Always Ironwood

Look at our town.
A town of change – a border town
tucked in between the Porkies and the Penokee Hills
north to Lake Superior – south to the Lake Country
of Wisconsin and west to Hurley.
Where 51 ends or begins.
All of this once covered by towering white pines
then our area – logged off and mined.
Iron ore was discovered in our rich, red earth.
The Norrie and Newport
the Aurora and Ashland and Pabst mines.
Three thousand employees and their families
raised on meat and potato pasties – the original hot lunch.
These miners came and stayed
built farms, buildings, and worked
all in our changing town.
Sometimes as slow as the Montreal River
or sometimes - as fast.
The Historic Ironwood Theatre still attracts the crowd.
The Memorial Building still honors the living and the dead.
Our viaduct – built to span the tracks -
with both a walking path and car lanes
now demolished.
Grocery stores in every location – down to two.
Carlson’s became Super One - built over land
where once our drive-in movie theater stood.
Rows of cars all pointed at the screen
after dark where “Goldfinger” and “Cool Hand Luke” played.
Everyone – honking horns if the film dared break.
Downtown clothing stores – Eva Wurl,
Mrofchalk, S & L, and Albert’s.
Each had a ledger of debt and payment
and any ten year old could charge a shirt
if they knew your parents.
Three or four ski jumping hills by the “caves”
outside skating rinks and sleigh rides down Norrie’s hills.
Multiple baseball fields – undefeated football teams.
A trolley system and then the bus companies.
It was public transportation and churches
that helped the Swedes and Italians, the Finns
and Poles get to know each other.
Then they organized for shorter hours,
higher wages, and coffee breaks.
The rich got a little poorer and less men died.
Great public education at Luther L.
gave us all a chance to get ahead
if you didn’t drown at Norrie Park or the “Harbor”
and B.A.B. was a spot for nature lovers.
People lined up their cars along the river
every Sunday to wash them off,
their radios rocking to tunes from the sixties.
Now today it is “Festival Ironwood”
a sort of minstrel show under the big top
with food vendors – cold beer and children love the “Duck Pick”.
All at the Depot Park where tickets for the train
once were sold – and the railroad tracks
now a paved trail for dog walkers and bicycles.
Our old senior center might soon sell “Chinese”.
The showroom at Lahti Chevrolet –
a dance studio and many a doctor’s office now -
charming studios for the arts
even Copper Peak, long dormant,
covered in plastic?
Summer ski jumpers – flying across the sky,
Change like weather is our constant.
Don’t like it and it changes.
People leaving town to work – returning to retire.
Rusty hinges on old store fronts,
needing oil and people to swing them open.
Cool lake breezes and fresh winter snow.
Red, orange maple leaves covering our street.
The scent of lilac blooms and wild apple blossoms
welcoming us home –
one hundred year old rhubarb plants
the purple/green stalks, thick as your wrist,
ripe for a late spring pie.
Always Ironwood – at its finest!

MTA Poet Laureate, Jim MildrenJim Mildren is the longtime manager of the Gogebic County Transit system in Ironwood, Michigan at the westernmost point of the Upper Peninsula. He is an avid outdoorsman, bicyclist and runner and enjoys writing about nature and the world around him. Jim traditionally reads a new poem or two at every state transit convention he attends and is considered the Poet Laureate of the Michigan Public Transit Association. He and his lovely wife Ellen reside in Ironwood and have two grown children and a grandson out-of-state who they love to visit whenever possible.

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