These last few weeks have been eventful, and frankly, fun. While my parents were in Ireland, I house sat for them. First, I love my parents’ house. It is comfortable and, next to my own house, is a space where I can just be myself. Housesitting for my parents during the early part of the fall means checking our Crystal Creek Campground as well. Crystal Creek is adjacent to my parents’ house. In fact, the house – my home from ages 3 to 18 – sits behind our store. It is hard to separate the two.
There is something about the empty campground, with the promise of fall in the air, that gets me every time. It is gorgeous and my favorite time of year. I can’t help but think of all the time I spent playing in the campground as a child after the campers left for the season. The land itself is forever a part of me.
During the great shutdown of 2020, I lived with my parents. It didn’t make sense for me to live alone at a time when no one knew how long it would last. Those days were largely a challenge for a variety of reasons, but the campground helped. Even though we had no idea when would be able to open up for Summer 2020, my parents and I spent time getting the campground ready. It was something tangible we could do. Mom and I picked up sticks and garbage daily while my dad and brother took care of most of the brush. It gave me a new appreciation for the land and the river, especially after we had the 500 year flood in May 2020 and rebuilt to open in mid-June.
But, home is so much more than just my parents’ or my home. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to return to Michigan State’s unrivaled campus – the home of some of my best memories. My brother, sister, sister-in-law, and I made sure my nephews and niece had a great first experience at Spartan Stadium. While wonderful in many ways, unfortunately my niblings didn’t get to see the Spartans win. Still, just being on campus brought back so many memories – the kind of memories that can only be relived when you’re home.
Lately, the cottage has been on my mind. In Michigan, many families have a “cottage” or “cabin” Up North, however you define it. Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but Michigan actually has more, only outnumbered by Alaska. As a true Michigander, I am drawn to water in all of its forms. The cottage in my mom’s family, going back at least five generations, still plays an important role in our family.
Actually, there are two. The “old cottage,” which belonged to my great grandmother, Leona Clara Forward Buttrick, otherwise known to her great grandchildren as Great (I wrote about her life in Family History), had character to spare. Dating back to the 1930s or 1940s, the “old cottage” looms large in my childhood memories. It was the site of numerous weekend get-togethers with extended family, particularly my Buttrick grandparents, cousins, and aunts (and their husbands). Great spent most of her summers at the “old” cottage on Sage Lake, which made these early memories extra special.
Once Great passed away in 1993, it was decided that we needed a cottage closer to the lake, a new place to make new memories. Thankfully, this cottage is still in constant use during the summer and still the site of countless family summer gatherings. Still, there is something special about the “old” cottage, warts and all. It is still there, largely unchanged, to be enjoyed by a new family.
If anything, I would have to say it was Great herself that made the cottage special. She was always there, smiling and laughing. She seemed to just take it all in, surrounded by her granddaughters, great granddaughters, son, and daughter-in-law, among others. She always had a tin filled with Hydrox cookies for her great grandchildren and would look the other way while we snuck them.
It was a treat to spend the night at the cottage with Great. I believe that my mom, sister, and I stayed overnight with Great at the cottage a handful of times. I loved waking up near the lake, having toast with real honey from the comb and an individual box of cereal for breakfast. The “old” cottage may have been located on a large bluff overlooking Sage Lake, making swimming and boating a workout, but the view was second to none.
As Great’s birthday was in late August, I vividly remember driving up to the cottage to take Great out to dinner. Mom, Erica, and I pilled in Great’s huge seafoam green Caddy to take her out for frog legs, her favorite. We all adored Great, but the relationship that my mom had with her grandmother was truly special. It must have been for my mom to pack up her two little girls and drive over half an hour each way to take her grandmother out to dinner for her birthday. I am so grateful for all the time I got to spend with Great. As I was 13 when she passed away, I knew her well Not everyone gets the opportunity to know a great grandparent in such a wonderful, detailed way.
