Category Archives: Michigan

Author Profile: Anne-Marie Oomen

Michigan author Anne-Marie Oomen visited Saginaw Valley State University
and the surrounding area in April.

Anne-Marie Oomen

I am ashamed to admit it, but I have yet to fully read one of Anne-Marie Oomen’s memoirs or books of poetry, even though I own two of her books (signed) and have attended a couple of her writing sessions (one for teachers and other, this past spring, open to the general public), as well as a reading from her latest book, As Long As I Know You:  The Mom Book.  I’ve only read and heard snippets of her work … so far.

What I’ve read and heard thus far is wonderful, and knowing the topics/subjects/genre included in many of her books, I know that I will love them.  How could I not purchase a book titled Love, Sex, and 4-H?  Then there is As Long As I Know You:  The Mom Book.  I can’t wait to read it.  The passages that she read during her author event, along with the anecdotes she shared about herself, her mom, and writing the book, definitely left me hooked.

What I really want to discuss today is her capacity as a teacher.  Just over a month prior to the shutdown orders signaling the official start of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to attend a day-long writing program aimed at teachers.  Titled “Homecoming:  Coming Home,” it was sponsored by the Saginaw Bay Writing Project.  Anne-Marie Oomen happened to be one of the presenters that morning.

During her allotted time, she taught us the term ekphrasis – a method of using different works of art to create various forms of writing, whether poetry, personal essay, or short story.  Imagine studying a painting and then creating a poem from your experience.  That is ekphrasis.

After explaining the process and providing us with examples of her own work, Anne-Marie Oomen had us create our own art inspired piece.  She brought with her a large collection of postcards.  I chose one with a portrait of Annie Oakley on the front, “little sure-shot.”  I enjoyed the experience and still have a digital copy of her presentation from that day.  I left realizing that I could easily create vision boards on Pinterest to gather my thoughts and ideas for various writing projects.

Anne-Marie Oomen used the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper
to demonstrate the process of ekphrasis.

As wonderful as that experience was, a few months ago I learned that Anne-Marie Oomen was to be a guest scholar at Saginaw Valley State University.  During that time, she conducted a similar writing session open to the general public at the Marshall Fredericks Museum on SVSU’s campus.  I am so glad that I attended.  It made me look at one of my favorite museums in an entirely different light.  I left with a notebook full of ideas and even a rough draft.  The following evening, Anne-Marie Oomen held a reading at the Wirt Public Library in Bay City, sharing snippets from As Long As I Know You:  The Mom Book.  I’m so glad that I attended as I brought back so many memories of the short few months I had living with Grandma Reid before she needed more care than I could provide.  It is never easy watching someone you love age and decline.

I took something away from each of Anne-Marie Oomen’s events.  On top of sharing her love and knowledge of writing, she is a wonderful teacher.  Better yet … she is a Michigan author willing to help aspiring writers and teachers.

Anne-Marie Oomen’s latest book As Long as I Know You: The Mom Book details her experience dealing with her relationship with aging mother.

Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1976)

Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1976) (Video) (Lyrics)

(Written May 7, 2023)

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down

Of the big lake they called ‘Gitche Gumee’ …” (Gordon Lightfoot 1976)

There is probably no more iconic opening lyric in modern music history.  Sadly, Gordon Lightfoot died on May 1st, 2023 at age 84.  In capturing the story of the tragedy of the Edmund Fitzgerald in song, he immortalized the iron ore carrier, its crew, and its disputed demise for generations to come.  In a sense, it has become an elegy for all those lost on the Great Lakes over the centuries.

Growing up in Michigan throughout the 1980s and 1990s, we learned about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald through Lightfoot’s lyrics.  Personally, I’ve been fascinated ever since.  It is easy to see why so many are still drawn to the story.  First, it is a fairly “modern” shipwreck.  The Fitzgerald sank on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975.  They had enough lifeboats, modern radar, and radio communication.  In fact, Captain McSorley’s last radio communication with a nearby ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, was “we are holding our own.”  That chilling fact alone sends my imagination reeling.

Next, there are lingering questions as to exactly how the Edmund Fitzgerald sank.  Some say that she ran aground on SIx Fathoms Shoal, while others believe that the hatchways were not properly secured.  Then, there are those who believe one of the Three SIsters – a reference to gigantic waves developing on Lake Superior in the wake of incredible fall storms – doomed the ship.

