By DANNY KALIS
On July 2nd, two blocks from my house, a 2-year-old girl named Kamiya was murdered in an act of retaliation against the little girl’s father.
My two children, my wife, and I were living in an area of Westland, Mich., known as “Shacktown.” A place where you could rent a two bedroom duplex in a desolate neighborhood for the relatively low price of $700 a month. While working maximum hours, I was in constant fear of a similar tragedy at my own home while I was away.
Two days after Kamiya’s murder, on the Fourth of July, I helped my parents move from the Jackson area to the small city of Morenci. For me, it was love at first sight—a place where a person could go to work and not fear for their family’s safety. A few weeks later, we visited my parents and enjoyed the community garage sales.
Even before the shooting, the idea had been brewing that we needed to get out of the area we were in. Unfortunately, halfway decent houses in moderately better neighborhoods were going for nearly $1,000 a month in that area. While walking around the garage sales, we found several nice houses for rent even cheaper than what we were paying in Shacktown.
There were questions I heard often when I informed friends, family and coworkers that I had decided to up and move my family to Morenci, with almost no notice or deliberation.
“How will you find a job out there?”
“Why would you want to move all the way out there?”
That little girl’s shooting had rattled me to the core. It was time to make a big move. So, on the morning of July 24, we officially became Morenci residents.
We immediately began the process of enrolling my daughter into kindergarten, and I hit the pavement to find a job as soon as possible. Luckily, I was hired at a factory in Wauseon only five days into our residency.
The change in scenery was profound. There were at least three 7-Eleven stores within a mile radius of us in Westland, and I have yet to find one out here. I’m still getting used to talking to gas station attendants without a thick layer of bulletproof glass between us. It’s now a 32-mile round trip adventure to Wal-mart and back. Cornfields went from a quaint idea of a former time to a normal part of everyday life. I can now sleep without checking the deadbolts a half dozen times.
My favorite place in town so far is Stair Public Library. They have a great selection of current books, classics, magazines, DVDs, and a terrific children’s section. Last week, we even took our son, Connor, to a weekly preschool book reading and craft time that they offer on Wednesdays at 10:30 am. Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Village Inn. The town is proving to be everything that I had hoped that it would be.
Morenci does have its quirks, though. For the first month or so, we referred to the Shell as the “fake” gas station. A place where you could get a great hot pretzel with cheese, but not so great if you needed to, you know, put gas in your vehicle. It also still confuses me as to why there aren’t any visible lines on most of Main Street in downtown. I always feel like I’m either driving in the parallel parking spots or into oncoming traffic.
I’ve also come across some interesting characters. There was the older lady who we watched eat an entire box of cake mix right outside of the Spartan store. (Do you guys call it Spartan’s or Borchardt Brothers Market? I’m still working on the local vernacular.)
I made a Facebook post a couple days after we moved in with a picture of the front page of this very newspaper. The headline was “Raising Chickens: Back-yard birds a growing trend” and I made the comment, “The big headline story here is a bit different than what I’m used to.” The reference was to the fact that a two-year-old being murdered wasn’t even front-page news where we came from. Instead, even greater atrocities filled the front page, and the little girl’s murder was given a few paragraphs on the second page.
I am not naïve enough to think that Morenci is a magical little town of rainbows and fairy dust. A week or so after moving in we saw state troopers questioning young people near Stephenson Park. I later found out that they were there to investigate a heroin overdose. Every city is going to have its issues. None are going to be perfect, but Morenci is easily the nicest place I’ve ever lived, and a place where I am proud to raise my children.
We bought Morenci T-shirts at Dollar General. A plaque of a bulldog rests on my dining room wall. Admittedly, two months in offers a limited perspective, but I’ve fallen head over heels for this little town.