townspeople. Buildings crumble and fall -- but those relationships last forever.

Beautiful!

Meri said...

It's a shock when a community gathering place goes up in smoke. A little bistro in an old house burned by an arsonist's hand a few months ago -- it still stands, fenced off, a smudged version of itself.

Gwen Buchanan said...

It is heartening to know that people care.

erin said...

ruth, it's so strange, isn't it? these buildings we build our visual days with and rely on without a thought. this winter a store burnt down in a small neighbouring town, the town my mother is from - last store standing. it had turned into a junk shop and the local crazy lady who is rather odd, but probably not crazy at all, irene, lived there. my children and i went through on a tour a few years ago. she was quite proud of her place and it was once a wonderful building. but now, sadly the store was falling in on itself. she has a hording disorder of giagantic porportions, and so we carefully wound our way around the falling in floors and over thresholds about to tear apart and witnessed this once grand building. thing is it was the store three doors down from my grandmere's house and my mother bought candy out of apothocary jars from the twelve foot long hard topped counter that still rested in that front room under debris. i touched it. she got her first permanent at that kitchen sink. and i touched the door handles and woodwork and pressed tiles falling from the kitchen ceiling. i saw irene's bed, a mouse size patch in a room bulging with refuse and peanut butter containers. and i saw the old woodstove that would catch fire this past winter and take the thing to the ground. one month later in the heart of 30 below winter the ground was still smoldering. frightening as all hell. still smoldering. and now it's gone. i know what you are saying here, with your words, and with the words that aren't here. and i kind of feel like crying. and i kind of feel like smiling for i touched irene's banister on her perfect staircase.

i'm so glad you are out there writing and feeling and being.

xo
erin

Amy @ Soul Dipper said...

Ruth, this is so symbolic. Your journey through community presented you with feelings and thoughts you had no plan to encounter at that time or in that manner. The circle of care drew from you as one of their own.

May we do more of that on our earthly home.

lc said...

Hi Ruth
it's funny, I wrote a story last week called
tavern in the woods
now you have me thinking of the difference between a tavern in the woods and one in town.
I also wonder of the difference between a bar and a tavern
I think a tavern would say excuse me when it burped
a bar would just fart and grunt
I think I mostly prefer a tavern but I have moods where only a bar could suffice.
Lovely telling-thank you

ds said...

I smell it: the char, the dashed hopes, the community spirit (and you in your car zipping and unzipping it--wonderful image). The towns we both do and do not belong to. And all of those cell phones raised like candles in a vigil. I hope the owner rebuilds; I'm so glad no one was hurt.

So much in this slice of life. Thank you.

The Solitary Walker said...

The church - and the pub. Iconic fixtures of villages and small towns everywhere. You feel the heart's been torn out of the community when one of them goes. In your case it looks like the pub will be rebuilt.

There's a short story in this, Ruth!

Susan said...

In such a small town, a landmark gathering place gives the town its heart. Such a loss for the community. I hope he will rebuild. It would be nice if the owner could read your fine piece.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Marcie. I felt intrusive, but almost as soon as I was through, I knew the cloth was seamless.

Ruth said...

Robert, this must be devastating for the townspeople as much as for the owner. Thank you for visiting and reading and commenting.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Mary. Anyone who has been through a fire must shudder at the sight of that char.

Ruth said...

Bonnie, the newspaper said the owner, Larry, had 21 contracts/files to cater weddings this summer that were burned in the fire. He asked the customers to contact him. Imagine!

Ruth said...

Brendan, the Fox Gap Inn. Sounds like the hippie rebel didn't cave, except in death. Places like that have more devoted converts than church, I think, after all they go to pray at the bar-counter every night, not just once, twice or thrice a week. Friends truly become family. I remember one night at the tavern, Don and I were eating our nachos, and a woman walked up to our booth and offered us a lemon bar from her plate she'd brought from home. They did that all the time, baking and sharing the goods with each other. I never quite got used to being stared at because we were "strangers" but neither did I have the time or energy to become involved with new friends.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much, Kent. It must be such a shock to these folks to wake up every morning and know their tavern is gone. I wonder if they're getting together anywhere.

Ruth said...

Violetski, I really can't get my head around what it must mean to the people who went there every day or several times a week.

Ruth said...

Lilith, I really loved the interior on the bar side. There was a restaurant on the other side, but the bar side, in the photo, had tons of character. The vinyl in the booths was torn. There were old photographs from down through history on the walls, old signs, all real stuff, not Applebee's. There was an awesome old cooler/refrigerator where they kept some stuff right out in the bar. Thank god that only things were lost, not any people.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Ellen. The building came down and was cleaned up so fast, that it looks as though he was well insured. So I think he will rebuild. What a shame all the old artifacts are gone. Maybe folks will donate things from their own histories in the town.

