Clare County Review & Marion Press Columns

Postcard from the Pines: Have a hot cup of News

The Corner Cafe

Some may find it hard to believe but, long before our ability to instantly share news and events via television, cell phone, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on, people found a way to spread their news, whatever it may have been.  
There was a time when the folks in Marion had a well arranged and practiced system for the distribution of news and gossip in this town. And let’s be honest, gossip they did and gossip we do. In 1950’s Marion, before the internet and the instant gratification of cell phones, they had it down to a science. It just depended upon the type of news one sought and how you got it. If it was neighborhood gossip, it could be had via the party-line or over a cup of coffee in the kitchen next door. From there it was just a matter of time until the latest ‘dish’ made it to folks on other end of town.
On Main Street, things were done a bit differently. Certain places were a natural for the passing of news, in fact some still are. Everyone visited the Post Office during the day, sometimes twice. It was a logical place for gathering and dissemination of all kinds of news from all sorts of places. As long as I can remember, no matter where the office was located, it was the place to go to find out who was currently reposing at the funeral home. It still is. For many Marionites, one’s passing just isn’t so unless there is a card in the Post Office and an obit in the Press.
Van’s Drugs was always good for a bit of news too. Owner and pharmacist, Neil VanDeWarker saw a lot of people in a day. He knew what was going on in all directions. At the soda fountain in the front of the store, chatter was particularly heavy after 3:30pm when the after school crowd arrived. People of all ages like to talk, like to share news and what’s up in their lives. They still do.
Different businesses meant different news. Men tended to congregate at the elevator, lumber yard, and each gas station. Men shared man news and man stories. Perhaps the ultimate place to hear a good story, the latest ‘man dish’ and to improve oneself at the same time was the barber shop; Fred and Mel’s to be precise. Fred or Mel Helmboldt, father and son barbers, were current on everything from the weather to where the best fishing was to be had, who got the big buck, and everything in between.
We had one barber shop and several beauty shops. The ladies shared the news in likewise fashion. Recipes and soap operas were more than likely bookends to the real gossip under the hairdryers.
The Marion Press appeared once a week with all the news of the country neighborhoods, however, many times a lot of that news was already old news.     
Folks have been meeting for coffee every day at the local restaurants as long as we’ve had local restaurants. For nearly 100 years, the most obvious of our eating places, now known as the Flashback, has been a favorite gathering place for the coffee drinking crowd.
For my dad’s generation, “going for coffee” meant taking a break with fellow coffee drinkers, talking business, sharing and learning the news, and getting warm from the cold.  In the 1950’s this was the real-life equivalent of going to Facebook.
Everyone knew everyone else in our little town and especially in their own neighborhood. You didn’t have to request someone to be a friend, they were. And “unfriending” someone was the result of an incident that the whole town knew about anyway. Then, just as now, Marion friends’ trade jokes, commiserate with problems, offer solutions and above all, support each other.     
The only difference between the spreading of news in the 1950’s and now is how we do it. People will always be curious and acquainted with each other’s lives.  News travels; all kinds of news, good, bad or indifferent. And so, we share because we care.
What other photo could we use this week? This is the original red brick Corner Café in 1958. As you can see the famous corner door is in use, the Thayer’s Ice Cream sign stands tall over the phone booth and parking was still allowed on the side of the highway. Yikes!
Don’t forget to turn those clocks back 2am Sunday!

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