In fact, the subject of the Edmund Fitzgerald still garners a lot of local interest in Michigan.  In September 2022, former reporter and Edmund Fitzgerald researcher Ric Mixter presented information on the wreck at the old court house in Omer.  I happened to attend his presentation, and for such a small community, there was standing room only.  Ric Mixter, a former reporter for local WNEM TV5, went on to present in Bay City and other nearby communities as well.  What’s great about his presentation is the depth of his research, his respect for those who died in the tragedy, and his obvious love for the subject matter.  He lets his audience decide for themselves the ultimate cause of the wreck.  After I attended Ric Mixter’s presentation, I compiled some of his resources in the post All Things Michigan.

Finally, Gordon Lightfoot’s master songwriting draws one into the tragedy.  WIth lyrics like “ice water mansion” and “Does anyone know where the love of God goes, When the waves turn the minutes to hours?,” it becomes a timeless folk song dedicated to the power of the Great Lakes.  By telling the story in a basic timeline format, he immortalizes the old cook and Captain McSorley, along with the rest of the crew, for all time.  I can’t think of a better tribute to the 29 men that lost their lives that fateful November day.  It is one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard and fully deserves its rightful place in the history of timeless American folk songs.

Of Hunting and Fishing, Reading and Writing

Teddy Roosevelt is easily one of my favorite Presidents.

Sometimes I question whether or not Dad realizes what an example he set for his children – or at least me, as I can’t speak for my brother or sister.  He, along with my mom, spent the last nearly 46 years owning and operating Russell Canoe Livery and Campgrounds, Inc. and are still actively involved in the business.  They purchased the canoe livery from my paternal grandmother, Judy Reid, in June 1977, a few months prior to their wedding.  Growing up in and with the business, I saw firsthand what my parents and grandparents did to grow the business, including the sacrifices they made.

As a child, whenever anyone asked what my dad did for a living, my response of “he owns a campground and canoe livery” fascinated many.  As the canoe livery developed, Dad focused on creating a business that not only worked around our family life – it complimented my mom’s teaching career and our school schedules well.  It also allowed him to pursue his hobbies of hunting and fishing in a way impossible for most people.

I admit it:  I know more about hunting and fishing than any non-hunter, non-fisherwoman I know.  All thanks to Dad.  I grew up feeding Beagle hunting dogs used for rabbit hunting; with various mounts in our basement; and learning what a Pope and Young record meant, once my dad killed a Canadian black bear with a bow and arrow.  That bear now infamously resides in our main office/store in Omer, a legend in his own right.

This guy gets a lot of attention during the summer months, holding down the fort in our office.
Russell Canoe Livery, Omer, Michigan

As a young child, when I asked Dad why he hunted deer, he took the time to give me the full, true explanation.  At six years old, he explained how deer hunting helps control the deer population in Michigan.  If they weren’t hunted, there would be many more car/deer accidents, and they could become over-populated, causing starvation and disease.  I have never forgotten that lesson.  Even though I am no hunter myself, I have no issue with it – as long as rules are followed and as much of the animal is used as possible.

What I admire most about my dad is how he was able to create a life for himself in which he prioritized what he wanted out of life – and it wasn’t money – it was about lifestyle.  Even though he didn’t directly use his degree in wildlife biology in his career – he didn’t become a conservation officer – that knowledge allowed him to more fully understand what was needed to become a better hunter and fisherman.  Dad’s passion for his hobbies, even today in his 70s, still inspires me.

What I’ve long realized is that I am just as passionate about reading and writing.  He may not see it or recognize the correlation, but I do.  It is the reason why I earned my writing certificate from Delta College, took additional humanities courses when possible, joined Mid Michigan Writers, attended several writing workshops, and so much more.  Everyone should be so lucky.  I am never bored.  I am eternally grateful that my dad was able to find a way to make it all work and set an example for me to follow.  Per usual, I’m just doing things the “hard” way.  I will get there … eventually.

Review: Madonna 40

On Friday evening March 31st, 2023, I joined scores of others to attend “Madonna 40” at the Delta College Planetarium.  A sold out show, it was incredible – and a lot of fun!  Designed to honor Madonna’s 40th anniversary of her first hit single “Holiday” and her always controversial place in Bay City history, it did not disappoint.  My only wish: I would have thoroughly enjoyed another hour of her classic music videos and would have gladly paid accordingly.  There is nothing quite like watching the music videos that made Madonna a superstar and an inspiration to a generation of girls and women, for better or worse, on the big screen.  It is an experience I will never forget. Her early music will always be a part of the soundtrack to my early childhood memories.  In designing the program, the following original, unedited music videos were shown in all of their ‘80s and early ‘90s glory:

A still from arguably Madonna’s most iconic music video, Material Girl (1984).