The thing about going to the cottage during my childhood was that it was a process. Yes, there may have been times when I actually traveled to the cottage with my parents, but that is not what I remember as well. What I will remember most is all the fun I had piling into my grandparents’ huge 1980s station wagon with my older cousins. At one point, Grandpa B. owned one of those coveted wood paneled station wagons that had a rear facing seat. Of course, as kids, we all piled in the “way” back. My sister Erica, our cousin Abby, and I spent the entire 20 minute trip making up songs, playing silly finger-snap games, and hoping that we would be the “first one to see the lake.” Getting there was half the fun.
Actually, in those days, my parents presence at the cottage didn’t register much. No. The cottage was all about playing with cousins. We would climb the tree in the front yard, create dance routines on the parking pylons and the torpedo towable, and swim. There were trips to the pop shop and pontoon boat rides too. Grandpa could never understand why I would always pick out baseball cards (normally Topps ‘87s) instead of candy at the pop shop. I think it amused him.
Swimming and boating at the “old” cottage required a little planning. The obstacle to lake access was a large, steep set of stairs. If you were going down to the lake, you stayed there for a while. If anyone was heading up to the cottage and planned to return to the lake, she automatically played waitress. It wasn’t kind to head up without asking if anyone needed anything. It is the one thing that I do not miss about the “old” cottage. If we weren’t down at the lake, we were hanging out on the large covered porch in the front yard, facing Second Ave., the lake behind. This was the site of all of our games.
Of course, no description of cottage life would be complete without a description of the food. For dinner, there was chicken, burgers, and hotdogs on the grill with plenty of sides and salads, you name it. What really stands out, though, is so simple: Grandma B.’s fruit platters. Even us kids devoured mounds of fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, bananas, and blue berries. As soon Grandma brought out the fruit tray, it was time to take a break from all the fun.
Then there was the cottage itself. It was small and pine paneled with lots of windows overlooking the deck with the lake below, decorated in a mix of mid century cottage style. Even though there were only two bedrooms, it never felt cramped to me as a child. It largely smelled of fresh air and the lake, with Great’s Airspun powder lingering in the bathroom. Overall, it is a place where I made countless memories that I will always carry with me.
I am grateful that my brother Garrett takes his kids to the cottage often. For him, it is all about catching air on Sage on a wakeboard. Both of his kids, both under 10, adore wakeboarding and tubing behind the speedboat. Yet, I feel for Garrett. He has little to no memory of the cottage atmosphere I just described – the one seared in my memory, the one that started it all. While he definitely knew Great, she passed away when he was only two years old. It saddens me because the image of how fiercely my toddler brother adored our great grandmother is among one of sweetest things I have ever witnessed in my life. I’m just glad the cottage still lives on. The cottage is still a place where cousins make memories.
My grandparents are never far from my mind (or heart), but over the last several days, they’ve been on my mind even more. As my parents were preparing for a trip to Ireland, my dad asked me a little about the Irish ancestry on the Russell side of his family. It is fascinating! I didn’t realize that his grandfather (my great grandfather), Elijah (EC) Russell, was the son of Irish immigrants. As Grandpa Russell passed away long before I was born, I happen to know the history of the Suszko and Buttrick/Hoffman sides of my family better. Realizing that my ancestors on the Russell side made sacrifices for their descendants by leaving their homeland in search of a better life is humbling.
Today also happens to be Grandparents Day. My grandparents may no longer be with us, but I simply would not be the same person without their influence. As a child, I somehow won the grandparent lottery. Both my Buttrick and Reid grandparents lived close by and played a huge role in my life. I spent my summers spending time and working with Grandma and Grandpa Reid. They both taught me so much about life in general. I’ve written extensively about their influence.
Grandma and Grandpa Buttrick’s house was always open to us grand kids and our friends. They lived close to Standish Elementary, and we often visited after school. As an adult, trips to Standish were not complete if I didn’t visit Grandma and Grandpa. Even today, when I am running errands in Standish, I think of how nice it would be to be able to stop in for a quick visit. I still miss the book club for two that I had with Grandma B. I also think of all of those August trips to hunting camp in Kenton, piling in Grandpa’s station wagon or Suburban with our cousins.
