Reminiscing About a Small Town: Bad Axe, Michigan

In the quiet, dusty corners of the social media world there is a site called: “You must be from Bad Axe, Michigan…” with around 1700 members. Most members are old Bad Axe natives who like to keep up with what is happening in their old hometown. Every once in a while someone will share a photograph, memory, or comment; that is until the recent passing of Mr. Ervin Ignash. The site erupted with activity after that, it seems everybody had a fond memory of Mr. Ignash’s tenure at the Bad Axe schools, his service and dedication had spanned generations and touched thousands of lives with his fairness and equanimity. This prompted an even a more intense and detailed conversation about others in the community who had shaped and impacted the lives of so many from our fair town.

What proceeded was a very long thread (still growing) listing dozens, if not hundreds of local business men and women, doctors, lawyers, and pastors who had worked and yes thrived in Bad Axe for decades. We reminisced about the days of the “drawings”, candy stores, 5 & 10 stores, cruising town (that didn’t take long), the Fair, and so on. What follows is something I shared with the group and I hope you might enjoy it as well.

“After Ted Rapson’s and other’s recent walks down memory lane, (felt so good it hurt), I came to a realization which I think has been slowly growing on me since my parents moved back to Bad Axe to retire about 8 years ago; Bad Axe really was a great place to grow up. My family moved to town in 1970 and I moved out in 1980 and couldn’t have been happier; off to the big city and the world beyond! I settled in another oddly named town: Downers Grove, IL, just outside of Chicago, (well, farther outside than Bad Axe is from the lake) I have 60,000 neighbors in Downers Grove and another 1,000,000 just in the county, about the size of Huron County. I can drive for 2 hours and still be stuck in the Chicago area.

I leave at every opportunity I can. I take poorly paying work way out in the country, hours away, just to breath the air and listen to the quiet.

I could never earn a living in my chosen field in a town such as Bad Axe, but I have found my heart and soul never left after all. My children have lived longer in Downers Grove than I did in Bad Axe, but they have no special attachment to this town. How could they? It is no different than any of the other 100 suburbs around here. When your high school is larger than Bad Axe’s entire population, you can go 4 years and make few friends. But when you go to school with the same kids for years… everybody will at least know your name not to mention your brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and parents.

If you walk into a store here, you are one of 10,000 customers for the week and you almost never see the same employee twice, let alone learn anything about them. I try to patronize the small retailers here, but every year there are fewer.

I know Bad Axe has changed a lot since I left and will never be the same town many of us grew up in back… you know… then (however many decades you wish to admit to). But I think we had a sense of community and family which is impossible except in the small towns of the USA.

If I am destined to live the rest of my days away and only visiting on occasion, I am very thankful for the few years, many experiences, and life influencing people I met in that little town up in the Thumb.”

We never fully appreciate what we have until we have it no more; whether family, friends, prosperity, or a true home town.  It took me over 30 years to learn that lesson. Thank-you Bad Axe for being, well, Bad Axe.

 

Sentimentally and respectfully

Andrew Remillard

 


11 replies
  1. Julie
    Julie says:

    I kinda’ knew a couple of brothers from Bad Axe when I was in college. I think I dated one of them briefly. They had a band…. I’ve never been to Bad Axe, but your post has inspired me to take a long drive up the thumb one of these bright, sunny days.

    Reply
  2. Robin Helm
    Robin Helm says:

    My mother (Christina Smith) was born and raised in Bad Axe then married and moved to Milwaukee, WI where I spent the first decade of my life. We spent countless Christmas and Summers there where I had so much fun with cousins, second cousins, (third cousins, lol), my grandparents, aunts and uncles, but it was enough for me… I never really understood until I don’t know… maybe 5 years ago when my children were younger and we started coming back. It’s a nice thing knowing your neighbor and that your kids will be safe and looked out for. It’s comforting walking into the store with my uncle and everyone knowing him by name. It’s wonderful knowing family is not far and always has your back. I will forever feel a void from feeling displaced in larger cities and far away states and just being too far away from family and people who truly know us. I will forever hold a special place in my heart for the small town that has the same feel good feeling that a homecooked meal gives you.

    Reply
    • andrew0313
      andrew0313 says:

      Robin, Thank-you for sharing your experiences. My extended family is scattered across the country and overseas at times. I never had a chance to live near any of them. However growing up in a small town, I think I gained a sense of what it might be like to have family as neighbors.

      Reply
  3. Behind Blue Eyes
    Behind Blue Eyes says:

    I too grew up in Bad Axe and couldn’t wait to leave when I was younger. Coincidently, I live not too far from you in Gurnee, IL. Living here has changed my perspective completely and I truly miss the small town living. Everything you said about Chicago is so true. It’s sad, I live in a cookie cutter neighborhood and I do not know one single neighbor. No one cares to get to know you. If you’re lucky they will wave and go about their business.

    Reply
  4. Jan Little
    Jan Little says:

    I moved to Bad Axe from Saginaw in 1982. I think my husband drugged me and took me away from Saginaw on a Saturday. I have been here 32 years now and although I miss all my friends and family….I would NEVER move back! P.S. my husband said “I told you so”,

    Reply
  5. Jason
    Jason says:

    I read this and couldn’t agree more. Put a tear in the corner if my eye when I realized my kids will probably never feel the sence of belonging we did. And just to prove what a small town it was… You were my next door neighbor on good old John Street!

    Reply
  6. Jack Moore
    Jack Moore says:

    Well said, Andrew . . . while I was in Bad Axe longer than you and have also moved on, I consider it my home town as I lived there longer than anywhere else. I have been away for about 11 years now (since retiring). Still, I will occasional;y say “Bad Axe” when referring to my current residence instead of Lake City where I actually live. I can you can take the boy out of Bad Axe but you cannot take Bad Axe out of the boy.

    Sincerely,
    Jack Moore

    Reply
    • andrew0313
      andrew0313 says:

      Jack,
      That is what I have finally come to understand myself. Though my wife reminds me that “Bad Axe” was often a word of derision with me. I think I have finally moved past that;’)

      Reply

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