By Jan Worth-Nelson
If you see my husband Ted around town anytime soon, be especially kind. He is going through a trauma. He’s moving on, after four decades as a Californian, to become a fulltime Flintoid.
He’s giving up his cherished “AWRDMKR” California license plate – an artifact of the awards and trophy business he founded. He’ll be trading it for…something else – for sure, NOT choosing the options that say “Pure Michigan.” I would not let him. No Flintoid in their right mind would tout that extreme misnomer.
Admittedly, his transition has not been perfect. He’s unimpressed by the Flint coney, he doesn’t like Vernor’s (“too sweet”) and he is only now starting to see the deliciousness of the pastie. He despises Angelo’s after an awful visit when a cockroach clambered across his plate.
A nondrinker, he eschews some of Flint’s legendary watering holes (though he’s chivalrously accompanied me to Soggy Bottom and the Golden Leaf) and tires of hearing my rapturous memories of the old days of Hat’s Pub and other settings of my party-life early Flint years.
Yet here he is, filling out forms and trying to time his ultimate visit to the Secretary of State’s office for when the line is less than 50 sweaty, depressed, pre-criminals deep.
A bit of history, known to many of you already. For 17 years, since we reconnected as late-middle-agers who found surprise love in our 50s, we have been negotiating two worlds – mine as a longtime Flintoid, his as a longtime Californian.
Who would have thought it would be Flint that tipped the balance away from what Ted fondly calls “The Free State” of California?
When we’d fly back here, at Minneapolis or Atlanta, we’d get to the Flint gate and say: yeah, these are the Flintoids: a stressed out, sad-eyed bunch, returning to their pitbull and pick-up truck lives in the least glamorous city on the destination board.
But this year we finally gave up our apartment in San Pedro – a sweet place with a sweeping view of the L.A. harbor, a tiny two-bedroom refuge close to four beloved breakfast spots and his favorite walking site, Pt. Fermin Park, where we routinely counted fly-by pelicans, once getting up to more than 400.
Why? Why? Why?
Ted likes telling the story of one of his first visits to Flint. He was standing in line at Bishop Airport to rent a car, with a line behind him. The clerk asked, “So what brings you to Flint, Mr. Nelson?”
He replied, “For love.” And he says all the people in line behind him clapped and cheered. How can you not love a bunch of people like that?
So I’m culpable in the matter. Our marriage has been the unexpected joyful culmination of my middle years, the answer to my tedious Midwestern laments of “why does it matter?” and “Is this all there is?” He seems to like me. And he seems to notice that the world can be a pretty enjoyable place.
And as it turns out, along the way, he has inexplicably fallen for this old town.
Together, we have bought two houses here, and as I’ve written about frequently, our current house is one of the loves of our lives – a place we bought for its great vibes and expansiveness, a place we could not remotely have afforded in L.A. Our home is deeply significant to us, a source of daily pleasure we love to share with others.
Further, and crucially, since Gary Custer died and I became editor of East Village Magazine, Ted and I have established a new partnership – a creative one that engages both of us in the community in enriching ways. (He does layout for the magazine, has helped with many legal matters, designs ads, helps solve problems, and moderates my fits of griping and pique.)
But the biggest answer to Ted’s WHY is that he loves our band of characters here, the spirit of our community, the warmth he has experienced time and time again, the unfailing neighborliness. He loves the crew at Steady Eddy’s, the whole Farmers’ Market, Noah at Olympic Diner, the hot shaves he gets at Zak Minock’s barbershop, donuts and coffee from Tim Horton’s, dinners at Cork.
He likes sitting in his upstairs office, keeping up with how his kids are doing with his business in L.A. while he watches life on the street – squirrels squabbling and woodpeckers ruining our siding, kids on bikes, Pastor Dan striding by in his collar and straw hat with Maggie, his dog; Mike and Sherry checking out the London plane tree they planted for us ten years ago; Connor tending yet another set of begonias while his girls Mary and Ruby gambol. Ted makes fun of that guy who drives around and yells at people to mow their lawns; he warns me about Jehovah’s Witnesses on the porch; he comes down to pay our lawn guy Kenny who’s as wiry and feisty a GM retiree as a Sitdown Striker — and on and on: our neighbors, people we have come to love.
In a recent community meeting at Woodside Church (this is another story)—where 20 of our neighbors gathered to talk about our experience of the water crisis—Ted concluded the meeting. This is what he said:
“I’m 75, I should be too old to be moved by all of what you said. Dylan Thomas wrote a poem called ‘Out of the Sighs’ – a perfect poem for Flint. The last two lines of that poem go like this:
‘For all there is to give, I offer
Crumbs, barn and halter. “
“I would add one more line,” Ted continued, adding,
“And the opportunity to walk among people of good heart and resolute will. And you are they. Thank you so much for who you are, and what you are, and what you give. I love you.”
This is why Ted chose Flint.
EVM editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.