On Christmas Day, I received a text from my best friend of over 25 years, that pop icon, George Michael, had died. Yes, I was stunned. Yes, as a person growing up in the 1980’s, I had Wham! cassettes and the solo CD’s. Yes, if I could’ve found a “Choose Life” t-shirt when it was popular, I would’ve worn it, but it wasn’t in stock at G.C. Murphy in downtown Point Pleasant until two years after it was cool.
As I was scrolling on the internet Christmas evening, looking for information about the man I had hanging on my bedroom door at one time, I saw a post from someone I knew “in real life” on Facebook, saying Carolin Harris was ill and in need of prayers. Though George Michael was a real person, he wasn’t real to me like Carolin. My first thought was, she would pull through, because the woman never slowed down. There was a timeless quality to her, with one foot in the past, one in the present. She always looked the same but more importantly, she acted the same. Of course, as many of you know, Carolin didn’t make it and passed away Dec. 26.
If you grew up in Point Pleasant, you knew Harris Steakhouse and Carolin by default, or vice versa. They were both Main Street institutions. I came to know Carolin through her friendship with my grandmother who lived on Third Street, right off of Main. Carolin would visit Nannie, often for their VFW Ladies Auxiliary meetings, held in Nannie’s massive living room. From time to time, Nannie would say Carolin was trying to help this person or that person, and someone who “didn’t have nothing” needed something she was trying to provide.
Since Carolin’s passing, I’ve heard countless stories about how she impacted people’s lives – from giving someone a ride to the hospital to have a baby, to being the fail-safe for people who were running low on money at the end of the month and needed to eat.
I had seen Carolin a couple of times in the last few weeks of her life, including at a ribbon cutting for a downtown business which had remodeled. True to form, Carolin showed up with her bag containing her scissors and the roll of ribbon which was starting to run low. It’s impossible to calculate how many ribbon cuttings Carolin was a part of in her mission to support downtown businesses. Prior to digging out that role of ribbon, Carolin had given me a hug which was in reference to a column I’d written a few weeks ago, about the Silver Bridge tragedy. Carolin, of course, had a son and ex-husband, perish on the bridge. The hug reminded me, that on the other side of what I write each day, is a person’s life…and to handle with care. That was my first and last hug from Carolin.
The last time I saw Carolin, was at the Silver Bridge Memorial held on Dec. 15, on an evening which I can only describe as bitterly cold. It made me sad that not many turned out for the event, I’m guessing mostly due to plummeting temperatures. However, Carolin was there and stood there for the whole time with her candle, paying her respects in her classic Carolin dress, hose, and hair, all wrapped up with a Point Pleasant High School scarf. One thing about Carolin, she was consistent and she was there whether it was cold, hot or in-between. You need people who will show up in a community.
One day Carolin showed up at the Point Pleasant Register, shortly after I’d been transferred there in 2011. She brought with her a nicely bound certificate from the VFW that stated a donation had been made to a children’s home in honor of my grandmother. It was dated 2005, shortly after Nannie had passed. She had held on to it for years and it was in pristine condition. With life being so busy, she just hadn’t been able to connect with anyone in the family to give it to them. I’ve thought about that recently, about how she held on to something that she felt mattered to someone else for at least six years, until she could give it to them and make it right. It makes me wonder how much she was holding on to for other people, keeping these things safe, maintained and protected. I’m certain she was the driving force behind getting that donation, as well. I’ve often thought about Carolin and Nannie’s VFW sisters, conducting a ceremony at Nannie’s funeral. It was the one thing I knew Nannie would be sad she missed that day.
One thing I’m certain Carolin would’ve appreciated, was her last ride down Main Street following her funeral on Thursday. As word spread throughout the community that her procession would be taking a detour downtown, people stood on the sidewalks to pay their respects. As the hearse approached Harris Steakhouse, it stopped for a few moments, as those gathered in front of the diner she operated for 48 years, stood in a respectful silence. Then, just like life, it moved on too soon, and I watched as the hearse rounded Third Street and went out of sight, taking Carolin with it. That was the moment when I knew it was the end of an era on Main Street.
In keeping with Carolin’s example, I’m sure those who remain on it, will do their best to make sure it’s not the end of Main Street.
Beth Sergent is the editor of the Point Pleasant Register, Gallipolis Daily Tribune, The Daily Sentinel and Sunday Times-Sentinel. Reach her at 1-304-675-1333, ext. 1992, 1-740-446-2342, ext. 2102, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.