Frankly, the music video portion of the program outshone everything else.  The videos have held up over nearly four decades.  What struck me most in the vintage videos was Madonna herself.  Definitely not model thin or “fat,” she exuded old-school glamor in “Material Girl,” “Vogue,” and “Like A Prayer” with the dance moves that made her famous.  As for “Papa Don’t Preach,” she looks like any fresh-faced midwestern high school or college girl.

Personally, I felt that the organizers/designers missed a huge opportunity by not including at least the videos for both “Promise to Try” (1989), which was largely filmed at her mother’s gravesite in Kawkawlin, Michigan (just north of Bay City), and “This Used to Be My Playground” (1992), which was included on the A League of Their Own soundtrack and supposedly written about Bay City becoming her refuge after her mother’s untimely death.  The only actual footage of Madonna in or near Bay City was not included in the program.  How?

The next segment of the program, “Smelly Little Town,” is originally why I wanted to attend the event and even moved around my schedule to do so.  Debuting as part of the Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival in Bay City in 2021, I doubted I would ever have another opportunity to see it.  Growing up with the controversy, knowing Bay City a little too well, and having been born in Bay City myself, I had to check it out.

First and foremost, it is quite possibly the most Bay City thing I’ve ever seen in my life.  Let me just say this:  It began and ended with scenes of people polka dancing at the St. Stan’s Polish festival to the Steve Drzewicki Band, both Bay City institutions.  I half expected to see my ex’s parents go dancing on by.  In general, the film did a decent job describing Bay City, covering all aspects of the “smelly little town” controversy with Madonna, and explaining how ever-corrupt Bay City small town politics is the answer as to why Bay City has never really been able to capitalize on the fact that it is the birthplace of Madonna.

This mural in downtown Bay City was privately funded and tucked away on a small side street.

For those who don’t know, Madonna Louise Ciccone was born at the former Mercy Hospital in Bay City, Michigan on August 16th, 1958.  Madonna is her actual given name as she was named after her mother.  Upon her mother’s tragic death in 1963, Madonna spent time in Bay City with her grandmother, who lived in the Banks area, then home to a nearby oil refinery (hence the “smelly little town” comment that caused such an uproar).  To this day, there is very little commemorating Madonna in Bay City.  Then again, this is the same city that passed on becoming home to a casino and a minor league ballpark, both of which went to nearby communities.

If something wonderful is planning on coming to Bay City, one can be sure that public outrage will ensue in some way, shape, or form.  I am speaking from experience.  When I moved back to Michigan with my ex, a Bay City native, in 2005, the controversy over the then new Wirt Public Library – a gorgeous new anchor for downtown Bay City – had yet to wane.  While I agree it doesn’t have the history of the historic Sage Library in Bay City, people were genuinely upset over a beautiful new library downtown.  I will never understand the mentality.

Then again, back in 2005, Michigan experienced a one-state recession which was about to turn into the Great Recession.  2008 is covered well in the documentary.  It is rightfully called one of the darkest times in Bay City history, and frankly, I consider my life in Bay City (2005-2012) one of the darkest periods in my life as well.  Yet, while Bay City is almost unrecognizable from that dark hour, there is still nothing formal honoring Madonna in the city.

As much as I wanted to see “Smelly Little Town,” I doubt it would have been half as entertaining if not for my own experiences with Bay City and my early love of Madonna’s music.  In fact, much of it is forgettable.  However, it did a good job highlighting the ridiculousness of the entire situation and Bay City politics.  I actually understand the controversy now.  A little explanation and context behind Madonna’s comments would have changed everything.  In the same infamous 1985 interview with Jane Pauly, Madonna goes on to say that she has “great affection” for Bay City.

By the way, Bay City still is a “smelly little town.”  In a hilarious coincidence, I happened to drive by the Michigan Sugar plant on Friday on my way to see “Madonna 40.”  For those who don’t know, processing sugar beets can smell like hot garbage on a good day.  Friday, as I drove by, it never smelled worse.

Clearly, Madonna’s relationship with Bay City remains complicated.  I fully understand why.  My love/hate relationship with Madonna – I will always love Madonna’s music, but question her methods of self-promotion – mirrors my love/hate relationship with Bay City itself.  I do hope that she is commemorated in Bay City at some point.  Not every small town can claim to be the birthplace of the best-selling female musical artist of all time.

By the way, if you want a quick, accurate outline of Madonna’s complex history with Bay City, the article below does a wonderful job of doing just that.

‘The Madonna Controversy’: Five facts about Bay City’s Material Girl you may not have known

Omer, Michigan

Recently, I realized that I mention my hometown extensively without providing many details.  Unfortunately, many readers – even seasoned Michiganders – might have no idea where Omer, Michigan is.  It is just under an hour north of Bay City.  If you take the 188 Standish exit off of I-75, you will likely end up on US 23 north in Standish.  Omer is the next small town, approximately 7 miles north on US 23.  A bridge over the Rifle River, a caution light, and a set of railroad tracks are all landmarks to let you know that you have traveled through the city.

