Saturday morning-Baldwin library, Michigan

downtown Baldwin

The little town of Baldwin, Michigan, ought to be the crown jewel of Lake County. It ought to be prosperous. It ought to have a bustling downtown, comfortable, well-maintained homes, and adequate schools.

But it doesn’t.

Even though Lake County is riddled with deep blue lakes and expansive deep green forests. Even though it’s a sportsman’s paradise, bisected by one of the few designated “wild and scenic” rivers in the nation (the Pere Marquette). Even though it’s been a summer destination for generations of “downstate” families, some from as far as Chicago and Detroit, Baldwin and Lake County remain stubbornly down-at-the-heels. Despite its natural riches, it remains a struggling village in the middle of the poorest county in a state that’s not known as an economic powerhouse.

the wild and scenic Pere Marquette

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m in the Pathfinder’s Library on Main Street to, what else?, access the Internet. Pathfinder’s is shoehorned into a couple empty storefronts and the effect is part clutter and part convolution.

Bonnie is the librarian on duty. She has a wicked sense of humor and a no-nonsense demeanor. Mary is also on duty. She’s a tiny wisp with a big smile. Sweet to Bonnie’s balsamic.

Baldwin library

Chris comes in with a meek and uncertain air. He’s young-ish and tall with unkempt dark hair that flops over his eyes. His general style is secondhand plaid flannel.

“Do you have any information on boxer’s fracture?” he asks uncertainly. “I, uh, don’t know anything about computers, but, uh, maybe you could find something?”

Bonnie is already on the computer. She finds the condition on Wikipedia. It’s also known as “brawler’s fracture” because boxers are too well-trained to break bones in their hands by hitting someone.

Before long, Chris reveals that his dad had been harrassing his mom. The unstated assumption is that this isn’t unusual. “He’s had a bunch of mini-strokes. I didn’t want to say anything I’d regret, so I punched a hole in the wall.”

“Better to punch the wall than your dad,” said Bonnie.

“I was supposed to go to the hospital,” continued Chris, “but I was wondering if I really need to. I’ve been hurt worse.”

He holds up his hand. The swelling is visible from where I sit.

“At least I can move this finger today. Yesterday I couldn’t move any of them.”

He might have moved a finger, but I couldn’t see it.

Mary copies a bunch of information about boxer’s fracture and puts it in a bag.

“Here. They’re free.”

“Well…I should pay for them…,” Chris says uncertainly.

the librarians--Saturday morning

But the next customer has already come in. This is a 12-year-old boy who wanders through the videos adjacent to the librarian’s desk. He chatters with Mary about school and video games.

“This is a really good movie,” he says. “I watched it before.”

The movie is Spawn.

“Well, honey, you’ll need your mom to check it out because it’s rated R.”

“I checked it out before, I’m sure,” he says.

To my surprise, Mary stands firm.

“You can’t check out an R-rated movie until you’re 18,” she says. “Bring your mom back and you can have it.”

“Yeah, maybe she was with me before,” says Boy.

Three adolescent girls swarm in, eyes encircled in black liner, tops skimming midriffs.

“Honey, you can’t bring that drink in here. You’ll have to finish it outside,” Mary says. She has more backbone than I thought.

The girls mill tentatively. The girl with the drink goes out. The others follow. Boy leaves.

And so the morning progresses. A retired couple drops in to say good-by before beginning their winter migration. A middle-aged man comes in with an update on his wife’s condition.

“You give her a big hug for me and tell her I’m praying for her,” says Mary.

At this point, I’m wondering how prosperity might change the character of this town. If Baldwin were more like a resort town with a fancy library–and I’ve been in several–I’m not sure I’d have conversations like these to eavesdrop on. People in those places tend to have the transparency bred out of them.

Personally, I prefer the Baldwins of the world.






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8 Responses to Saturday morning-Baldwin library, Michigan

  1. Carrie 2 November, 2011 at 2:23 am #

    What a wonderful post. I really enjoyed reading it and I was reminded of when I was younger and would stay the summers with my aunt and uncle in Lake County and going to the Baldwin Library with my aunt.

    • Kate 2 November, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

      what an incredible place to summer as a child. I spent mine in Detroit.

  2. Bonnie Povilaitis 28 October, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    i enjoyed reading the story. But we are not shoehorned between any building. We own the building from the half until the corner. We enjoyed our visit with WanderingNotLost and hope shes has a wonderful and safe journey. Stop in and say hi anytime. The door to the Pathfinder Comm. Library is always open.

    Bonnie Povilaitis, Director

    • Kate 28 October, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

      Hey Bonnie,
      Sorry for sounding like you’re squeezed into the space–you are indeed on a corner.
      I enjoyed my morning in the library, and I hope to see you again–maybe next summer. As you can see from the responses below, your work at the library struck a chord.

    • Linda Taylor 21 March, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

      Hello dear… just wondering if you heard any reply from the library board about my purchasing your adorable card catalog ???

      Hope all is well with you and yours…

      Your friend,
      Linda Taylor

  3. Erik 18 October, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    This is a beautifully written story. The ‘real’ Michigan is outside the big cities, sad more people don’t experience that.

  4. matt 18 October, 2011 at 2:41 am #

    i love the baldwin library. excellent post. im sure i just barely missed you.

  5. jean selby 16 October, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Lovely sharing about Baldwin, MI. I agree with your observation of what change would wrought.

    As an 80+ yr. Michiganian (not a Michigander, because then I’d be a Michigoosian) I have seen several poor, but lovely communities changed dramatically, not usually for the best for the early residents.