Some Nice Folks: A Couple of Small Town Stories

Ottawa, Ohio: House decorated for Memorial Day 5/25/10

Connersville, Indiana: not exactly Mendocino, California, but its name has stayed in my memory for the same reason:  a happy song and a songwriter.  A change.org petition – of which, more below – brought Connersville to mind.

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          In 1970 the future Country Music Hall of Famer, Tom T. Hall sang of a town in the rolling ‘Hoosiers’[1] country in east central Indiana:

I rolled into Connersville in 1961 with what was left of my last army pay
I had a letter with me from a buddy living there
He said you stop and see me if you’re ever up this way
Need I say he was surprised to find me at his door
With what I guess you’d call a silly grin
He said where are you headed and I said I’m headed here

           Early on, Hall was called a ‘storyteller’.  Few songwriters set up a story better:  ‘I’m headed here’.  He continues:

His Mama said don’t stand there you’ll catch cold just come on in
They gave me room and board I paid a very modest fee
Then I went looking for a place to play
If you’ve ever had a hat and didn’t wear one then you’ll know
The way a country singer made a living in those days

           How about those last two lines?  The light touch of a hard lesson and harder work….  Onward with Hall:

The menu printed on the window of the bar and grill
The man said we’re too small to have a band
I said well I’ll just pick and sing and pass my hat awhile
He said go right ahead but you just do the best you can
Well after seven hours of Cheatin’ Heart and Wildwood Flower
I had me seven dollars eighty cents
I gave it to a waitress who was gonna have a baby
She said she needed just that much to help her pay the rent

           Hall’s knack for character sketches drives his lyrics.  The jailer’s wife in ‘A Week in a County Jail’ is my favorite; Yates, another Army buddy in ‘Salute to a Switchblade’ comes close.  Back to Connersville:

Later on I formed a band and really hit the big time
Ten bucks a night for working at the time
We worked through winter gardens and some other choice nightspots
Looking back I have to say those were the good ole times
Summer came and me and old Mitch Mitchell fished White River
And caught those big ole juicy channel cats

           Hall and John Prine, as I’ve written, can put you into a place and a moment like few others.  How much of that comes from their common roots in Kentucky?  Hall ends:

Sometimes when I’m ridin’ on the jet plane going somewhere
I get to thinking that I’d like to live a life like that
So thank you Connersville and thanks to you old Indiana
You took me in when I knew slimmer days
I won’t forget you and I hope that you will not forget me
And you folks stop and see me if you’re ever down this way

***

           ‘Thank you, Connersville, Indiana’ describes the town 50 years ago.  A change.org petition I got Ground Hog Day suggests its character hasn’t changed.  Writes John Waudby of Greenwood, IN:

 Jeff and Jennifer Counceller [he’s a Connersville policeman and she’s a nurse] thought were doing the right thing when they saved the life of an injured baby deer….

 When they found the fawn on a neighbor’s porch in 2010, she was badly injured with puncture wounds that were infected and had maggots in them. Jennifer, …wound caretaker for the couple’s dogs and horses, took the deer home and named it Dani….

 When they called the [Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR)] they were told to return the deer to the wild and let nature take it’s course….  Instead, they tried to find Dani a home … but no one would take her. The Counceller’s decided to keep caring for the deer until it was strong enough to make it on it’s own in the wild.

 …DNR started an investigation … and a DNR official recommended they get a permit to rehabilitate Dani. The DNR then denied the permit application and then said the deer would have to killed.

 Just before DNR officials arrived at the Counceller’s house to kill Dani she escaped through a gate that was left open. Now, the DNR has assigned a special prosecutor to the case and they’re charging both Jeff and Jennifer with illegal possession of a white-tailed deer.[2]

           Fortunately the day before Ground Hog Day, Indiana governor Mike Pence put an end to the fiasco.  He ordered the DNR to drop the prosecution, reports the Lafayette [IN] Journal & Courier.[3]

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           People in Connersville don’t seem to have changed much since Tom T. Hall visited.  Nice to know.

 

Notes

           1.  One of the two best movie elegies on the Midwest (‘The Straight Story’ (1999)) is the other).  Neither presents life as it was actually lived, but they sure represent how Midwesterners see themselves and hope for their children.  And, both get the feel of the countryside right.  They bring to mind my favorite poem, Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ (1751).

2.  Punctuation and spelling are as in original.

3.  It was hard to find the paper’s name on its website.  I didn’t find it, in fact, until I went to the ‘Letters to the Editor’ page to lodge a complaint.  After submitting it, I was returned to the main news page – again without the paper’s masthead but with its name in an advert for ‘DealChicken.com’.  Come on, guys!  Take credit.  We need newspapers!!

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