Scandal At Maple Valley – Episode 17: Death in Maple Valley

I really hate to say this, but life has moved on in Maple Valley. Sylvia Meisner has been missing for five months. All the arguing has stopped, thankfully. The summer tourist season everyone looked forward to has ended. The Founders Day Celebration now seems forgotten. The Old General is being prepared to take visitors to Maple Valley Christmas Town.

Even though folks are no longer consumed by news about Sylvia, or the lack of it, the investigation has continued. Sheriff Pete Terkinberry has not slowed his efforts to either find Sylvia, or uncover what happened to her. He still pays very close attention to his neighbors, which is everyone in Maple Valley. Have any changed their behaviors? Yes, some have. Are any relationships strained? Yes, some are. Are any hiding? Yes, there are some who have been nearly invisible since Sylvia disappeared. Is it coincidence? Sheriff Pete doesn’t know, but he’s determined to find out.

Maple Valley folks have acquired a characteristic that is annoying. I don’t know if other people have traits like this, but it is unmistakable in this small town. Maybe it’s a result of being part of a well-known tourist stop. In order to be successful, everything in Maple Valley has to be boxed up and pretty. No loose ends. All the windows are clean, the eaves are painted, the sidewalks swept.

As I think about it, this might explain why so many people who come here want to stay. They all say the same things, “I would just love to live here.” “Don’t you just love it here?” “This place is magical!” “You are so lucky to live here!” What they see is not real. Painted boards rot. Roofs leak. Grass dies. Maple Valley isn’t just a showplace. The people who live here live every day. They struggle, are disappointed, and get angry with each other.

There’s another Maple Valley reality tourists don’t usually discover, unless they have the unhappy experience of a surprise visit. Maple Valley has bats. Say what you want about how much good they do, bats and people don’t mix, at least not on purpose. Just last week, a sixty-four-year-old woman from Conklin, Iowa, Madeline Overweist, stepped out of Y’all Sit Cafe, in a hurry to get to the last train leaving Maple Valley. Five steps outside the cafe, a bat landed squarely on her face. Mrs. Overweist will be sorely missed.

Last spring, Mayor Alvin Thrashborn commissioned a special task force to deal with the bat problem. He called it the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team. The group members are Shorty Cloverton, owner of the Y’all Sit Cafe, Quintin O’Dillmotte, owner of O’Dillmotte Funeral Home, Able Kafflen, leader of the Young Hopefuls Club, Henry Brimmerton, owner of Brimmerton’s Auto Sales, Stew Hanmin, town council chair, Hardin Sievers, village attorney, Mayor Thrashborn, and Sheriff Terkinberry. Anabel Wizzleby, Wanita Havertons, Velma Kreitzhammer, and Veronia Burthrap were all invited to join the task force, but all declined, presumably because of the force’s task.

The task force had their first meeting last March. Bats have been a problem in Maple Valley for as long as anyone can remember. This is the first time a task force has been organized to deal with it. So far, not much dealing has happened. The group meets together on the first Tuesday of each month at the cafe. The first order of business was to choose a chairperson and by common consent, Quintin O’Dillmotte was selected as the group leader. Henry Brimmerton is vice-chair, Stew Hanmin is secretary, Shorty Cloverton is the treasurer. The second order of business was to discuss why a treasurer was needed since the group would not have any funds to treasure. It was moved and seconded the title of treasurer would remain with Shorty, but it would be in name only. The vote was unanimous, the motion carried.

The monthly BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team meeting includes the reading of minutes from the previous meeting. The secretary, Stew Hanmin, takes very detailed notes, so the reading of minutes with discussion, motion to accept as read or amended, second, and the vote usually takes half the meeting. There is discussion of where the group will meet the following month, which is always the cafe, new business to discuss, nothing, comments from the public, nothing. Just about then, Quintin declares the meeting adjourned, and everyone goes home. This is the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team in Maple Valley.

That brings us back to the original point. Folks in Maple Valley like things to be tidy. Neat and clean. That seems to be the explanation for the unbelievable suggestion made to Mayor Thrashborn. The person who asked to meet with the mayor will remain nameless, at least at this point. He or she gave a piece of paper to the mayor.

On the paper was typed a short note. “Mayor Thrashborn, in the interest of the health of our community, and in order that Maple Valley may forward in a positive way, we (several names included) recommend the following:

“As of this date, Sylvia Meisner is declared deceased.”

The mayor was speechless, which doesn’t happen, ever. His face turned red. He stood up from his chair, walked around the front of his desk to where (nameless) was standing. Silently, the mayor ripped the paper into tiny bits and threw it into the air. He looked squarely into the person’s eyes and said, “Merry Christmas, now get out of my office!!”

Giving Thanks – Day 15: Bronner’s

It would be a tough task to say something about Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, in Frankenmuth, Michigan, that hasn’t already been said, written, broadcasted, and reported many times over. Even for those who find Christmas to be something other than “the most wonderful time of the year,” Bronner’s is special.

Open 361 days each year, my guess is that the most difficult day of the year at Bronner’s is December 26th. The anticipation of Christmas that begins to seep in during the days before Halloween is unmistakable. I have allowed my ornery-old-man streak to show through when I have written about the commercialism that controls this season in other articles. However, I still love the real Christmas.

Today, I went to Bronner’s again for the first time. I chose to see things I hadn’t before. I purposefully walked slowly through each aisle, taking in as many of the colors, lights and sounds I possibly could. I think the good folks at Bronner’s have applied the magic of Christmas to everything possible, and I mean that in a good way.

We have visited Bronner’s many times through the years, and each time is special. We have had the privilege of personal contact with the Bronner family three times. As you know, if you have read “A Coffee State of Mind” posts about our family, we have four children, a daughter, and triplet sons. When our boys were babies, we visited Bronner’s. We had a single stroller our daughter pushed, and a twin stroller my wife pushed. I carried all the diaper bags. Irene Bronner noticed us walking through the store and stopped to talk with us. Before we left, she gave us four Christmas bulbs with our children’s names painted on them. That was thirty-seven years ago.

During a visit to Bronner’s when our boys were in elementary school, Wayne Bronner asked us if his photographer could take a picture of them for a promotional brochure they were working on. We happily agreed, even though the boys weren’t too excited about it. We still have the flier.

In the summer of 1989, I was sitting on an airplane at Detroit Metro Airport, waiting to fly to Atlanta, Georgia for the Christian Bookseller’s Convention. I looked up and saw Mr. and Mrs. Bronner coming down the aisle. I was thrilled when they stopped at my row and Mr. Bronner said, “Hi! I guess these are our seats!” What a gift it was to spend two hours talking with this delightful couple. They treated me like I was a lifelong friend. When we landed they offered me a ride to my hotel.

While strolling through Bronner’s today, I spent time reading some of the many articles written about Wally and Irene Bronner. Family photos include Wally playing saxophone in the high school marching band, and Wally and Irene playing instruments with their grandchildren which was a Christmas tradition. Sadly, articles also include many covering the story of Wally Bronner passing away in 2008, at the age of 81. Hanging in the corner of the display is Wally’s bright red suit coat and the colorful Christmas tie he always wore. I am persuaded that the only friends Wally and Irene Bronner didn’t have were the ones they had not yet met.

After a heartwarming walk through Bronner’s during which I bought a puzzle we already have, and an Advent Calendar, we finished our trip to Frankenmuth with lunch at Zehnder’s Restaurant. Beautifully decorated, the ambience at Zehnder’s is like snuggling in a big easy chair under a warm blanket.

I have thought about asking one of the associates at Bronner’s, “Do you ever get tired of this?” I honestly don’t think any of them do. I really don’t know how anyone could work at Bronner’s without having the childlike excitement about Christmas that for some never fades. It’s just like Wally Bronner used to say, “Christmas is always just around the corner.”