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Archive for June, 2009

Nestled in the heart of the McLaughlin neighborhood, at 245 Irwin, is a very special place. Reminiscent of the mom and pop stores of days gone by, Direct Connection is much more than a simple candy store. Stepping through the door, I am transported back to my childhood and walks to the corner store, where they knew the names of all the neighborhood children, and we were always greeted with a smile, and perhaps a hug if needed. Then walking home with a pocketful of penny candy, or maybe a delicious ice cream treat., just like you find at Direct Connection.

Miss Sue
When you enter, you notice the walls are filled with an eclectic assortment of collectibles. Shelves, wooden crates & boxes, and even a hook or two hold everything from pop bottles to polar bears. There are tins and trays, posters and puzzles, coffee mugs and even a few plush characters we all know and love. Although most of these items are not for sale, they definitely add to the charm as you browse the items that are.
Near the front of the store is the grocery section. Here you will find an assortment of canned goods, condiments, bread and other items. There’s even a freezer stocked with frozen dinners and entrees, and a cooler with milk, juices, and sodas. This is also where you will find shelves of knick-knacks and gift items. Back on the other side, nearer the door, is the freezer of those wonderful ice cream treats. They’re just the thing on a hot summer day.
Next, you’ll see the sales counter, which contains a display case of handmade jewelry for sale. On top of this case sits an antique cash register dating back to 1914. Originally used at Montgomery Wards, it’s now only for show. At the corner of the counter is the modern cash register used for ringing up sales.
Finally, at the back of the store is the candy corner. Shelves containing colorful buckets and bins of assorted two penny candies are set low so little hands can more easily make their selections, . Nearby is a selection of twenty-five cent lollipops and other treats, including a variety of Wonka candies. This may be part of the reason that neighborhood children affectionately call owner Steve Counselor “Mr. Wonka”, along with his friendly demeanor and obvious love for them. A love that is shared by his fiancé and Direct Connection operator, Sue Howe, known as Miss Sue to these same children.

Register
There are some items you won’t find here. Things like cigarettes, alcohol, or unhealthy energy drinks. “There are other stores in the area where people can find these things.” says Miss Sue, “I’m proud to say, there is nothing in this store that a child can’t buy safely.” This is why the children of the neighborhood have come to know Direct Connection as a safe haven.  Parents also know this. It’s not unusual to see a small child walking proudly to the store to buy a treat while his mother watches from the yard to make sure he gets there safely.
Steve and Sue opened the store four years ago. They sold t-shirts, handmade jewelry, and knick-knacks. They soon transitioned to candy and it has grown from there. During these four years they have also become very invested in the neighborhood. Spending time in conversation I was touched to observe various children and adults stopping in and each one was greeted by name. The most moving though was one particular young man. He stopped in while we were talking to drop off an envelope. Inside was an invitation to his graduation open house. It was obvious, looking into his face, that, over the past four years, Sue and Steve have become a very special part of his life. Equally as obvious was the love and joy in Sues eyes as she turned to me and said, “I’m so proud of that boy. He’s worked hard for this.”
So stop in some day for a loaf of bread or maybe a tasty little treat. The store is open from noon to 6:00 on Monday through Saturday. Let’s all support this wonderful little store and help them grow. Tell them Jeff sent you!

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Tree

It’s been one month – or so, I’m very bad with time – since I moved into my apartment, which is a nice milestone to reflect on the beginning of this endeavor and all that I’ve accomplished.    I’ve filled out an insurance form incorrectly, botched getting my address switched with the post office, registered my car twice, been locked out for a day, started a small fire at work, and made 37 and a half charting errors.  Funny how those half errors result in whole lawsuits…

Shoes

I’ve talked with a couple of the people responsible for my being here – or maybe I pretended to interview their kid; I have a bad memory.  Of course, I cannot take responsibility for my own being here because, in general, I am where I am because I don’t know where else to be.

Window

So, in going forward, I hope to gather this neighborhood’s stories – which incidently takes time, hence a review post a mere month into the blog.  I want these stories, not because they are extraordinary, but because they are invaluable.  Telling our stories and listening to our stories is what keeps us human.

Barely There

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Micah Rinsema sits under the dining room table, an infant in a diaper, spinning an empty beer bottle.  I venture under and ask him how long he’s been there.

“Under the table?” he asks.

“In this house, how about.”

“I’ve been here seven months now.  Just had my baptism.  You should have been there; there were a diverse bunch of people there – just all over the place.  That’s life

 in this town.”

He keeps fidgeting with the beer bottle, straight-faced and sober, with that unflinching stare that infants have yet to surrender to the world.

“What is it like here?” I ask.

“Under the table?” he asks.

“In this house, how about.”

Dan and Sarah

“Well, day to day it’s a house.  We do the normal stuff.  But the current that flows through here…  It’s like this – My parents spent four years in Japan teaching English before they came to Muskegon.  That shaped how they saw the world, and how they wanted to live in it.  You realize you matter this much.”  He indicates his full height.  “Which, in their case, is a metaphor.”

“Tell me about them,” I say.

“He’s Canadian; she’s from New York or Iowa or something.  They met in college.”  He states these facts and dismisses them with his hand.  “They’re on these different, parallel paths.  Paths to make things better.  He works with one group of people through Muskegon Area First, and she works with Community EnCompass.  I mean, the paths aren’t always smooth.  Sometimes their work is at odds.  But ultimately, they want the same things.”

“And what about your path?  What do you think your chances are?” I asked.

“How do you mean?”

“Because you’re black.  Because your parents are white.  And the world is persistently hard on those who don’t run away.”

“I’m the beginning of a journey, if you’ll give me a moment’s license to be poetic.  I’ll have to go places light and dark; there are no illusions about that.  I hope that I will have many fathers and many mothers, because I am many things.”

“Tell me of hope.”

Home“Hope is the great human choice.  We control so little; we’re born not knowing who we are.  We’re searching for love, holding desperately to life.  There’s nothing we have that can’t be taken from us.  But there’s always hope.”

“Where is this hope? I want to see it.”

“It’s here in this neighborhood.  It’s too easy to see the cracks in the sidewalk, the bullet hole in the window, the porches that are ready to fall down, but if you look inside the people who live here, there are these beautiful hopes and dreams.  There’s a vision for this place – that God’s finger will touch the earth here, and it will be a preview of heaven.  And it’s already begun.  Step out and look around.”

“From under the table?” I ask.

“From this house.”

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