Being from Omer, Michigan isn’t for the faint of heart.  For decades, the city of Omer has held the distinction of being Michigan’s smallest city, boasting a population just shy of 300 souls.  Living in a small town does not come without its hazards.  Nothing remains private for long.  Both of my parents grew up in the area as well, with both of their families having ties to the area going back generations.  Growing up attending Standish-Sterling Community Schools, not only was I a teacher’s kid as my mom spent most of her teaching career at Standish Elementary, our family business, Russell Canoe Livery, meant that my family was well-known in both Omer and Standish.  In fact, Omer has no school, aside from a Head Start program aimed at preschoolers.  When Omer’s school burned down in the early days of the 20th century, it was never rebuilt.

Sadly, despite its location in the heart of Arenac County and its one-time status as the county seat, little remains of a once thriving city.  Today, the Arenac Country Historical Society works to preserve the Old Courthouse, the lone remaining structure to tell Omer’s cautionary tale.  During the early part of the 20th century, roughly 1905-1918, Omer experienced a series of natural disasters (namely fires, floods, and tornadoes) that nearly destroyed the city.  Throughout the 80s and 90s, the local diner, first known as Cody’s and later Ziggy’s (now a Dollar General), had disposable placemats outlining Omer’s history, including the natural disasters.

Originally named Rifle River Mills, Omer’s identity has always depended on the Rifle River.  In the late 19th century, lumber from dense northern Michigan forests traveled rivers such as the Rifle to the sawmills in the south, namely in Bay City and Saginaw.  In fact, our main location in Omer, our smaller campground, is the remains of an old mill pond.  In fact, it becomes easy to imagine the pond if you look at the current topography of the campground.  Today, the Rifle River is used exclusively for recreational purposes – fishing, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, and more.  One day last summer, I saw two young girls in bathing suits walking down Carrington St. carrying their canoe.  It is forever frozen in my mind as the most “Omer” thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

Today, Omer is home to three campgrounds, two of which are also canoe liveries, Russell Canoe Livery and Campgrounds, Inc., being the largest.  In addition, Omer is home to Meihls Mechanical, a self-storage business that is continually growing, Dollar General, the Sunrise Side Senior Center, a library attached to city hall, a post office, a small park with basketball hoops and playground, the Old Courthouse, and not much else.  While not exactly thriving, the city itself looks better than it has in decades, closed Rob’s Auto and Greg’s Market aside.

Today, Omer is relatively well known for two things:  the local sucker run and witchy wolves.  The sucker run deserves it own post.  As it will be starting soon, stay tuned.  My piece on the witchy wolf legend, dating back to right after the US Civil War, can be found here.  Omer will never be perfect, but it will always home.

Cars We Love

A1989 Pontiac Grand Prix similar to my first car.
The only thing missing here is the luggage rack on the trunk.

Funny how certain cars from your past just stay with you.  Where do I even begin with my first car, my 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix, a perfect cheery red?  My love affair with that car began right off the lot.  My parents purchased the car brand new in Gladwin, MI in 1989.  It was the first proper car my mom had since my parents married in 1977.  After my parents married, they sold my mom’s car to help purchase buses, and the full-sized vans that replaced it doubled as a canoe livery vehicles in the summer.  She definitely earned that brand new car!  I think I was just as excited as she was – almost.  If anything, I inherited my love of cars from Mom.  I even went to the dealership with my parents, an exciting new experience at age 8.

By 1995, a friend of my parents, who owned the GM dealership in town, happened to drive over the latest Grand Prix model – again, bright red.  The Grand Prix had just been redesigned, and few people in Arenac County, if any, had it at that point.  Soon, Mom had another new car and the old one, later mine, went into the pole barn, waiting for me to turn 16 and earn my license.

During the fall of 1996, I spent hours detailing it, getting ready for when I earned my license in December.  I carefully drove it through the campground, practicing backing up and avoiding things like fire rings and electrical posts, carefully storing it back in the pole barn, waiting not so patiently.  My mom had taken great care of it, and now, it was up to me.

A few features of that Grand Prix still stand out.  1989, frankly, was the end of an era when it came to cars.  My Grand Prix was probably one of the last models that didn’t include air bags and CD players.  Instead, it had a futuristic 80s electronic dash and a retro tape deck.  Later, we had a five CD changer installed in the trunk.  I could not have asked for a more perfect first car.