Ruth said...

Char, thanks. As I just said to Ellen, he seems to have been well insured, since the site was cleaned up so quickly. I imagine that for Memorial Day he will have his trailer set up for ribs and chicken, and that will be quite a day.

Ruth said...

Raquel, thanks for sharing the post, and the emotion of the loss. I can't help wondering what people are doing to get together these days. Maybe they've been gathering in each other's kitchens, I don't know. I hope he'll rebuild quickly too. It will be up to all of them to create something new that will feel right.

Ruth said...

Steven, I can picture you as one of the cyclists who stop on Sunday rides. Our town is a good distance from any other town, so it was an important stopping point for cyclists. My boss at the university even stopped at this tavern many times on organized rides.

Ruth said...

Babs, I hope so. The place was so essential, I imagine that the townspeople will contribute their own time, energy and stuff to make a new place theirs, special.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Sandy. I guess it's good to stop and think about what you have and treasure it more.

Ruth said...

Dana, thank you for reading and enjoying my telling of the story.

Ruth said...

Oliag, I like picturing you and Mr O having a supper or lunch together and appreciating your tavern in honor of this one. Thanks.

Ruth said...

Hi, Izzy, you're welcome. Wow, another disaster that could have been so much worse.

Ruth said...

Hi, Dan, thank you! I was amazed at the showing in the street, though not surprised. It confirmed what I already believed about the closeness of people in this town.

Ruth said...

Friko, I guess I'm an observer too. Part of it for us is that we've moved a lot. Our long-lasting relationships are in many places, just a few close by. I don't have the desire or energy to become part of the community here, but something in me does wish I were one of the long term residents.

Ruth said...

Hi, Anna, good to see you! Small town life is something I grew up with, though not this small. It can feel claustrophobic, and I don't think I could do it again.

All is very well with us, thanks so much. I wish you the same, and give Matthew a kiss.

Ruth said...

Louise, when I contemplate your comment in the context of the homeless with whom you work, I think of what they have lost, and what they still have. I so appreciate what you do, and I've learned from you.

Ruth said...

Meri, how sad. We haven't heard any news about how this fire started. I hope it wasn't arson.

Ruth said...

Hi, Gwen! Yes, this is such a tight group of people. Quite a testimony.

Ruth said...

Erin, your comment is a prose poem to Irene and her stuff. It is all fleeting, nothing lasts. But there is something in the vibrations of these things people live with, touch, use, love. For this reason it is hard to give up certain objects.

Thank you for coming close and touching here, for feeling as you do.

Ruth said...

Amy, that's a good point, there was no intention on my part, but it happened, and I was touched. Thank you.

Ruth said...

lc, hmm, a tavern in the woods. I wonder if I've seen one. Maybe way up north in the Upper Peninsula. I don't know the difference between a tavern and a bar either, but I like your take, which sounds about right.

For some reason picturing a tavern in the woods reminds me of George Carlin's question: If it's illegal to drink and drive, why are there parking lots next to bars?

Ruth said...

Thanks, ds for sharing here. It felt important to show the beauty of this experience, I was so touched.

Ruth said...

Indeed, Robert, what is the center of a town? There are two churches across the street from each other a block away from the site of the tavern. Yes, this would be a good center of a story. Sounds rather Irish . . .

Ruth said...

Thanks, Susie. I'm pretty sure Larry will rebuild. It must have been a tremendous boon to feel his townspeople gather around him like that.

shoreacres said...

The blessing here? For your tavern? Water, to put it out. In much of Texas, rain will be the only answer to end the flames. Whole towns are being evacuated. Herds are dying, of fire and lack of food. The grasses are gone...

But the photo - seeing the police tape I think of the yellow ribbons tied for remembrance around so many trees over the years. What a lovely, haunting image.

Ginnie said...

The way you described the town's support of the owner brought tears to my eyes, Ruth. I guess this is what 'community' is all about. I think of all the war-bombed cities here all over Europe that picked up their pieces, too, and rebuilt...often more than once. For some it is a way of life! So sad but true.

Pat said...

Everyone feels the loss in a small community. It warms my heart that the community is behind this business owner to rebuild.

WKAR said...

I thought about you when I heard of this. Rick often comes through your town when he and his buddies ride bikes and he mentioned it, too. I always hate to see a local landmark fall to fire. I appreciate the labels you posted -- culture and love. True on both counts.

João said...

Hello Ruth,
Impermanence is what endures...

Montag said...

Wonderful story. It will endure.