Fond Memories of My Hometown Pub

3 years ago

My hometown, Saginaw, Michigan, boomed in the late 1800s as a big logging hub, and as a result still has a lot of cool-as-all-getout old buildings down around the river. One of these, for as long as I can remember, has been a bar called the Hamilton Street Pub.

Image: Lee Haywood

It’s part of a brick sidewalk stretch of great historic shops the town is keeping intact, thank God, and the way I’ve paid homage to them is by getting drunk in all of the liquor-licensed buildings down there.

When I was 12, my father played darts at the Hamilton Street Pub, which everyone in town just calls The Pub. On weekends, I’d sit with my Coke and latch-hook — because it was 1977 and everyone was creating an olive-green shag owl with a latch-hook rug kit — and watch him win tournaments.

I tried to go in there later, as a teenager, and totally gave myself away by asking if they had a menu. I guess because it was technically a restaurant, I was allowed in as a kid, but through the years they must have given that up. I was perhaps the only 18-year-old who needed an appetizer with her illegal beer.

When I finally turned 21, I happened to be in the throes of an absolutely terrible relationship, the kind you should have at 21 and then never again. I remember consciously deciding to be someone who went to bars all the time as a coping mechanism, which is a really healthy reaction that I blame on all the latch-hooking in my formative years. Maybe those yarn fibers messed with my brain chemistry.

I soon became a regular at The Pub. I was like a really thin Norm from “Cheers.” I’d help put up chairs at the end of the evening and they’d give me a free shift drink. I knew what nights had which specials, and what time they opened on Sunday.

I never ordered an appetizer again.

Behind The Pub was an outdoor deck and a huge old tree. Some nights, if I was feeling blue, I’d go lean on the tree and cry. And tell it my secrets. “I’m going out to the depression tree,” I’d tell my friends.

The Pub is where I saw my terrible boyfriend walk in with another girl. The Pub is where I threw my glasses case at that terrible boyfriend and hit him square on the head. The Pub is where I met the next guy. And the next. The Pub is where my best friend and I laughed so hard we felt sick from lack of breathing.

The night my grandfather was dying, I left the hospital late and went to The Pub. My friend took me outside to listen to what was going on, and hugged me tight under the depression tree.

It was a smallish place, and in the winter it was hot and packed, the floor-to-ceiling windows completely steamed over. One band covered a song by Big Black. It went like this:

I was born in this town

Live here my whole life

Probably come to die in this town

Live here my whole life

Never anything to do in this town

Live here my whole life

We’d all pack together in that steamy room, screaming the line, “LIVE HERE MY WHOLE LIFE!” And as much as I loved the band and the song and everyone in that room, as much as I loved the damn room itself, I knew I wouldn’t live there my whole life. The Pub is the last place I went before I moved to Seattle when I was 27.

Whenever I’d come home for a visit, it was inevitable that I’d find myself back at my local watering hole. If I called friends to say I was coming into town, they’d say, “What time will you be at The Pub?”

I wish I had a tally of the hours I spent dancing there. I kind of wish I had a tally of how many White Zinfandels I consumed — because it was 1988 and everyone had put down their latch-hook to pick up a White Zin — but honestly, I’m glad I don’t have hard numbers on that humiliating data.

I got married back in my hometown, in an old mansion on that same river. As the night wore down, someone said, “Let’s go to The Pub!”

And that's how I found myself in a $2,000 dress, dancing on the dusty floor of the Hamilton Street Pub. It was the last time I ever went in there.

Eventually, my wedding party drifted to the back on the deck. I hoisted my heavy white dress over to my depression tree, remembered the 21 years I’d spent drinking, dancing and latch-hooking under its sturdy watch, and smiled.

Originally published on Purple Clover

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