Tag Archives: Michigan

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