Elmwood Springs, Missouri
In the late forties Elmwood Springs, in southern Missouri, seems more or less like a thousand other small towns scattered across America.
Downtown is only a block long with a Rexall drugstore on one end and the Elmwood Springs Masonic Hall on the other. If you walk from the Masonic Hall to the Rexall, you will go by the Blue Ribbon cleaners, a Cat's Paw shoe repair shop with a pink neon shoe in the window, the Morgan Brothers department store, the bank, and a little alley with stairs on one side of a building leading up to the second floor, where the Dixie Cahill School of Tap and Twirl is located. If it is a Saturday morning you'll hear a lot of heavy tapping and dropping of batons upstairs by the Tappettes, a troop of blue-spangled Elmwood Springs beauties, or at least their parents think so. Past the alley is the Trolley Car diner, where you can get the world's best chili dog and an orange drink for 15 cents. Just beyond the diner is the New Empress movie theater, and on Saturday afternoons you will see a group of kids lined up outside waiting to go in and see a Western, some cartoons, and a chapter in the Buck Rogers weekly serial. Next is the barber shop and then the Rexall on the corner. Walk down on the other side of the street and you'll come to the First Methodist Church and then Nordstrom's Swedish bakery and luncheonette, with the gold star still in the window in honor of their son. Farther on is Miss Alma's Tea Room, Haygood's photographic studio, the Western Union, and the post office, the telephone company, and Victor's florist shop. A narrow set of stairs leads up to Dr. Orr's "painless" dentist's office. Warren and Son hardware is next. The son is eighteen-year-old Macky Warren, who is getting ready to marry his girlfriend, Norma, and is nervous about it. Then comes the A & P and the VFW Hall on the corner.
Elmwood Springs is mostly a neighborhood town, and almost everyone is on speaking terms with Bottle Top, the white cat with a black spot that sleeps in the window of the shoe repair shop. There is one town drunkard, James Whooten, whose long-suffering wife, Tot Whooten, has always been referred to as Poor Tot. Even though she has remarried a tea-totaller and seems fairly happy for a change, most people still call her Poor Tot out of sheer habit.
There is plenty of fresh air and everybody does their own yard work. If you are sick, somebody's son or husband will come over and do it for you. The cemetery is neat, and on Memorial Day, flags are placed on all the veterans' graves by the VFW. There are three churches, Lutheran, Methodist, and Unity, and church suppers and bake sales are well attended. Most everybody in town goes to the high school graduation and to the yearly Dixie Cahill dance and twirl recital. It is basically a typical, middle-class town and in most living rooms you will find at least one or two pairs of bronzed baby shoes and a picture of some child on top of the same brown and white Indian pony as the kid next door. Nobody is rich but despite that fact, Elmwood Springs is a town that likes itself. You can see it in the fresh paint on the houses and in the clean, white curtains in the windows. The streetcar that goes out to Elmwood Lake has just been given a new coat of maroon and cream paint and the wooden seats shellacked to such a high polish they are hard not to slide out of. People are happy. You can see it in the sparkle in the cement in front of the movie theater, in the way the new stoplight blinks at you. Most people are content. You can tell by the well-fed cats and dogs that laze around on the sidewalks all over town and even if you are blind you can hear it in the laughter from the school yards and in the soft thud of the newspaper that hits the porches every afternoon.
But the best way to tell about a town, any town, is to listen deep in the night . . . long after midnight . . . after every screen door has been slammed shut for the last time, every light turned off, every child tucked in. If you listen you will hear how everyone, even the chickens, who are the most nervous creatures on earth, sleep safe and sound through the night.
Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is not perfect by any means but as far as little towns go it is about as near perfect as you can get without having to get downright sentimental about it or making up a bunch of lies.