Believers of Local Myths

The town I grew up in had more than its share of local characters. Since our town was really small and everyone knew everybody, the stories spun about these people were always eyewitness accounts rather than "I heard it from my cousin's mother-in-law's nephew." But since many of the stories were told by children to other children, facts were colored by the magical realm most children live in.

We lived in one of the three houses between the gas station and the post office. Everyone who came into town from the north pretty much had to pass our house to get to Main Street. Our neighbor, David, liked to yell rude or inappropriate comments to people walking by, especially those considered as characters.

Pop Bottle Pete was deaf. He walked into town every day, picking up soda pop bottles to return to stores. He never spoke, just walked with long strides down the sidewalk with his bag of bottles, sometimes looking out of the corner of his eye at people on porches or in front yards. He didn't smile, and was considered pretty scary. It was okay to run into Pete when you were surrounded by a crowd of your friends, but you didn't want to come face to face with him when you were alone. Was Pete dangerous? Probably not, but he was the boogeyman to many children in my hometown.

Barney Ide didn't bathe. He was an outgoing, friendly guy who drove into town every day on his tractor, but the odor emanating from him was atrocious! The ladies at the bank kept a can of air freshener on hand for the day each week that Barney did his banking. Sometimes one of the men from town would invite Barney to stay for dinner, and their wives were horrified. He was dirty, his clothes were dirty, and he smelled bad. But when he died, he may have been the richest man in town. It was said that a lot of money was found in his mattress, even though he went to the bank every week.

Clarabelle would have fared better in present times. She was well dressed and had a pleasant appearance, but the driver's license in her purse the night she was hit by a car identified her as a man, and a medical examination and autopsy confirmed it. If she had lived, would she have left town to avoid the scandal? We'll never know the reasons or rationalization.

Ada owned a bar. Her establishment also sold food, and was rumored to be well known for the green hot dogs. She was well liked, and was always kind to me, although many of the people in town did not approve of her vocation. But she is a part of Michigan history for holding the longest running liquor license in the state.

Every town has its characters, myths, and legends. They become a part of the people who grew up with them and fact and fiction are welded together over time. Do the other people from my hometown remember our characters in the same way that I do? Probably some do and some don't. In life, everyone is looking at everyone else with a different pair of eyes. I'll bet some of the people from my town would list me as one of the characters.

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