To the Point for 10/20/2005


THE NAME ON THE STEP was very familiar. Growing up in Centerville, Indiana, I was raised in a community that celebrated the life of Oliver P. Morton. He was the governor of Indiana during the Civil War, and — along with friend J.F.D. Lanier of Madison — Oliver P. Morton guided this state through the war and the time following the end of the fighting.

In Centerville, Morton’s life is celebrated with a street, Morton Avenue; the name of the high school yearbook is the Mortonian; and before consolidation, the school itself was Morton High School.

If you look on the east side of the statehouse in Indianapolis, you will find a statue of Oliver P. Morton. A few blocks from my parents home back in Centerville, you can find the governor’s home. As I was growing up, the home fell into disarray, and for a time it was a private residence (similar to the Schenck Mansion here in Vevay), and on recent trips I have noticed that the home has undergone some renovations by its current owners.

Moving to Switzerland County in 1984, one of my duties back then was to take the freshly printed Vevay newspapers after they were finished in Madison, load them in a pickup truck, and spend Wednesday evening driving a three-hour route to deliver the papers to the stores for sale.

That first night I left Madison, drove through China, past Canaan, and came up State Road 250 to my first stop — a store in Pleasant.

It was a white block building on the northwest corner of the intersection of highways 129 and 250; and as I emerged from the truck, the first thing that I saw was a name carved into the cement steps:

“O.P. Morton”

It made me stop in my tracks and smile. I had come a long way from being that little boy running around my hometown to an adult running around an unknown county that was now my home — but seeing that name on those steps seemed to bring things full circle.

The Morton family has been doing business in Pleasant for many years, and as that chapter closes with the sale at Shorty and Jean Morton’s store this Saturday; I found myself thinking back to that evening now more than 20 years ago and recalling how a name carved into a cement step made me feel at home in a new place.

Our country is losing something special as more and more of the small, locally-owned general stores close down. As wonderful as many think that big, Arkansas-based megastore is; each and every time one of those big stores opens in a community, it forces dozens of small, family businesses out.

General stores like Shorty and Jean’s thrived in a time when people didn’t get too far away from their home. Travel wasn’t as common back then, and the general store was a place where people could get anything from a loaf of bread to a can of paint.

The general store was also a social center in a community — and the market in Pleasant certainly was just that.

I would have occasion to wander into S&J every now and then, and would hang around for a few extra minutes, listening to Shorty “hold court” on a variety of issues while several others gave their point of view while munching a bologna sandwich and sitting on an overturned bucket.

Topics ranged from the latest issues in Switzerland County to national and world affairs. Everyone sitting around always had an opinion — and every now and then they would agree.

Now we all run to some shopping mall or to the “city” to find what we need; but we probably all would have been better served to stay at home and support our neighbors.

Instead we continue to move as a society to big stores that are, in reality, simply huge general stores. You can buy groceries; get your oil changed; and rent a movie all in the same place.

We all lose a little bit of our identity as a community when our small, general stores close down and go away.

There is hope that someone will buy the store building on Saturday and move all of the stuff back into the store and reopen it. If it happens the residents of the Pleasant community will continue to be served; and our community as a whole will be a better place.

Sometimes a community must let go of its past to move toward the future. Other times as a society we assure a quality future by remembering and celebrating the past.