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Hancock, Wisconsin

March 2, 2009

Even though there was every reason to still wear a winter coat today, there was also that smell of spring in the air.  It hit me as soon as I left our house for the car.  The sky was a perfect blue, and not a clould was to be found.  It is that scent that is carried on the wind, and though hard to explain to those who live in constantly warm climates, my northern readers know of what I write.  The smell is more of a promise at this point on the calendar, instead of instant warmth, but after a long and bitter winter, we embrace the slight change in the air.

With the end of winter, comes the promise of new beginnings, and fresh starts.  We ponder the additions to the ever-widening flower beds, and look for new bike paths to explore.  With the break from the old, and a gaze to the future, also seems like a good time to give this blog a new look.

It may seem ironic to say a ‘new look’, given that the picture on my banner is less than a current photo of the main street of my hometown Hancock, Wisconsin.    The scene is more reminiscent of what my 88-year-old dad, Royce, would recall from his childhood than how I ever saw it. 

The more modern cars were still parked at the same angle as in the picture when I was a boy, when my dad and I would go the barber shop on Friday nights in the late 1960’s.  As a kid I never recall any other night of the week when my dad thought it OK to visit Marv, a no-frills type of  barber.  Being a small kid, Marv would lift a slap of wood and place it across the arms of the barber chair, and I climbed up and sat on it to make it easier  ‘to leave with both ears’, as it was explained over and over to me.  I recall always asking for some of the ‘smelly stuff’ to be  splashed on my face and neck like I had seen happen so often to the older men.  Then it was off the slab of wood and waiting as my dad had his hair clipped.  It was never a long wait.

When I was older I recall roaming up down this street as my dad was getting his hair cut, and looking in the windows of the various stores.  We had a grocery store, bait shop, hardware store, and in the upper left portion of the banner is where a bakery was located.  It was from there I recall at unpredictable times my dad brought home dessert after he got off work.    The bakery made the best crullers and apple fritters to be found anywhere. 

 Beyond the bakery was the motel and filling stations.   In later years I ventured up the street and into the local library and started my lifetime addiction to books.  It was there that Winifred Carlton and I started a friendship.   She staffed the hours most every Friday in a small white framed building that was short on space, but not on the mission it served to our hometown.  Over the years I have come to understand how important a person she was to me while growing up in a small town.  Often we need the distance of time to find these things out, and it is comforting to see how all the pieces fall into place with the long view.  That is one of the nice things about growing older.

Looking back on the memory-laden picture, and thinking of the busy city streets of Madison, the place I now call home, makes it all seem like a light-year away.  Life and experiences in between the two are enormous, as it should be.  Not to have a starting point as a child, and then a new location as an adult, was something I knew I never wanted to feel.  I was not able to describe it as a child the way I can now, but the feeling was in me none-the-less.  Deep down I knew from an early age that life had to be bigger and more thrilling than what I saw on my hometown main street.  I needed to leave Hancock to be the person I knew I could be.  Needed to be.  I still have fond memories of Hancock, and know I became the man I am today due to the small-town experiences I had there.  But as wistful as the memories are, that place could never contain me again.  We grow and move on, and yet never forget from where we came. 

As it should be.

  1. August 8, 2011 7:17 PM


    Many thanks for the comments about Dad, and also Walt. I hope you are here often as a reader.


  2. Steve Adams permalink
    August 8, 2011 6:43 PM

    I’ve been really enjoying your posts on the “I grew up in Hancock” site. I knew your Dad well, and enjoyed being around him. I don’t think I ever saw him angry – but always with a smile on his face – even when I had to call Walt and tell him the road was getting bad and they had to get up in the middle of the night to plow snow or salt and sand the slippery highway. I always called Walt first, and he would get dressed and I would pick him up with the squad car and we would go out for a “test drive” on Hwy 51… He used to joke that he didn’t know why I took him for a ride because I knew when to call and that he never got to go back to bed, and always called your Dad when we got pack from our little spin, and they were soon out taking care of the road.

    I’ve enjoyed most of your blog as well… I say most…. because I’m pro-gun – as are most current and past law enforcement officers, a Hunter Education Instructor since 1964, and an avid hunter.

    I hope you will continue your writing – I enjoy it.

  3. November 16, 2009 6:47 PM

    You are most welcome. You may already know this by now from reading this blog post, but I am the youngest son of Royce and Geneva. James and I talked with you in your town office one afternoon over a year ago. Thanks for stopping by my little slice of cyberspace.

  4. Jerry W. Carlton permalink
    November 16, 2009 4:39 PM

    What a wonderful comment you made about my mother, Winifred Carlton. Strange coincidence. Was searching for Hancock and was led to your kind words on my mother’s birthday, November 11th. Thanks, from the bottom of my heart.

