Does anybody remember the classic American small town? Anybody? I grew up in such a place–so small, the population numbered under a thousand and there was only one traffic light (and it was the flashing, blinky-red kind) as you drove through.
This weekend, my son picked Exit 59 off Highway 96 heading eastbound, toward Lansing, Michigan, as his road trip du jour. We’d taken this route a few times before, but never got past a quick, farm-glutted glance at Clarksville and a Where-The-Hell-Are-We-Now? tour of Saranac, Michigan.*
This time would be different!
“Okay honey. We’re at Exit 59. Which way now?” I call from the front seat.
My child, who has been grinning the entire way, begins barking commands:
Eventually we ended up at a most-delightful destination: Lake Jordan in Odessa, Michigan.
We dined at the under-construction, but-still-popular Buddy’s on the Beach. Even with half the building covered with rough-edged plywood, the place was hopping. I only saw two servers working the floor and they never stopped moving.
Tequila–I’m not making this up–was our waitress and, even though the meal took a while to arrive, due to the popularity of the joint, she stopped frequently to check to make sure we were okay. She recognized Little Man’s quirky behavior right away and gently made sure he was doing okay, even though she had to be off-her-feet, worn-out catering to so many.
The food definitely falls into the standard diner fare–burger, fries, pizza–category. Hearty and hot and big enough for leftovers to go home. I would say, the pizza definitely looks like the star of the establishment. They were flinging pies and burgers left and right. I had ordered a wet burrito and it was huge. I had to double-check to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently ordered the ‘Grande’ size which claimed to be a pound and a half.
“Nope, ” says Tequila, “If no one asks, we always serve the smaller size. The Grande is huge.”
She holds her hands out like she’s carrying a football…or a ten-pound baby.
Little Man, of course, went with his favorite: Bacon and Pepperoni Pizza.
The food was good, solid fare. I suspect ordering a burrito at a place that specializes in hamburgers and pizza was probably an oversight on my part. But it was good-n-plenty enough. The French fries that floated past me looked to die for.
The place is family friendly, even with a smallish bar on site.
I suspect the beer-on-tap is intended for the thirsty ten-pin aficionados in the adjoining bowling alley.
If you travel with a special needs child, this might be a chancy place. It was a little dark, and crammed with families and the neighboring bowling alley added a certain level of excitement. That said, the wait staff was superlative. The management even schlepped orders when necessary.
The outside park with a clean, if unsupervised, swimming area, was inviting and the small-town atmosphere couldn’t be matched by any five-star establishment, no matter how nice the décor.
You could tell Buddy’s has higher aspirations by the in-laid flooring and outer-space, motion-sensor sink and hand dryer in the women’s restroom:
Flooring not pictured because guests were using the facilities, but trust me, Buddy’s is going places. Although…for the men…the trip requires a detour:
We dined and dashed, but I was able to see that a special event was taking place in the bowling area. Tables had been set up and crafts like crocheted blankets and other miscellany were on display. A quick inquiry turned up that it was a local fundraiser for the “Richards Family.” I was assured it was referenced on Facebook, but a later search turned up unsuccessful.
I kick myself now for not being more diligent. This is the kind of effort that deserves recognition. It is representative of the kindness of small towns that doesn’t tend to hit the big-time news.
Calling Buddy’s the next day didn’t clear things up. The manager I spoke with hadn’t been there Saturday. He thought it might be a softball fundraiser for the local Lakewood Girls’ Fastpitch Softball team and recommended I check out the school’s website. I uncovered zilch! Another no-go for my investigative reporting.
I can recommend the Annual Lakewood Area Lion’s Club Chicken Bar-B-Q, however. It smelled fantastic as they were setting up. And if my kid would have hung around for its start time four hours later, I’d be reporting the quality as well. A picture will have to suffice:
Sadly, the event happens only once a year. So, set your calendars for a nice weekend in May 2018 and check back. I certainly plan to.
From the winding, lonesome roads of Michigan. Peace out!
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*Not to diss Saranac but even the people who are born there probably wonder how the hell that happened! According to Wikipedia, the claim to fame of the 1.15 square mile village is the ‘world-renowned’ geologist J. Harlen Bretz.
Plans are in place. Only one more day before I am free.*
I’ve tried to hide my growing excitement. I still swear like a drunken sailor whenever I step on crayons in the yard.
I only hope I didn’t give it away earlier. Boss Baby was playing in the rec room. There’s this scene where the kid is grounded—his bedroom is his prison. When the kid’s talking, wizard alarm clock tries to grab a shank to make a break for it, I about died laughing!**
Man, if that isn’t a sign I need to get out of here, I don’t know what is.
It wasn’t always this way; I used to have a life.***
Okay, so maybe casing the Gem and Mineral show isn’t the act of a repentant criminal, but can you blame a gal for seeking any kind of distraction when serving a life sentence?
All I want is a little clarity…cut, color, and carats! And what do they give me? False hope diamonds!
Breaking rocks in the hot sun would be so much more pleasant if we were hunting out sparkly specimens that look like dragon droppings!
