Friday, September 18, 2015

The Boys Down At Breadings

 The boys down at Breading’s ordered breakfast just the same as their fathers did. They hollered (seemingly to nobody) that they wanted their eggs over easy and their bacon crispy. You’d have to have been in Breading’s before to be aware of the window in the back wall of the big room that opened to the kitchen. Otherwise, you might think the orders simply appeared spontaneously.

The cigar boxes rested in big waist-high glass cases along the wall. Oh yeah, it was a cigar store. It started out that way, anyway. Breading's Cigar Store. It was one of the shops that lined the few downtown blocks along the old Lincoln Highway.

By the 80’s it wasn’t seed and feed caps you’d see on the heads. Oh, maybe some. They may have crowned some of the older heads. But the current knights of this informal town round table parked their pick-ups outside beside the banker’s and lawyer’s cars. And they talked about what they’re building that day.

And they built over Monoquet – the village’s first site -- where their kids hunted for arrowheads along the banks and adjacent fields of the Tippecanoe River. John Deere and their dads before them had already pretty much changed the rest of the county. Changed all but the winding waterways and glacier lakes. Together, Deere and the dads shaped the county into the neat squares of a quilted landscape that changes color with the seasons.

Three blocks to the south, engineers drove their East-West trains through town, pulling miles of goods from Pittsburgh-to-Chicago just as they had for over a century. Four blocks to the east, the North-South tracks served Detroit-to-Indianapolis trade. The boys in Breading’s, having grown up in the rail town, no longer even registered the sound of the train whistles as they blasted through town. When you grow up in a train town, your ears get habituated.

And their sons played in the Little League diamonds in the industrial park on the west edge of town. The sons played. The dads coached and bragged. The mothers wove the community together.

Breading’s is closed now. The Lincoln Highway has been broken into vestigial segments that you drive through or across on your way to somewhere else in the county. Nowadays, the two youngest generations don’t even know what the historical marker signs that dot those fossil sections of road mean. “Lincoln Highway?” “ This was a highway?” they ask.

But the tracks still go through town. And the Little League diamonds are still on the edge of town. The town grew to the north and to the east but somehow the west edge remained the west edge. Like a tree planted against a wall. All the branches had only one way to grow.

The growing upper and middle class who knew what they wanted, wanted the beautiful landscape and lifestyle of the lakes and the forests to the north and the east. And the growing upper and middle class who didn’t so much know what they wanted, at least knew that they wanted to keep up with where the rest of the upper and middle class was going to be. Gone are the lake cottages. Year-round homes line the lakes now. Every last one of them.

The town has continued to grow. From the small native village of Monoquet, to the taming and draining of the farm land, to the industry that grew around three foundries – all in about one century’s time…

…and finally to the orthopedic industry that now defines it as a small city. It’s now a high-tech town with engineers coming from all over the world for the opportunity afforded them by the demand for their advanced skills. Here they will raise their families and shape this town in new directions.

Here’s a photo, taken in the industrial park today. There’s a game going on. As I’m working in my shop, two hundred yards to the north of me, on the other side of the tracks, here’s the scene: