A visitor finds hope in Morenci 2011.01.05

As the morning fog lifted Dec. 29, my Beautiful Wife suggested we take advantage of this break in the winter season and do our usual “Sunday drive” on a Thursday afternoon. BW said she did not remember ever being in Morenci and suggested that as our designation. We had been following the sad news of the disappearance of three Skelton brothers and she wished to make a contribution to the reward fund.

 We discussed the possibility of looking up the information on the internet, but agreed that going in person was so much more satisfying. BW could not remember the only other time we had visited Morenci. It was for a funeral at the Congregational Church at least 15 years ago, so this sounded like a good thing to do for a year’s end drive.

 From our home near Ypsilanti, we took the diagonals of Stony Creek and Ridge Roads, then zig-zagged the mile-square grid of “roads” and “highways” of Lenawee County. Entering Morenci, we noted the “Hope lives in Morenci” sign at the city limits and wondered if the theme was still appropriate after such a bleak year.

 A quick tour of the town showed us the Christmas decorations, yellow ribbons at the park, and a police car stopped in the middle of a residential street hosting a neighborhood conversation. Hope, indeed, lives here and so does Norman Rockwell, apparently.  We followed the officer to the Police Department and, when we asked about the reward fund, he invited us inside to collect the information.

 Certainly the Morenci officers have been inundated with queries from the press in the past month, but the officer we spoke with related the recent events with all the concern and dignity of a close neighbor––even a relative. He offered us a copy of that week’s paper, noting there was a letter from the Mayor that seemed to answer our questions about contributions. Being in the small newspaper business ourselves, we devour every local paper we can find.

We then found the Morenci Pub and were welcomed by at least six people as we entered. The proprietress shouted a big “hello” and showed us to a booth. I called her by name and she made us feel right at home.  Later, when she brought our lunch, she asked, “Where do you remember us from? How do you know our name?”

“Marsha,” I said, “your name and R.D.’s are painted on the sign out in front!”

Later, R.D. came in with his fat, little dogs and they made us feel even more at home.

We sat at our table and read every word in the December 29 edition of the State Line Observer. Even though we didn’t know any of the people in the year’s-end-review, we certainly recognized the spirit and the warmth of the community.

As we left the Pub, we stopped to zip up our coats, wrap our scarves, and stick our goofy winter hats on our heads. “Let’s look for ice cream,” BW suggested as we left town.

We found barns on windy prairies, but did not find ice cream until we got to a fast-food franchise in Blissfield. That’s not really our kind of ice cream, but we settled. As we left the hamburger stand, I instinctively patted my pockets for my car keys and cell phone.  No cell phone!

 It took us a few minutes of reflection to think how we might have lost it, so I turned the car toward the southwest-leading zig-zags again and knew that, if we saw “Ohio” signs, we had gone too far. “Just stay on this side of the state line,” suggested BW, “and we’re bound to find Morenci again.”

 BW got on her cell phone and called back to the Morenci Pub. Marsha answered and we felt we had been adopted. She looked in our booth and in the “john,” but no cell phone was found.  As BW was talking to her, I remembered zipping up in front of the Pub and hearing a strange sound: sort of like something metallic bouncing. I remembered looking around, but saw nothing unusual. That must have been the cell phone hitting the sidewalk.

 Half-an-hour later, we were back in Morenci, checked out the sidewalk area, stopped in to leave information with Marsha, then left the same info at the Police Department. Again, it was time to head back to Ypsi.

 At home again, I called my phone service to cancel out and then e-mailed David Green, the editor of the Observer, to place the same lost-and-found notice I had left at the Pub and the Police.

 The next day was New Year’s Eve day. I had morning coffee with my gang of geezers and we commiserated with two of our Washtenaw Sheriff’s Deputies at the coffee shop. I told them our pilgrimage to Morenci. They related their professional opinions about the Skelton case––with the proviso that I not use them in the little newspapers I publish. They also said they would not be surprised if my phone turned up, unlike in our more urban area. “It’s a different world out there,” they seemed to indicate.

 That afternoon our house phone rang and it was “Darren” (Darin? Darrin?) who told me he had found a red cell phone in a black holster lying in the street in front of the Pub the day before and he was calling the first number listed on it. He even shopped around through several area codes and asked me where “734” was. I told him I was in Pittsfield Township, just south of Ann Arbor and he told me where he lived on E. Main Street in Morenci. It seems we have discovered exactly where hope lives.

 We were still enjoying the mid-winter break in the weather and, an hour later, we were back in Morenci. Darren was a delightful character, gracious and kind. He introduced me to his friend and we had a pleasant conversation. When I finally thought to ask, Darren said his last name was Porter.

 Next, we returned to the downtown district and parked in front of the Observer office. Editor Green was handling what he said was the first phone call of the day and it was clear that he was getting a scoop on some governmental meeting from “Ruth.” They went on and on as I peeked in the back pressroom and marveled at the piles of history in that venerable establishment. The front office was lined with awards and trophies: Michigan Press Association, Michigan Education Association’s School Bell Award, and many others. The stone in the façade of the building indicated the Observer had been here for a century and some of the papers in the back were still there as proof. What a delightful repository of community history!

 BW needed to sit down, so she repaired to The Pub to await my arrival.

 The editor’s phone message finished, David Green immediately recognized my red cell phone on the counter and called me by name. We discussed the state of the newspaper business today and, as every conversation in Morenci must, eventually moved to the Skelton case. David reported that the boys were his back-door neighbors.

 Upon entering the Pub once more, I was pleased to see the place inhabited only by women: Marsha was behind the bar, BW at the corner, and two downtown business women were farther down on the north side. They were all four locked in conversation and already knew of the return of the cell phone, and Marsha reported that a police officer had stopped in the night before to check up on the complaint.

 And, yes, they knew Darren, and were not at all surprised at his kindness and hospitality. Several guys who drank beers with their hats on came in to discuss their plans for New Year’s Eve and R.D. came in with his fat dogs. They all knew about our business in town and wished us hearty farewells and “Happy New Years” as we left. The shouts of “Come back and see us,” brought tears to our eyes as we buttoned-up yet another time to head back to The Big City.

 Who wouldn’t come back when “hope” is so easily found in this town? It was the last day of 2010, a year with many dreadful memories, but “hope” lives in Morenci and we will certainly return to welcome it in 2011.

 Happy New Year, Morencians! You live in a good place.

- Tom Dodd

Ypsilanti, Mich.