Friday, August 29, 2014

And I Said Goodbye to Huron, Again

Tammy and I took advantage of a break in our schedules to get away for a 5-day vacation to our neighboring state of South Dakota this past week. It had been 10 years since we were last there but that trip hadn't included a stop in Huron where I used to live in the early to mid-'80s when I worked at the Flight Service station there. I made a point of spending one night in the city this time. I just needed to see the town again and to reminisce a little along the way.

We took highway 14 which was the route I used to take when I first moved out there. Passing through small towns I hadn't seen in nearly 30 years would at times evoke some memories that hadn't risen to the surface in so long. Sometimes it was a bend in the road that would jog my memory, a section of highway long ago forgotten about but seeing it again would recall a memory so vividly. Other times it was the topography, coming up over a rise and seeing a city or a building off in the distance just the way I remembered it. I'd get excited and recall for Tammy some of those long ago forgotten memories that for whatever reason still matter to me.

There were a few thoughts along the way of my family-life back then, of Noy and her sons whom I've lost all contact with, but for the most part it was just me reminiscing about my life that was and realizing how fast 30 years has gotten away from me and feeling a sense of sadness about that.

We made arrangements to stay at the Crossroads Hotel and Event Center which was just being built when I moved back to the Minneapolis area in August of 1985. Our smoke-free room was comfortable and quite a fair deal at less than $90.

Tammy was happy to accompany me on a trip down memory lane when we arrived in Huron with only a few hours of daylight remaining. I stopped to photograph the "World's Largest Pheasant" that greets you as you come into town from the east. We then drove down by the pool that used to be so alive with kids but was now abandoned having been made obsolete by a new waterpark across town.

We drove to our hotel to check-in and after that, I took a short stroll around town to take some photos and compare my memories of the city with what it's become. I stood out by Dakota Ave, the main street in town, hoping that maybe a former co-worker would recognize me but no such luck. None of my friends that I'm still in contact with (thanks to Facebook) still live in the city. I didn't spend as long walking the city streets as I'd have liked because there were still a few spots I wanted to see in daylight: where I used to live; where I used to work and the Huron mall.

We stopped by my old address at 2121 Ohio Ave SW, Apt 7 and I got out to walk around while Tammy waited in the car. It looks much the same but everything around it has changed considerably with no more vacant lots on either side. I wondered what became of the retired couple, Dale and Ione Kimzey, who lived above us? They would be in their 90s if they're still alive today.

Just down the street is the mall that for the most part has been abandoned. J.C. Penney left years ago leaving Kmart as the only other anchor and the only other store still in business. The main door to the mall was locked but a woman at Kmart told me to try again in the morning and that I should be able to get in and have a look around.

We drove to the north end of the city and to the airport to find that the building I once worked in had been torn down. I tried to imagine where it had been but without access to our old parking lot it was a little difficult to picture where it was that I'd spent all those hours briefing pilots over the phone about the weather and providing airport advisories to traffic in the pattern. Some guy approached me and asked if I needed help. I explained that I used to work at the Flight Service station and was having a look around and did he know if Dan Parrish was still flying in the area? He said that the last he'd heard, Dan was flying an MU2 out of Omaha, Nebraska. I'll have to listen for his voice.

We left the airport and I eventually found my way to the golf course after making a wrong turn, not aware that the entrance to the course and even the parking lot had been moved. I spoke with the guy behind the clubhouse counter and asked him how long ago they reconfigured the first tee, the clubhouse and parking lot. He said it's always been this way. He looked to be in his early 20s.

Huron is where in 1984 I became a runner. There was a gravel road out west of our apartment where I'd run to that was part of a 5 mile loop I'd often do. I had no idea then how important running would one day become to me. What I wouldn't give to be able to engage in that activity again.

We had dinner at Prime Time Tavern on the south end of town just a couple blocks from where my apartment was. It's just the way I remember it with a streamlined menu and very reasonable prices. I was very glad to see it had survived the 3 decades I'd been away.

We left the restaurant and I drove up Ohio Ave which was the north/south avenue just outside our apartment. There used to be a simple blue rambler several blocks up with a large tree in the front yard that I wanted to show Tammy. It was my dream-home back then. If only I could own something like that I thought, I'd be content. (Huron was a tough market to be a seller in the mid '80s, I would guess it still is, and I knew my time there wouldn't be long so we rented.)

I was thinking that maybe I was mistaken because we weren't seeing it and I was running out of streets but then toward the end of the avenue I found it, just the way I remembered it except that it's a lighter blue color now. I got out to have a closer look and to try and imagine myself all those years ago, walking down that same sidewalk and eyeing the simple blue home. And now it's for sale for $84,800. I'll have to take a pass.

We finished out the night stopping in at a few local bars where I'd drop Willy's name to the guy behind the counter to see if anyone could tell me how he's doing. Willie was a co-worker whose wife would sometimes have to come and get him out of the bar to return home. He either gave up the booze or has moved on as nobody I spoke with was familiar with his name.

We got up the next morning and had coffee and a pastry at Don't Spill the Beans before going back to the mall on our way out of town to see if it was open so I could go inside. It was. And that's where it hit me. I came to the end of the hall and stood in front of what used to be the pet shop, the place where I'd bought Coocoo when I first arrived in town. I was a little overcome with emotion. The store was empty as they all were but in my mind I was flashing back and seeing the store's owner behind the counter and hearing the calls from dozens of animals waiting to be taken to new homes. I was seeing it all in my head but then I'd refocus on what was and it was just so, so sad. It was all gone. All of it. Everybody and everything had moved on from this place. It seemed a microcosm of what Huron, the Huron I knew, had become in some ways. My eyes welled up with tears and I turned around to walk back to the car and to Tammy.

And I said goodbye to Huron, again.

(Part 2 can be found here)


Larry said...

Lots of memories there KG! I think Willie K. Don Collins and Arlene Bauder are the only Fss People in town yet.....Even the AFSS building has been leased to an Ag company....

Kevin Gilmore said...

Thanks for your comment, Larry. I never knew Don Collins...I knew Don Holmes. I'm not sure if he's still with us or not. Gene Kornock (spelling) is another one who comes to mind as well as George Heckert.

Yeah, I really did enjoy my time there and having you as my sup. I can still recall the day you certified me on Pilot Weather Briefing and the terminals we were sitting at.

I tell friends I work with that I used to feel more stress working Flight Service than I ever have as a controller. There was something about an ambulance chasing lawyer coming after you on the heels of an incident and looking at something to hang their hat on because of an omission in a weather briefing that never sat well with me.

I obviously grew to love the city as well. I hope for the best for that little jewel of a town.