There is so much more I could say. I didn’t even discuss our “adopted” grandparents, our neighbors Joyce and Carl. That is all together another subject for another day. By the way, I didn’t post a picture of Grandma Buttrick for a specific reason. She was a private person, and even though she is no longer here, she would hate having her picture here.
Even though I never knew him, Grandpa Russell’s legacy lives on in the canoe livery. Grandma and Dad may have kept the canoe livery running after he passed away, but it was Grandpa Russell who started it all over 60 years ago. In fact, all of my grandfathers were entrepreneurs in their own way – a fact I love.
So, to all of my grandparents, thank you! Thank you for your love, guidance, memories, and so much more.
Restarting my conversation with all of you here has been on my mind for quite some time. As with so much in my life, things became bogged down during the pandemic. It is telling that my last posts described my feelings at the beginning of the shutdown – my experience as a new teacher suddenly thrown into the great unknown and then a two-part series on the pandemic and the canoe livery. The survival of that constant in my life weighed so heavily on my mind during the darkest days of the shutdown. It was almost unspeakable.
And now … Well, I feel as though I just witnessed the end of an era on Friday with the death of Betty White. I watched The Golden Girls during its original run. Yes, I am that old. Even though I was a child and tween during that time, there always seemed to be something timeless about that show and the principal actresses as well. I spent many Saturday evenings watching with my grandparents. Grandpa Owen adored Sophia, and of course, we all loved the humor. Out of the remaining three actresses, Betty White’s Rose reminded me the most of Grandma Reid. However, there is one huge catch: Grandma was never, ever even close to being that naïve (or dumb)! Yet, Rose’s willingness to help anyone and everyone fit the bill and her constant positivity reflected my experiences with both of my grandmothers. I think it is that kindness, reflected in both Betty White’s character Rose Nylund and anecdotes of Betty White’s generosity towards her colleagues and fans, that I am sensing is gone. It is also a longing for a simpler time.
If I am honest, the feeling that it is the end of an era started before Friday. This past fall, one of my Grandma Reid’s last remaining friends passed away (although there may be a few left). It hit particularly hard because Ginny was such a positive person. I have fond childhood memories of visiting her home during Halloween, at which time she would show me her vast porcelain doll collection and shared stories about working for my grandfather. As an adult, I saw her often as she volunteered at the Skilled Nursing Facility where Grandma Reid lived out the last few years of her life. I can only hope that I will be around to volunteer in my 80s and 90s! I remember her as so full of life. Again, the world could use more positivity at this point.
In fact, I am done. There are so many times I’ve wanted to write that simple sentence, and I now know how to explain it a bit better. I am done listening to the negative, which, let’s be honest, is everywhere now. I’m also done spending any time or energy on people who only focus on what could go wrong. It is time to finally move forward after the last nearly two years of hiding in the shadows and not living to the fullest. Yes, I truly believe that there have always been ways to do so safely.
We can get back to ourselves, but we might find that we have discover ourselves once again. As I work on decluttering my life, I will hopefully make even more room for what is truly important. I still have important to decisions to make, but I am finally once again headed in the right direction. There is hope for me yet (see article below).
So, thank you. Thank you for staying with me through all the craziness that is my life. Thank you for still reading even if I am nothing but inconsistent. Thank you for letting me share a tiny piece of my life.
By mid-June, things were starting to come together at the canoe livery … but would our customers return? Boy, did they! We had a wedding at our main location in Omer towards the end of June. After the wedding, with one more weekend in June left, we became increasingly busy, experiencing volume rivaling what we normally experience mid-to-late July or even early August. True to form, we remained busy right up until the mid-August.
