​​​Colon, My Magic City

By Wallace Maybee, published in 1989

Shortly after beginning grammar school in Dover, Ohio, I was abducted by my parents and an older sister from my place of birth, then the only place on earth with which I was familiar. It took the combine brawn of my dad and my sister to wrench me free from the base of one of my beloved Buckeye trees. It that tree still exists, it may hold remnants of several of my fingernails which I invested in an attempt to remain while the rest of my family moved to a place called Colon, Michigan. “go ahead … I’ll stay her and keep an eye on things … and later on, when I get to be king or president, I’ll come and visit you.” This plea-bargaining failed, of course, probably for lack of legal counsel. I was forced by my own flesh and blood press gang to help occupy Colon. Soon, though, I became eager to adopt Colon as my home town. And now, not infrequently enough, folks will ask me how my home town happened upon its name.

It explain that one of the early settlers riffled at random through the dictionary with his eyes closed. When his finger stopped, he opened his eyes upon the word “colon”. Disregarding the biological definition which pertains to certain parts of our interior, it was felt that the secondary definition of “colon” suited the geographical situation just dandy. It takes a bit of kinky logic, but here goes … as I understand it. The un-named settlement was concentrated between two lakes, and sperated them … sorta. Now follow closely here, or you may fall off the buggy; you see, the secondary definition of “colon” is the punctuation mark separating two independent clauses. It looks like this: Do you see it? Not very big, but capable of separating the largest of independent clauses, just as the settlement separates two lakes of some size.  Ergo, Colon it shall be, Blessed be the name of Colon evermore.

Sometimes strangers will want to carry the conversation a bit further and will ask, “Is there, by chance, an Upper Colon and a Lower Colon, or maybe a Greater and Lessor Colon?”  I reply that memory serves me well, the population during my earlier citizenship there was more or less contained in the areas East of the railroad track. The area West of the track had a few outlying resident, to be sure, including Blackstone Island. But mainly West of the tracks were residents who had abdicated their citizenship. They occupied the Cemetry and were assumed to have moved to Higher Ground, one must hope. Unless severely pressed for further details, I make no mention of South Colon, or The Bumgut, which designates where the St. Joe river discharges into Lower Lake. Even the rankest of simpletons could make hay with their low humor. I try to steer the attributes of my home town to higher intellectual levels.

Colon, to me, became the Center of the Universe. The lines of altitude and longitude began their journeys there. As far as I was concerned, cartographers had misplaced the equator from State Street and wasted it on vast areas of Ocean and sparsely populated areas of unimportance and mostly inhabited by natives who wouldn’t have recognized this line of altitude if their grandmother was hung by one. The clock on Schoolhouse Hill told the Universe the correct time, despite the misinformation in Greenwich … Grenich … whatever.

To me, Colon became the Magic City, even before the name Magic City was invented. You cannot surround a small boy with lakes, creeks, a dam, a depot where a steam locomotive comes sweeping majestically around the bend across a railroad trestle and a rattly bridge, a grist mill, grain elevator, hitching rails, a pickle factory, a sweater factory … all of this and more, without convincing hi9m that this is indeed is Magic City. There were things to do that only curious small boys count as Magic. There were secret cool places beneath the bridge where you could evict craw-dads from beneath rocks … if you didn’t mind evicting blood suckers from between your toes. You could fish from the aprons of the dam, or just enjoy the cool spray blowing off the spillway and listen to the thunder of the dam at high water times.

A little civility and sincere curiosity became the only charge for admission to places of Magic: like the Lamberson Mill, where a gnome-like, flour covered gent named Eli gave me a conducted tour of the mill amongst the whizzing belts and pulleys and explained it to my satisfaction. Magic! Frank Bailey introduced me to the magic that took place there at the Colon Express; I watched him run the Line-O-Type machine, set type, and saw the magic when words went whizzing onto blank sheets of newsprint. Magic!! Leo Thrams seemed pleased at my interest in his trade, harness and shoe repair, and the machinery and tools he would use. Earl DeVault would invite me into his sheet metal shop behind the Hub. I would watch as he converted sheets of flat metal into boxes and pipes and odd shapes. Magic! Mr. Carpenter, the depot master, could convert rattles and clatters into words andput them on telegrams, and he could punch a key with mysterious jiggles and send messages to far away places, where other “Mr. Carpenter” would pick them out of the air. Magic!

There was the Pickle Factory by the tracks, where pickles were brought in from surrounding farms to be put into huge vats of brine and converted into dills by some magic process. And there was the Lamb Knit Mill where machines whizzed and whirred and clattered away, turning wool into sweaters and bathing suits. Nor was there a lack of culture. We had the Avalon Theatre, with Cowboy and Indian cultural relationships. Tarzan adventures, Charlie Chaplin, Lew Lehr (monkey is da kwaziest peepul!), even Love Stories (ptooey!). There was Hill’s Opera House featuring stage presentations and Magic Shows and “Mellerdrammer.”

The quarter-block now occupied by a medical clinic (Swan and Franklin) was once the scene of a tent-theatre presentations by Skippy LaMore’s traveling Tent Show. Skippy was a lean, gap-toothed, loose jointed character who could tap dance, make putty-faced grimaces and was a master of slap-stick and melodrama. Dr. Sharpsteen’s Medicine Show would also appear on this lot. “Dr.” Sharpsteen would hawk his “medicines” between acts. Jars were on exhibit containing tape worms which he claimed were evicted from the interiors of local citizens by his “Magic Snake Oil”. And there were band concerts in the summer, sponsored by the local merchants. Oh, I tell you … we had it all!!