When I get out…I might even try my hand at a little fancy re-marketing. No longer will I be the chauffeur who slavishly drives the ‘Boss Baby’ wherever his heart desires. No! I will be the wild, carefree road warrior women envy and men want. (Hey, if we’re going to fantasize…)
I will hit the interstate for places unknown. I will decide my fate. Or, at least, I won’t default to Highway 196 and exit 41 as the corrections officer insists we take every time we do roadside clean up.
My parole hearing is coming up, so I baked the warden a mini devil’s food cake. I know…shameless pandering.
I even invited the corrections officer to supervise so he wouldn’t suspect anything.
I have to say, they didn’t turn out so bad–for prison food.
After slaving away for, like, forty minutes, we have a decent product, if I do say so myself.
The warden scarfs the thing down and I ask him, “So, wasn’t that fun?”
You wanna know what he said?
There’s no respect in this joint. No loyalty. None.
That’s why I’m oughtta here tomorrow. I’m gonna Easy-Bake my way into my own ‘early release.’
This time, I won’t forget to put the file into the cake.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*…to have a nervous breakdown.
**True. This happens. In a movie about a baby there is a reference to a shank. And I did laugh loud enough to be rolling on a floor except movie theater floors prohibit that kind of enthusiasm.
***Okay, that’s a stretch. Only Webster’s would call what I do on a daily basis, ‘having a life.’
__________You’ve read this far bonus:_____________
In case you wondered how it is I–an adult with a boy-child–have an Easy Bake Oven, here’s the story behind the best Christmas present I ever got.
This is a blog post I wrote before I ever became a blogger. Posted on The Green Study–who is to blame for giving me my first taste of fame and is responsible for my continued life of blogging crime:
They say you can never go home again. What they fail to tell you is, really, you can never go back to any place you’ve ever been…and sometimes, you’re lucky not to get a restraining order enforcing it.
Laughing as leaves fall, making spirals in their descent,
Through elegies of air.
So still he moves,
Leaning into a soundless void.
Planets in their orbits spin
And yet no shift in his equilibrium shows
That he is out of synch with a world
Built for words.
Images from a recent walk with my son, I was inspired by the drape of his blue blanket to wax poetic. Happy Halloween everybody. Nanowrimo begins tomorrow. Do not expect great things from me until December.
On the heels of my last post “Tempest in a Teapot, ” today follows the story with an introductory Haiku—poorly crafted poetry that tries to sum up a day in seventeen syllables:
As tea steeps, rain weeps
Water fills both bowl and sky
Prepare to drink deep.
I leave the Japanese Tea House buoyed with happiness and a certain sense of rightness with the world. It doesn’t last long.*
I take my complimentary shocking-yellow umbrella from our Meijer Garden’s guide—I almost bow from recently-acquired habit—and pause to pose in front of a font for a photo. (Hit *like* if you love alliteration.)
As I am leaving, the guide casually mentions that a ‘storm’ is headed this way and I should make sure to head in by 2:00.
I scramble around the larger Japanese Garden to admire the lush-to-the-point-of- heaving-bosoms blooming flowers in the rain. I ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ a few of them with dew-laden close-ups. I might have asked a few of them to “Come on, show a little stamen and pistil.”**
I stalk the Bonsai garden—a human sequoia in a land of miniature conifers. I took several snaps of the plump, if bruised, pear growing on its tiny parent. It struck me funny that I was giving produce the paparazzi treatment when I pass it up with barely a blink at our local grocery store. (I am high on centuries of tradition, what can I say? I am a wild woman.)
The rain is steady–not too heavy but definitely a presence. My shadowy, wet companion. At one point, I am juggling the umbrella and trying to photograph the Korean Hornbeam*** when I drop my iPhone. Fortunately, it hits the rocks glass-side up, or I’d be crying in the rain.
I stop in the rock garden on my way out. The nearly invisible poetry etched into the massive boulders is made visible by the downpour.
RAIN FALLING IN SPRING
AND I AM SORRY
NOT TO BE ABLE TO WRITE
I’m eating lunch in the Meijer Gardens’ café, surrounded by raindrop streaked windows and Chihuly glass installment on the ceiling, when I turn my phone back on to check for messages. There is a mildly alarming inquiry about my son from the babysitter, so I call to check on him.
That’s when I get the news…they are in the basement…there is a tornado alert for the area. I should seek shelter.
We exchange a few frantic words before I head to the front desk.
“Uh, are you all aware that there is a tornado alert?” I whisper this as if I’d cause a stampede if overheard.
The huddle of women with grey-to-frosty-white hair helmets look up from an iPad and confirm they’re tracking its progress.
“Don’t worry. We’ll let everyone know if we need to move to the shelters in the basement.”
I shrug, I’ve done my part. But in my head, I’m thinking. “Don’t tornados move pretty fast?” I make my way to the basement to grab a seat before anyone else does. Because…priorities!
Pretty soon, everybody else with an iPhone or other device is making their way down there ahead of an official announcement. If there is ever another mass extinction it will be because someone decided to wait until they were sure disaster was heading in their direction before taking action.