Normally, this would be welcomed and wouldn’t have been an issue. However, this year, thanks to COVID, we didn’t have adequate time to properly prepare. During a “normal” year, we have much of June to prepare for the crowds. Things ramp up during June until it becomes crazy from the 4th of July until mid-August. Well, we lost that time to hire and train. We had a week, maybe two, before we started to become that busy. Add in the pressure of new safety precautions, difficulty in getting merchandise, and rebuilding from the flood, and one gets a sense of why it became so stressful. I feel as though I have been running a marathon since May.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am eternally grateful that our business not only survived but grew during COVID. I refrain from saving thrive because it would not be sustainable long-term. Simply too many hours and too much work in such a short period of time. Still, it haunts me that so many small businesses didn’t survive or are in danger of closing permanently. All I could think of this spring is the decades of work the canoe livery represents – my family history and my personal history. It would not exist if not for the hard work, dedication, foresight, and planning of my parents, my grandparents, and now my brother and I, along with countless others over the years. So much in my life simply would not have been possible without the canoe livery. In it, I see my future. Whether I like it or not, the canoe livery and the Rifle River is a part of me. The very idea of it no longer existing is unimaginable.
If nothing else, I do hope that I have turned the corner and truly have a fresh start this fall. It feels that way. I could use some routine and consistency in my life – along with a healthy dose of “normal” – whatever that is now. It is time to figure out exactly what it is that I want. I know that I have returned to that theme dozens of times here over the years. Yet, I still don’t know.
Who is to say that I will be content to spend the rest of my life alone? If I met the right man – and I repeat here, the right man – I can see myself in a relationship again. Yet, I have a difficult time seeing how I would meet him. Same goes for children. I would love to be a mother. I know I would nail it. Yet just the mere thought of the foster and/or adoption processes is enough to make me want to break out in hives. I know what can go wrong all too well. Maybe it will be time to “jump” sooner rather than later. I do know that I do not want to regret what I didn’t do in my life. Until then …
I’ve always loved fall, but somehow, this time of year just means more this year. I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster (more on that in a minute, and not all entirely COVID related) since mid-March. I want OFF! NOW. I never dreamed that I would help run a business and teach middle school during a pandemic, but here I am. Something I never wanted to add to my bucket list.
As I am smack-dab in the middle of returning to in-person classes for the first time since mid-March, it is SO nice to have some normalcy, particularly after a summer and spring that was anything but “normal.” I missed my students deeply, and I enjoy just observing kids being kids.
So, about this spring and summer … Well, of course, it all started mid-March – that ill-fated Friday the 13th to be exact. As the shutdown deepened, I began to worry about opening the canoe livery for the season. Worry about the survivability of the family business #1. Frankly, it didn’t look good. Just as we, along with pretty much everyone else on the Rifle River, made the decision to open for self-contained camping only during Memorial Weekend, the other shoe dropped.
May 18th-20th, we received close to 7 inches of rain. Dams in nearby Gladwin and Midland counties failed. Fortunately, we did have a little warning thanks to another livery on the river. My parents, brother, and I were able to save much of our technology and merchandise in our store in Omer. Good thing we had that warning. We ended up with 3 feet of water in the store. That wasn’t even the worst part.
During the shutdown, I made the decision to stay with my mom. I don’t think either of us wanted to be alone in our own homes for an extended period of time. My dad was at their cabin in Canada when the shutdown happened, and he didn’t come home immediately. I was over at my parents’ house when the stay-at-home order dropped. Then, it just became habit. What was I supposed to do at home by myself that entire time? Normally, I am rarely at home. I am usually at work, running errands – all kinds of things – none of which I could do during the lockdown.
Anyway, my parents and I watched in May as the Rifle River filled our Crystal Creek Campground near my parents’ home. It nearly reached Pinnacle Bridge, which is amazing in and of itself. Then it happened. I read a Facebook post that stated that the Forest Lake Dam broke. We evacuated my parents’ home. While the Forest Lake Dam isn’t directly on the Rifle River, it would feed into the nearby river if it did break. There simply was no way to predict what would happen if the dam broke. My parents feared losing their home of nearly 40 years, not to mention their business of nearly 45 years. I can still hear the panic in both of my parents’ voices. I hope to never experience anything like again it in my life. Same can be said for most of March through August.
