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Syndic Literary Journal


Bye Bye Centennial


Charles Rammelkamp

“Nothing says ‘Michigan’ quite like cherries,” Eugene Edwards declared, introducing his idea for the town’s July 4 celebration that year to the town council, an enormous cherry pie to be displayed in the bandshell in Chester Morgan Park. Gene had been mayor of Potawatomi Rapids for as long as anybody could remember, at least eight two-year terms. He’d said he wouldn’t run again in the fall, but nobody else really wanted the job, so he probably would stand for office again that November.

“What’s the matter with fireworks?” Judd Bixby grumbled. “They were always good enough in the past.”

“Oh, we’ll have a fireworks display, too, all right, but we need to do something special this year. It’s the nation’s bicentennial, after all.”

Eugene Edwards owned the only real cherry orchard in the area, Kabamar Farm, which made some of the councilmen suspicious that he was trying to profit off the holiday. Kabamar was named for Gene’s three lovely daughters, Kate, Barbara and Mary, who had a reputation for being “fast” in Potawatomi Rapids. The joke around town was that “they don’t grow cherries at Kabamar Farm.” But nobody really thought that Gene was out to line his pockets – in fact, he said he’d donate the cherries himself – but later, when the whole thing went into the town lore, it was always cited as Gene’s real motive for proposing the giant cherry pie by those who simply didn’t like the idea in the first place.

The country was looking for something to feel good about after the trauma of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation just two years before and the recession it was just beginning to crawl out of like a shipwrecked sailor coming to shore. The Bicentennial would heal the country, bring everybody in the nation together again.

“We’ll have to have a pan big enough and strong enough to hold it,” Gene went on, warming to his plan, spelling out his vision.

“How big are you talking?”

“A ton!” Gene said, after pausing for dramatic effect. “Two thousand pounds!”

A low whistle went around the room.

“We’ll have to get the business community to back us up. We might even need to import some cherries from the farmers up in Traverse City.”

Already the project was sounding like more effort than it was worth to most of the men sitting around the conference table in the town hall. They could see Edwards asking them to pitch in money they’d rather hold onto. After three years, the GNP had only just reached its pre-recession level.

“I have a better idea,” Herb Reese spoke up. “Why don’t we see if we can get President Ford to come and recite the Gettysburg Address this year? It hasn’t been such a popular feature since that black kid spoiled it a few years back with his H. Rap Carmichael nonsense. And that Speech teacher at the college; I could wring his neck. I’m so glad he moved out to California. Heartache or Heartbeat or whatever his name was.”

Mayor Edwards still felt responsible for that awkward moment from the past. That kid, Chuck Porter, was now an ACLU lawyer in Lansing. But was Reese pulling his leg here? Was he serious? The President?

“Getting Jerry Ford to come to Potawatomi Rapids for the Bicentennial? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“He’s a Michigan boy,” Herb held his ground, “from down in Grand Rapids.” But everybody knew it was a foolish suggestion and didn’t take it seriously.

“How about a beauty contest? Like Miss Cherry Queen up in Traverse, the way they do for their cherry festival there every year?” Judd Bixby suggested. “One of your girls’d probably win, Gene.”

“Oh come on,” the mayor implored, a slight whine coming into his voice, already sounding defeated. “It’s the Bicentennial! It’s America’s birthday! It’s Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt and, and…Everybody in town could get a piece of the pie, just like the American Dream. It’d be like a metaphor for all that’s great about America.”

“You and your fifty-cent words, Gene. I like to think big, too, but we haven’t got a budget for a pie that big. People would say we’re crazy. How much would a thing like that cost, anyway? Not just the ingredients, but like you say, the pan big enough to put it in, and an oven big enough to cook it in.” George Lardie raised his own objections, letting his voice trail off to indicate the myriad expenses such a folly would entail.

“But this is America!” Gene cried, and even to himself he sounded ridiculous. For a brief moment he saw himself as Jesus nailed to the cross.

In the end, Potawatomi Rapids went ahead with the parade, the fireworks, the Gettysburg Address in Chester Morgan Park.

But up in Charlevoix, swept up by the Bicentennial fervor, they actually did make a giant cherry pie. It weighed 17,420 pounds and was acknowledged as the world’s largest cherry pie ever. Eleven years later, Traverse City would make one even bigger, over seventeen feet in diameter and weighing 28,350 pounds, and they’d even get the Guinness Book of World Records to certify it. True, in only another five years a town in Canada would make an even larger cherry pie, one that weighed 39, 683 pounds, but all of this would only make Mayor Eugene Edwards feel like the visionary he always knew he was.

This was the true Spirit of America! Bigger! Bigger! Always bigger!



Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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