  5. James permalink
    March 2, 2009 10:13 PM

    I very much dislike going to libraries to read. I have always been very uncomfortable in them as they seem so oppressive to me. The library at Middlebury College, where I was a student, was even worse because all of the French books were in the second level of the basement with no windows and lights that ran on a timer. It was a place that gave me the odd sense of imprisonment rather than opening the doors to other worlds, as books tend to do. My visceral reaction to libraries is strange since I don’t know how I would survive without my library card, but I much prefer to go in, get the books that I want and leave. In fact, I like it even more today where I can order my library books on the computer at home and just stop by to pick them up at some later date. Mrs. Duran is, I believe, the root of my abject distaste of libraries.

    Harridan is, of course, defined as a woman regarded as scolding and vicious; such a definition certainly fits the Eleanor Duran who was the ‘troll under the bridge’ which was our little library in Corinth, Maine, where I grew up. Eleanor was a woman of a certain girth, not too overweight really, just heavier than would necessarily want to be squeezed into the lime green polyester pants suit that she always wore. She had those half glasses that tilted on her nose, and she very rarely rose from behind the imposing oak desk and typewriter which sat near the exit. Her gray hair and crooked nose seemed none the less softened by her truck-farmer’s hands which were always calloused and scratchy, very much unlike the soft skin my mother had.

    I recall going to the little Atkins Memorial library with some regularity when I was small. My mother was always an avid reader, though her taste in literature is not one that I share. Mom likes a good salacious historical romance novel. You know the kind: the unknowing princess enters the stable to gather her things for a ride in the afternoon sun, only to be captivated by a young stable boy with sinewy biceps. A Harlequin romance. After little time, mom had read most of the library’s collection and used to have to ask Mrs. Duran if there weren’t anything new to read. With difficulty in her movements and distaste in her eyes, the green-suited figure would rise from her chair and take my mother aside toward the card catalogue. From hidden behind the card stacks would emerge a new hard-cover, recently arrived from a Bangor book shop. She would hold the book firmly and issue a stern warming to my mother that the book was just trash. “This one,” she would caution, “is just full of… you know. I don’t know why we even have it here.” My mother would assuage her fears and agree to read the book without telling ‘the others’. In recollecting the event on the phone this morning, Mom, “Oh, she’d let me read the book, but there were many which few people ever got the chance to read. Eleanor kept them under very close wraps. She certainly never let them leave the library in the hands of one of her Baptist friends who might think that the lust and other misguided deeds contained therein were something that she felt appropriate for an upstanding community.”

    I can not say that Mrs. Duran, as she insisted I call her, was very friendly. On occasion, we would stop by her chicken barn and truck farm on the end of the White School House road. She did grow marvelous beets, and her white clap-board house, which sat very close to the main road had a lovely pond where we went ice skating only once at Halloween—before she chased us kids off. I would say hello to her, and she promptly spoke to my mother of my insolence; the large imposing gray chicken barn rising behind her added only to the coldness with which she rebuked me.

    At the library, I had often observed her carefully take the library cards out of their pockets in the back of the book so that she could stamp them with a return date. One by one, she would take the cards out and place them in the spine of the book, piling the books one on top of each other, meticulously. One fateful afternoon when the library was ‘busy’, which likely means there were more than my mom, sister and me there, I decided that I would help Mrs. Duran out. I carefully opened each of my books, removed the little cards and tucked them into the spine, only to hand her later the pile of books, just as she would have done herself. As I removed my hand from my neatly assorted pile, she slapped it and scolded me for my misbehavior. “What if you had lost one of the cards, you unthinking child?” she shouted. My alarmed mother pulled me closer and saw the hurt on my face. In the car, she assured me that Mrs. Duran was only trying to teach me right from wrong, but that even she felt what I had done was very courteous. I didn’t go back to the library for some time after that. When I finally did, Mrs. Duran kept a very close watch on me, so that I didn’t “create any other mischief”. It was impossible to sit down and enjoy the worlds contained within the fantastical stories with the old troll glaring at me. I eventually gave up, and only went to the library long enough to pick up new books and leave. While my mother browsed, I would play in the front yard of the library, reading the names of the men inscribed on the veteran’s memorials placed there. My grandfather’s name was on the larger of the two; it was comforting to know that he was “there with me”. The moment my mother exited the old wooden door frame, I would rush to the car to get inside. Our visit to the library was mercifully ended.

    I learned later too that Mrs. Duran also used to maintain records for the Baptist Church. Once, many years ago, I asked if I could see those records books, hoping to find some information about my great grandmother and her involvement in the community. The then Pastor DeGroft told me that some crabby old woman had them secured at her home and that it would be unlikely that I would get a chance to see them. I knew the crab about whom he spoke, and dared not even ask. (Luckily, upon her husband’s passing, the books have been returned to the church and are now under lock and key.) I have yet to recover fully from my encounters with Mrs. Duran, and still dislike being at the library, but can laugh about it now.

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