Fortunately, the dam held. We returned to my parents’ home later that day when we received word that the immediate danger had passed. While I haven’t made a habit of watching the local news in decades, I did watch that evening as local affiliates reported as the Edenville and Sanford dams collapsed, devastating Gladwin and Midland counties. I know the area. I used to manage a convenience store in Sanford. I traveled M-30 across the Edenville dam many times. Wixom and Sanford Lakes are no more, and the Tittabawassee River reclaimed its original path. It so easily could have been my family. My parents could have easily lost their home – MY childhood home – and their business that day. So many in Midland and the surrounding area did.
When we were finally able to survey the damage, we were lucky. The flood mainly damaged our main location in Omer this time. Keep in mind that we suffered devastating flood/ice damage – along with tornado damage later that summer – at our Crystal Creek Campground in 2018. In Omer, we lost our propane tank, our ice chest, fencing, and a campsite. Yes, you read that correctly. When our campground – a former mill pond – flooded, the water drained in one area, completely eroding one of our campsites. We had to get excavation work done in order to rebuild. All of this on top of 3 feet of water in our store, bathrooms, and pole barns. The cleanup took nearly a month, delaying our opening. When we were finally able to reopen in mid-June, we didn’t know what to expect.
I will leave off here for now. There is so much more to the story. While I will discuss some aspects of what happened after we reopened another day, there is much more that will have to be left unsaid. So much of what made this summer truly horrendous isn’t even my story to tell.
In my family’s experience with the flood, I watched my parents, my brother, and I come together to make things happen under unprecedented circumstances. COVID made things much more difficult than they needed to be. Something as simple as ordering merchandise for the summer became a nightmare. Yet, it worked. We somehow made it work. That is precisely why I wanted to tell this story.
Above all, I hope all of us – every last person affected by COVID, which is the entire planet – finally get some semblance of normal. We deserve it!
Why do I write? I write because I must write. I have a story within me that must be told. There may be other ways to tell that story, but writing fits me – and more importantly, it fits the story I need to tell. I’ve dabbled in many forms of writing over the years, everything from daily throw away articles to blogging to academic papers. I view it all as preparation for writing a larger story.
More than anything, writing allows me to organize all the seemingly random thoughts rambling around my head. I love reading what I wrote years ago as it normally takes me back to a certain time and place. It is a way for me to see just how much I’ve grown over the years, both personally and as a writer.
As a teacher, it saddens me when students tell me they hate to read and write. In my mind, my love of writing grew out of my love of reading. I loved to read as a child – and I still love to read. Reading and writing are so intertwined in my life that it is difficult for me to tell where one begins and the other ends. For example, something I plan to write will inspire me to read a certain book. Other times, a book I pick up because it looks good will inspire me to write. One of my all-time favorite books, Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose, sums up the symbiotic relationship perfectly. In fact, it changed how I read as a writer in every sense of those words. As long as I have books, paper, and pen, I will never be bored.
Writing, to me, also means a sense of community. I’ve taken writing classes at the local community college, spent years as a member of Mid-Michigan Writers, Inc., and attended workshops and seminars for writers. I have yet to meet one writer who didn’t have something to offer others, whether it be a new critique technique, a new source of writing prompts, or information on various programs for writers. As with teachers, writers are happy to share. We can all learn from one another.
The wonderful thing about writing is that it can be personal or shared, solitary or social, and organized or spontaneous. There is room for all types, and there is no one set of rules that apply to everyone. I love that young and old have access to reading and writing. Unlike many sports, there is no expiration date. There is no real barrier to entry other than basic literacy. I like to think that my writing will just get better with age, like a fine wine. It inspires me that many writers did not find their way until late in life. Above all, there is no stopping a great story.
Let’s face it: Good storytelling isn’t going anywhere, whether that means books, movies, television, or something else entirely. As long as there is hunger for a good story, there will be writers. I am proud to be a part of that tradition.
Ever since schools closed on Friday, March 13th, so many people have posted about spring break trips, proms, graduations, and so much more being cancelled and/or postponed. I’ve watched others shame those same people truly grieving their loss by stating things such as “at least you’re healthy” and “how can you think of things at a time like this?” What awful things to say!
