I lived in Marshall in the early 1980s on the top floor of what is now the Flow Gallery building. It was not an easy time. Newly separated, a young son, and little money and less work coming from my attempts at being a photographer/artist. It was empty warehouse space back then, not the elegant apartments there now. Unheated and unplumbed with rudimentary wiring. Just a big open space.
It was a lonely time, filled with trips to the dark holes that punctuate my life. Guilt. Insecurity. Questioning. Sleepless nights spent writing or in my jury-rigged darkroom. Sometime visits from a similar searching soul would only heighten the aloneness in the morning when she left. Cold. Or hot. Never just right. I did make some nice photographs from that perch. Thank you Gene Smith.
Marshall was visibly slowing then. Boarded up buildings along the entire stretch of town. Any attempts at new businesses quickly closed. The old stores, the mainstays of the town that had been there forever, were still open, but did only a shadow of the business they once did. Court, and its ancillaries, were the only growth industries.
In the morning I’d walk to the post office along Back Street. Past the jail, train tracks and river on my right, the back ends of buildings hovering above me, like a trap ready to spring. "Why here?" I thought. An old question, never far from the surface.
A few more steps and I’m at the back of Penland & Sons store. George Penland, one of the Sons, former mayor, and late husband to Barbara, was out on the stoop feeding the stray cats that lived behind the store. They served a purpose, George knew, rats and whatnot, so he kept them fed. George was cheerful - I remember him as always cheerful - and happy to see me on what was a fine spring morning. We talked, but I don’t recall what was spoken. I do remember thinking this moment of friendliness to me and kindness to cats is one answer to the question of "why here?"