Uncle Clyde pulled from a coonskin pocket and unfolded a huge piece of wrapping paper the color of raw hamburger, covered with huge ornate handwriting, which he studied at arm's length like a duke in a Shakespearean play. "I've written a handbill that will knock everybody in four counties galley west; as soon as the snow thaws, we'll get the Pontiac running and start a handbill blizzard." He capered slowly about the linoleum in a long-outmoded tap routine, looking like a kangaroo off-balance. "Next day, they'll head for the Old Dutch Mill by every road, four abreast, like to the Northville Fair."
A tinge of doubt passed through me, but, as I recalled, Uncle Clyde's descriptions usually had a queer, astonishing sort of oblique accuracy, and the Old Dutch Mill surely bore favorable comparison, point for point, with the Northville Fair.
I pondered for a few seconds, with a kind of minor awe, my recollection of the Mill and environs, over which hung an aura of robust eccentricity, a bucolic charm with shades of the Faerie Queen, Brueghel, Mark Twain, and Lucky Strike advertising.
I saw in my mind's eye the then three-storey structure of peeling white trimmed with green, surmounted on the east and west ends by huge, red latticework fans whirled gently by the wind; painted beneath each of them, a Dutch boy and girl ten feet high, frolicked in Uncle Clyde's version of a Dutch dance, their long swishing yellow hair like sheaves of wheat, huge wooden shoes lifted in vigorous rhythm, their round, broadly smiling faces like setting harvest suns, with bulging cheeks, the whole concept apparently stemming from the Hans Brinker tale of grade school, but giving the effect chiefly of gay intoxication.
In front of the Mill, scattered among four old oaks and elms, were numerous eight-foot signs in red, blue and white reading, for example, "OUR EGGS ARE SO FRESH THEY REALLY SHOULDN'T BE SOLD UNTIL TOMORROW," "WE HAVE BEEN LAYING FOR YOU," and "CHICKENS DRESSED AND UNDRESSED," each with a pastoral scene containing crowing Rhode Island Red roosters, blithe "Dutch" characters, and faintly grinning, heavy-uddered Jerseys and Guernseys.
Making a complete half circle around the Mill, the Old Dutch Midget Golf Course, looking rather the worse for wear, wound among 15 cherry trees on large islands of grass looped by deep sandy driveways. Around each green island were borders of whitewashed rocks and small American flags; from a very tall pole on the top of the Mill, between and slightly above the red fans, billowed the main American flag, twelve feet long, and saw-toothed.
On the easternmost fringe of the Gold Course, alongside the third hole, just below the high sand hill where Great-grandfather had built his log cabin in 1843 and where Uncle Clyde's yellow and brown frame house now reposed, stood the Old Dutch Lunch, inoperative since 1931, built around two cherry trees that existed in the center of the floor and stuck through the roof; nine-tenths of this structure was a screened dining floor decorated on the few wooden areas with mildly gastric cartoons, for example, a strenuously jazzing couple labelled "I call my girl Grapefruit; when I squeeze her she hits me in the eye."
Dominating, or setting the tone of, the scene was "The Old Dutchman Himself," painted on a piece of metal cut to his contours, standing 17 feet high and stationed 100 yards east of the Mill, to catch the eye of the traffic from Detroit as it swept over the sand ridge. He had a red shirt barely buttonable along his profiled stomach, which could have held a barrel of beer, barrel and all (not a mere keg), blue pantaloons of equivalent proportions, and wooden shoes resembling Noah's Ark; his chubby face, mushmelon-shaped nose, shrewd yet naive eyes and huge smile of boisterous irony might call to mind the comparatively ascetic W. C. Fields; he had, too, a thick shock of wheat-colored, ear-length hair, curling sharply outward at the edges; one hand rested casually on his ample hip, the other pointed Millward with a compelling rapture.
Stretching to half a mile in back of the Mill and beyond the edges of the black-raspberry-filled woods were the fields where my father had plowed as a boy in the 1880s and '90s, with the fine old team of Ike and Dandy, before going to Ann Arbor and then to his teaching days in Colorado. In the '20s, Uncle Clyde had staged in these fields, for publicity, occasional mildly grotesque motorcycle races and aeroplane rides, and constructed a large, roofless dance floor, used in 1932 as firewood. Down the center of the farm ran the narrow but quite high sand ridge where I had found many finely fashioned arrowheads; and where it jogged, near the Mill and house, stood six variously sized barns including the quaint one erected long ago without nails. Over this ancient and various homestead now brooded, in the depression's diminuendo, the air of a slightly dissonant and flamboyant polka.
"Just glance this over, Uncle Nelson; see if you have any suggestions," said Uncle Clyde, handing me the wrapping paper and throwing his coat on top of the refrigerator, "I don't see how a raccoon wears this sort of thing the year around."
I read the flourish-laden script while Uncle Clyde, sitting on top of the three-step ladder, held his heart (actually the left collarbone) and sung with a voice and expression resembling a yawning Airedale (an imitation, apparently, of his dog Pat), "When You and I Were Young, Maggie," wincing now and then and saying "Oh dear; oh baby, baby."
Visualizing type of assorted sizes like an 1880 "Wanted for Robbery" poster or an Elizabethan title page, I read:
JOIN THE NEW GOLD RUSH
for our tongue-tempting nu-laid nutritious nuggets
just off the nests of fat, handsome Rhode Island Red
and White Leghorn hens.
THESE EGGS ARE LAID WHILE YOU WAIT
14 CENTS A DOZEN
"So fresh they shouldn't really be sold until tomorrow."
FRESH-CHURNED OLD-FASHIONED COUNTRY BUTTER
2-lb roll 47 cents
CHICKENS DRESSED OR UNDRESSED ANY OLD TIME
Barred Rock roasters pretty as a picture
3 FANCY LEGHORN FRYERS DRESSED FOR ONE DOLLAR
Rich, ambrosial grass-sweet Guernsey milk
THE BIGGEST CREAM-LINE IN MICHIGAN
20 cents a GALLON
LOSE YOUR DEPRESSION
Bring everybody you know to the happy sign of the
OLD DUTCH MILL
On Five Mile Road near Middle Belt
Open 8 A.M. to 11 P.M. including Sundays and holidays
IN SEASON WE HAVE
MAPLE SYRUP, APPLES, PEACHES, CIDER, NEW POTATOES, SORGHUM
and dozens of other delicious things
"It should outdraw the Fair, all right," I said, handing the wrapping paper to Lady Bluntboots of Houndsditch while we exchanged delicately ironic gazes.
"If they don't come after getting an eyeful of that, they won't have a leg left to stand on," said Uncle Clyde, "will they, Aunt Margaret?" Lady Bluntboots was inarticulate for a moment, and then hastily said, "Certainly not."
"When do you want me to work?" I asked with a certain trepidation.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Some of the photos are borrowed from: