Flushing, a conflicted love note

With a title like that, this post could go a few different places, but that capital F is the proper-noun kind of capital, not the obligatory beginning-of-sentence kind.

Flushing happens to be a very pretty town cozied into the banks of the Flint River just downstream from Flint city. It is also the town in which I was born and raised. It supported a fantastic childhood and many good friendships. Before you ask, no, our high school mascot wasn’t a toilet, as rival schools often suggest. Yes, whenever I mention it without the Michigan qualifier, people assume I grew up outside of NYC and wonder why I don’t talk like Fran Drescher’s The Nanny.

Flushing's Summer Fair is held downtown next to the river every summer. photo credit: lonniec61 on flickr.com
Flushing’s Summer Fair is held downtown next to the river every year. Photo credit: lonniec61 on flickr.com
Case in point: On his application to enter the U.S., my grandfather wrote that he only intended to stay in Flint for a month. I think that was a lie. Most of his family was in Flint by then, sailing across Lake St. Clair one at a time.
Another case in point: On his application to enter the U.S., my grandfather wrote that he only intended to stay in Flint for a month. I think that was a fib. Most of his family was in Flint by then, having sailed across Lake St. Clair from Ontario one at a time.

When researching my family history, I geek out when I come across a record that hints at the algorithm of past decisions that led to Flushing becoming my hometown. At minimum, there were 1,024 decisions made leading to the actual event of my birth. And that’s just going back 7 generations (to about the early 1600s). Eight generations back would be 2,048 people (!) barring any kissing cousins in the tree. So let’s just say that’s the number of mothers and fathers directly involved in my, and each of our births in each of our towns in each of our countries. Even though we both know our ancestors didn’t just magically appear in the miasma of the 17th century.

Tangent aside, that means one thousand and twenty-four amazing stories had to unravel for you to be where you are sitting in your chair kindly reading this blog post. When you factor in all of their brothers and sisters, their cousins, their step-mothers, their pastors, their business partners, and the fact that there were significantly less people in the world the further back we go in time, that number really highlights how interconnected we must be.

When I actually lived in Flushing, I wanted nothing more than to leave. I was restless for getting out on my own; I didn’t feel I belonged there. We lived 15 minutes outside of town and it just seemed too quiet, like nothing interesting had ever happened there. For most adults with families the tranquility is a draw, but for a teenager (and me, still) it’s annoying to not be in the middle of things. So even though I don’t see myself ever moving back for many of the same reasons I left when I was 18, I find myself thinking about Flushing a lot. The more I research my family tree, the more I realize that Flushing and Flint are at its core. I have list upon list of records I’d like to look up there, graves I’d like to photograph, farmsteads I’d like to visit. I had no idea growing up that my history was scattered all around that little house in a field outside of town.

I thought that show was from the 90s, but judging from that outfit it must have aired in the 60s.
I thought this was a 90s tv show, but judging from that outfit and hairdo it must have aired in the 60s.

From what I’ve read, my Flushing owes a lot to The Nanny’s hometown. Back when NYC was just swampy farmland, Dutch settlers founded a town on an island that juts out into the ocean, and named it after a city that also juts out into the ocean: Vlissingen, Netherlands. When the Dutch government pulled out of the New World later, the English changed the spelling and pronunciation to something a little easier for them to say: Flushing. Later still, determined shippers dug the Erie Canal to connect the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Erie, bypassing Niagara Falls. The canal was finished in 1825. Many New York farmers living along the canal used it to move west to plots of Michigan farmland and points further west.

In addition to their belongings, the settlers also brought with them the place names they knew, just as the Dutch did before them. They named their new towns Rochester, Utica, Holl(e)y, Brighton, Troy, Gaines, Clarks(t)on; and their counties Genesee, Wayne, Livingston—all names of towns and counties on or near the Erie Canal and in eastern Michigan. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, they named a spot in the gentle dip of Genesee “valley” after the town of Flushing in New York.

So, that’s how a wounded Civil War veteran named Thomas Wilson, and his wife, Emily, ended up living near Flushing in 1870. They had packed up their things in Manchester, NY, got on a boat in the canal with their five children and moved to eastern Michigan to a large farm on the very outskirts of Flushing. Thomas Wilson, my 3rd great grandfather who passed away 95 years before I was born, was buried in Flushing City Cemetery. Those are some deep local roots. I’m planning on posting about Thomas soon. Of course I am. This is a blog about my origins and Thomas is 1/1,024 of my story.

Like Batman, Superman, the Joker, and the Hulk, we all have our origin stories. And each of our stories take place in Gothams and Kryptons – places that define who we are. They can be both our strength and our weakness, our pride and our shame. But there’s no denying that they are the source of our identity. In that way, we’re all superheroes . . . well, the heroes, at least, of our own stories.

Maybe I should start walking around wearing a cape and a tree emblem on my chest. Or not.

This postcard seems misleading. I don't remember hills that tall in my hometown. Maybe they're treetops?
This postcard seems misleading. I don’t remember hills that tall in my hometown. Well, maybe near Bueche’s, I guess. (Update: a fellow Flushingite suggested it’s the view along the river pre-Valley Golf Course. I think she’s right.)

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For all you heroes out there: what were some of the best parts of growing up in your hometown?

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10 thoughts on “Flushing, a conflicted love note

  1. I will admit when I read the title of this post I thought it was going to be an ode to something you did in the bathroom. I was happily surprised it wasn’t. I am not into bathroom humor. I grew up in a small town in Colorado. When I moved there we had no stop lights, but several bars and churches. Everyone new almost everyone else. As a child I hated it. As an adult I wish I was still there. I revel in the simplicity of it. But there is no going back… at least there. They know too much about me 🙂

    1. There’s something both endearing and unsettling about the whole town being up in your and your family’s business. I suppose our comfort level with it is a fundamental aspect of our personalities: do we want to be insiders or outsiders? Glad to meet another outsider, Tara, thanks for your comment!

  2. That is marvelous that you know so much about your family history and that you are inspired to keep digging deeper! I’m excited to learn more as you share more too. For me: growing up in Lindenhurst, Long Island, we lived a block away from railroad tracks and I went to sleep every night to the sound of the train clacking and the sleepy bell ringing. This also happened to be the case when my family moved to Carol Stream, Illinois. Now that I’m in Seattle, Washington, I also happen to be a short distance away from active railroad tracks. I like to think that all the tracks connect and all ways point home.

    1. Ha! While the fact that an apartment near the train tracks is a drawback for most people, it’s a source of comfort for you. That’s so cool, Tia, and a good way to get a deal on a nice, if shaky, place to live!

      1. Wow, son, I’m so impressed! I’m enjoying reading your blog so much. It’s both interesting and entertaining.
        Some of the stuff you’ve dug up is quite astounding – Grandma Olivia, for one.
        Love your take on the Wedding.

        I have all three volumns of the Flushing book so I thought I could easily answer Lisa’s question about Flushing’s name.
        No, I was wrong, at least I haven’t found it yet. It tells how Flint got it’s name but not Flushing.
        So, I took to Dogpile and according to Wikipedia – “Charles Seymour (formerly of Flushing, in New York) is credited with naming the small Michigan community.”

        According to Flushing Township’s web site – “The name of Dover was originally adopted by the Township organizers, but because another township of the same name existed in the State, the legislature substituted Flushing.”

        So, if this is correct information, there you have it.

      2. I’m glad you approve, Mom! I’m trying hard to incorporate everything we’ve talked about in my story about Grandpa, Fred, and Minnie. That story probably has 3 or 4 more “chapters” to go; but, you’ve probably guessed that because they haven’t gotten married yet. Your info on Dover clears some of my confusion up – that it was the name of the township, not the town.

  3. I remember sitting in the “pit” in the library at Elms Elementary listening to an older gentleman (we were told he was an historian) telling us the story about how Flushing, Michigan was going to have a different name when it was first incorporated as a village. The paperwork was taken on horseback to the Capitol, but there was already a town registered with that name. So to not have to send the paperwork back, someone processing the paperwork changed the name to one they knew from their home state of NY. Do you remember this? Any chance it’s true? Or was it just a story made up so we could claim we didn’t give our town a toilet – related name?

    1. I’ve read that the original name for Flushing was Dover, Lisa. But I’ve also read that that was the original name of Mt. Morris too. And what’s weirder is there is no official town called Dover in the state. So, I’m not sure if that’s true or not. As for the horse and the last minute decision, I believe it. One of my goals is to get to the Flushing Library and look this stuff up. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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