While graduations and field trips certainly aren’t the sickness or loss of a loved one – no one is making that comparison – most of us are suffering from loss at this point. We have lost our “normal” and working like hell to get to a “new normal,” whatever that may be. As a teacher, I’m in awe at how teachers have come together. I belong to a Google Classroom group on Facebook, and the activity I’ve witnessed over the last few weeks is unreal. So many strangers, all teachers or in education, coming to help one another help students across the United States and the world. In fact, I’ve had my own crash course over the last few weeks. In fact, that is precisely why I am a teacher, I love to keep learning and then share what I’ve learned with my students.
When all this madness is over, and things return to “normal” – and they will – it is my hope that we are all kinder and gentler with one another. Hopefully this will bring many people closer to God. I also hope that it brings everyone, students included, a new appreciation for their everyday lives. It already has for me. As stressed out as I was at the end of last trimester, I’d love to be worried about planning all the fun things for March is reading month and the end of the school year again. So, I am taking some time to grieve my loss of normal – and you should too. When this is over, we are all going to love on each other and support our neighborhoods, small businesses, and cities, towns, and villages like never before. Personally, I am hoping for a great party out on the river!
All I can say is that there will be time to reschedule those missed spring break trips, make those memories with your seniors, and generally make up for lost time. I am looking forward to that day, and I expect to be so busy that I will be tempted to complain. Until then, I will just keep plugging away.
Through all of this, seniors – the class of 2020 – has been on my mind. I hope that when this is all over, we will have the opportunity to properly celebrate all their accomplishments. I think we are all grieving all the celebrations, events, you name it that have been cancelled at this point. While I know some people have expressed anger at people getting upset over cancellations, it is only human that we grieve all the experiences we’ve lost. Does that mean we shouldn’t take precautions or help those in need because we are bummed that our events were cancelled? No. It just means that we are grieving a valid loss – at this point, we all are.
I don’t know what these next few weeks or months will bring, but I do know that we will work through this together. One of the silver linings of all of this is the time to work on projects that have been put on hold indefinitely. For example, I’ve toyed with the idea of playing around with podcasting for some time, and tonight, I think I will finally start. We will see where it goes! I am also planning to play around with sharing podcasts with my students too. Much more to come!
I will never forget Friday, March 13th, 2020. I teach middle school at a small, rural Catholic school, and we had just had an unexpected day off due to a boiler issue. Late in the day on Thursday, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer mandated all schools closed as of Monday, March 16th. Suddenly we were all faced with an undetermined amount of time off. Not only did teachers and administrators not quite know what to expect, students looked to us for answers and we had none.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After school on that Friday, we were supposed to have an after school event for March is reading month, Prime Time Live Friday Night. Games, dinner, and prizes all cancelled. Our once full March calendar suddenly free. Now, our last Stations of the Cross is the last school memory I will have for a while.
I can’t help but think of all my 6th through 8th graders through all of this. Are they OK? How do I help make sure they are still learning? What can I do when I can’t assign any graded work as not everyone has internet access? I’ve worked my way through a crash-course on creating Google Classrooms, learning by doing.
Oh, the events! I so looked forward to so many events this spring! We had one field trip planned to Lansing in May, and I was in the process of booking another to the Michigan Science Center and the Detroit Institute of Art. We were just beginning the novel Esperanza Rising as a middle school. Oh, and the poetry unit I wanted to do. Then there were the professional development opportunities now cancelled. I looked forward to learning to become the best possible middle school teacher I can be. I am hoping that I have the same opportunities next year.
Then there are the longer-term questions. When will we return to school? What to expect when we do? When will society return to “normal’? How will things work with our seasonal family business, which is due to start Memorial Weekend? In fact, I’ve been splitting my time between trying to round up resources for my students and using this opportunity to get some business done.
Watching and observing how we have all come together as a profession (teachers are the best!), a church, a community, a state, and a country is heartwarming. Ultimately, we will all become stronger through this adversity.