Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sentimental Journey

The stage of the Capitol Theater in better days.

A reflection on Flint from Pat McFarlane Young, born at Hurley Hospital on November 2, 1930. It was originally posted on November 7, 2007, and it's one of my favorites on Flint Expatriates.
A stranger traveling through Flint today would, in all probability, view it as a rather dreary, gray, nondescript city filled with abandoned factories, boarded up buildings, and streets in need of repair. It certainly doesn’t have the charm of San Francisco or the excitement of New York, but I still see Flint through the eyes of my youth.

I often have an acute attack of melancholy thinking of my school days at Central High. My thoughts drift to 1945 and the school grounds teeming with students on their lunch hour, sitting on the lawn or hanging around Lloyd’s Drug Store, hiding their cigarettes in cupped hands. If I hurried I could run downtown for a coke at Pinecrest, a tiny lunch counter in the Capitol Theater Building. It was a hangout for the so called “400,” a faction everyone wanted desperately to belong to. I felt that my presence there would somehow make me belong as if by osmosis — a theory soon disproved by the chosen few.

After school I studied in the old Public Library, standing like a fortress at Kearsley and Clifford Streets. It was full of enchanting nooks and crannies with mysterious, narrow stairways where I sat and hid for hours in the world of books. I’m sure the new library offers many more advantages, but never again will I be able to escape in such a belletristic atmosphere.

I grew up on the Eastside and recall the unexplained pride I felt when the 3:30 Buick factory whistle blew and the roughly dressed workers poured out of the General Motors labyrinth swinging their lunch pails. Some were headed for home and some for the corner bar, but all with the determined step of an army after a battle won. I somehow felt as if I were a part of this giant assembly line and the city it fed.

Saturday night was an exciting climax to the week. I sometimes spent the evening surrounded by rainbows of shimmering colored light bouncing off the ceiling and walls like ping pong balls as couples swayed gently to the music. A psychedelic happening? No, only Saturday night at the IMA during the big band era. The World War II melodies of “Moonlight Cocktail” and “Sentimental Journey” were perfect accompaniments for the mood of the times.

Nostalgia, I’m sure, is the opiate of old age. Memories over ten years old automatically become the “good ol’ days." We remember only the happy things and leave the shaded areas behind. And yet, faintly sifting through the sands of time, I seem to recall saying, "The day I’m eighteen, I’m leaving this town."


  1. This is a great memoir, Pat. For some reason, my most vivid memory of Flint is playing some wedding gig in that hotel they built on the river downtown. The hotel was empty except for the band the the wedding guests. The best part was when, for some reason, the Flint Northern Marching Band marched through the reception in full uniform playing at full volume. I like to say that you can't take me to a wedding I haven't already been to, but that was different!


  2. God I looooooved the Flint Public Libraby!!! I remember going when I was little after shopping at the old JC PENNEY when it was downtown. My mom would take us. Then in High School to go there after school with my boyfriend under the premise of studying. And the memories of the Flint Art Fair every June.... it seemed life such an EVENT to me. It really was a great place to live and grow up despite all of it's various "issues."

  3. I spent many hours at the Flint Public Library NOT studying.

  4. Wonderfully written. Thanks for sharing.

    Although all the "good old days" weren't nearly as good as we remember, I do believe there was something good about those days that has been lost with the passage of time.

    Thanks for keeping the memories alive, Pat.

  5. Oh Pat, I'm another "well seasoned" one, same age as you. Worked in Flint radio, '50 to 56 or 57. On air at WMRP, WKMF subbing for Jim Rockwell when he went to the TB sanatorium and a very short copywriting time at WTAC. A deejay at TAC had a fight with the program director. Union got involved and there was a big strike. I got to interview musical tent stars while at WKMF. Were you listening to those stations? Bill Lamb was the #1 deejay at WBBC.

    Clif Martin

  6. Why was it that even in the greatest of times,the "cool" segment wanted to flee Flint. Was this a universal phenomenon, or unique to the area?

  7. I think it might be fairly universal that a large segment of 18 year olds want to hit the road, regardless of where they live. But I grew up in a family that moved around a lot.

  8. My God....that was a well formulated string of words and thoughts. The old saying goes that "a picture is worth a thousand words"... Maybe it's because I'm in a bit of a melancholy mood myself, today - but I think those words were worth a thousand pictures. They evoked a thousand memories. That's a beautiful mind at work. Thanks, Pat.

  9. I wish I could have seen some of the older buildings and homes that are gone now. I love that she refers to the current library as the "new" one. (It was built in the 1950s.) It really puts things in perspective.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.