After much heartache, stress, and tears – another story entirely – my dad took me to the Secretary of State on my birthday to get my license.  He even let me pick out a new license plate for my car.  I ended up with a centennial plate commemorating the 100th anniversary of the automobile industry.  Somehow, some of my best memories with Dad always seem to involve vehicles, whether cars, SUVs, minibusses, or big ole school buses.

Car and license in hand, I now drove myself and my younger sister Erica to school and around town.  The biggest issue, of course, became control of the radio for the entire 10 minute drive to school.  We didn’t fight much, but we did argue over music and sharing a bathroom on the daily.  That first winter driving, Erica and I experienced our first accident.  A fender bender that could have happened to anyone, we both freaked out as only young teenage girls can.  Fortunately, no one was hurt and the damage was easily repaired.

I kept that Grand Prix well into college.  In 2001, I drove it to and from my internship with IBM out in Rochester, Minnesota.  Alone, I will never forget driving home along US 2 across the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan in late August with incredible views of Lake Michigan along the way.  It is still one of my favorite road trips.  That trip finally helped me to become completely comfortable behind the wheel.

The following year, after a year studying abroad in Ecuador and Spain, I spent six months living and working in Austin, Texas.  I had landed the co-op with Applied Materials at the same time I landed the gig with IBM.  As I already knew that I would be studying abroad the following academic year, I convinced Applied Materials to bring me aboard the following summer, June 2002.  By this point, it was time to replace the Grand Prix.

The original plan was to sell my car in Texas, fly home in December for my birthday and Christmas, purchase a new vehicle, and return to Michigan State for winter semester 2003.  Well, best laid plans rarely work out.  On July 24th, 2001, on my way to work at Applied, a moving truck turned in front of me.  I had had the green light, and he hadn’t seen me.  I slammed on the brakes so hard that I broke my big toe and the metatarsal on my right foot.  I ended up in a splint and, later, a walking cast, up to my knee.

The entire front end of the Grand Prix slid under the truck, stopping just in time.  If I had had a passenger in the front seat, he or she probably would not have made it.  All I could think of was how many times I had had my brother or sister with me, usually shotgun.  I walked away relatively unscathed.  My only other injury, other than a badly scraped left knee from the dash, was a deep cut behind my ear from the window molding.  Somehow, the safety glass held.

Thank God that car didn’t have air bags.  First generation air bags later gained a reputation for killing shorter drivers.  At 5’0, I may have ended up a statistic.  That Grand Prix that I’d loved for so long had saved my life.  It was the end of an era.

I ended up with another Grand Prix, of course – a 2002.  Yet, nothing I’ve owned since could ever top my first car, not even purchasing a brand new car on my own.  So many childhood, teenage, and even young adult memories – way too many to share here – wrapped up in one vehicle.  I’ve even dreamed about it.  I dreamed that, somehow, it was still stored in my parents’ pole barn, waiting for me to drive it again.

Another view.

Home Again

Fun sign on Grove Road, just before Crystal Creek Campground
Photo Credit: Lindsey Russell

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.

My favorite part of Crystal Creek Campground
Photo Credit: Lindsey Russell

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.

Another view of my favorite part of Crystal Creek Campground
Photo Credit: Lindsey Russell

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.

Crystal Creek Landing
Photo Credit: Lindsey Russell

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.

The view from Spartan Staduium, Saturday, September 24th, 2022
Photo Credit: Lindsey Russell

The Cottage

10 year old me, huge pink glasses and all, hanging out with Dad on the front porch of the “old” Buttrick cottage on Sage Lake. 1990

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.

All Things Michigan

Lake Superior shoreline – Photo Credit: photosforclass.com

Here are a few Michigan-centric websites I’ve come across over the last week.

Check them out!

Mysterious Michigan

Lots of great paranormal stories set in Michigan.  Just in time for Halloween!  You can find my piece on The Witchy Wolves of the Omer Plains there as well.

The site started out back in 2006 as Michigan’s Otherside.

Amberrose Hammond – 

Amberrose Hammond is the woman behind Mysterious Michigan.  This personal site outlines her work, books, and much more.

Lake Fury

Ric Mixter and Dan Hall’s website discussing all things shipwreck on the Great Lakes.  I had the opportunity to hear Ric Mixter’s talk on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald last week.  Absolutely fascinating.

Shipwreck Podcasts

Ric Mixter’s free and premium podcasts covering shipwrecks all over the Great Lakes (and beyond), the infamous and the not-so-famous.  You can also find a list of Ric Mixter’s upcoming appearances/topics.

Lake Superior beach gravel – Photo Credit: photosforclass.com