It’s getting crowded and suddenly all of our phones are going off announcing the approach of the storm. The officials finally make it official and start herding people into the area that is the ‘actual’ storm shelter. (Apparently they don’t consider a need for access to plumbing with the same level of urgency I do.) A service door leads to an unfinished concrete cavern filled with twists and turns and lots of unused equipment and staging material. We are urged to move as far back in the space to make room for everybody. I’m surprised by how calmly everyone is taking this. Inside I wonder if we really ought to be more concerned.
I spy a few of the people I ran into while walking the garden. I’m glad they made it back—but I do wonder about the second tea ceremony that was supposed to start at 2:00. There is a really evil part of me that whispers “Aren’t you glad you signed up for the first showing at 11:30!”
I pass members of a wedding party, one of the women is still holding a glass/candle concoction which would be an excellent thing if anyone wanted a light. (I see a future market for wedding planners —decorative flourishes that function as emergency provisions in the event of a disaster.)
I finally choose a spot that circles back to a secondary exit. There is light spilling in from the corridor so it isn’t totally scary if it is a bit cold.
Across from me a family—two grandparents, a family friend, and two children—are trying to get comfortable on the floor. I look around. Nearby there are folded chairs and a huddle of employees who, by their uniforms, work in the kitchens upstairs.
“Would it be okay if we got out the chairs?” I ask one of them. I have to repeat myself because it appears the young man isn’t used to actually talking with the visitors to the Gardens.
Minutes later, our area is much cozier with scattered seating. I quash any guilt I might feel because the woman across says, “Oh, that’s so much better.”
We exchange a few pleasantries before settling into a tense wait-and-see. The children are scared. You can tell by the way they clutch the toys they’ve brought with them. I honestly don’t feel that much fear—probably because I have no clue what kind of damage a storm like this can do. You see…
I am a tornado virgin.
I have never lived through any major storm—beyond the huge snow storm of 78’ when I was a child. And all I remember from that week was the isolation—school was canceled and we were unable to leave because the roads couldn’t be plowed. (One of the joys of living rurally.) I do recall my brothers and I deciding that the four-foot drifts were an invitation to jumping off the roof and sinking over waist deep in snow. We had to swivel back and forth to worm our way out. Oh, I’ve had to hide in a few basements on occasion, but they had always turned out to be false prophecies. So, I had a cocky optimism that this time wouldn’t be any different.
Minutes creep past. The littlest girl across from me is crying with that suppressed sob-hiccup combination that can be so cute even when they are earnest tears. I can’t make out what she is upset about other than it involves someone or something called…Balthazar?
So, I ask. Partly to hopefully distract the child and, well, because I am curious.
“Who is Balthazar?”
The little girl blinks tear drenched lashes and utters a nearly incomprehensible string of words:
“I…I…he’s…I left him…and…he’s in danger. I…I…what will…I do…if…” She trails off with more tears and no doubt a snuffly nose.
Her grandmother brushes a strand of hair away from her flushed pink face and leans toward me.
“It’s her toy…I think it’s called Bulbasaur. Or something like that.”
“It’s Bulbazar, Grandma!” This comes from the second little girl ensconced on the other woman’s lap.
A discuss pops up about the pronunciation, but Grandma shakes her head.
“No, I think it has S.A.U.R. at the end—like a dinosaur.”
“What exactly is a Bulbasaur?” I ask.
If I had known the torrent of information that was about to rain down on me, I might have tried to save myself. But then, again, there was no Wi-Fi signal and there really wasn’t anything else to do. So, I took an unscheduled course in Pokémon 101. The little redhead across from me apparently had a masters if not a doctorate.
At one point, she tells me her name is “Kay”
(Names changed just because.)
I tell her, “My name starts with a ‘K’ too!” She beams at me; we are now friends for life.
She points to her sister, “That’s Dee.”
“I recognize that is Pokémon.” I say, pointing to the yellow pillow-type thing Dee is holding as if someone were threatening to take it from her. Then I point to whatever lump is in Kay’s hands. “But what is that?”
Kay giggles. She holds up a lumpy, terry-clothed thing.
“It’s a towel! ‘Cause I did a ‘Dee’!”
And then she plops the thing against the side of her head.
Of course. This make perfect sense. No doubt my expression says as much.
Her grandmother laughs and explains. “She bumped her head earlier and they got her a cloth with ice in it.”
Kay holds back her bangs to reveal nary a bruise. The ice must have done its job or the strawberry hair is hiding the evidence. Kay is now picking through the washcloth and slips a sliver of ice into her mouth with her grandma none the wiser.
Grandma smooths the bangs again, adding, “Anytime we bump our heads, we say we are doing a Dee because she used to run into all sorts of corners and things when she was little.”
Kay pipes up again and points to her sister. “Yeah she bumped her head a lot! So we say ‘We did a Dee.’”
Everyone is nodded and smiling. Then Kay adds, “And when we fart we say we did a ‘Kathy’. Because Grandma farts a lot!” And she points back at her grandmother, who is now laughing—though a tiny bit mortified by this announcement.
Grandma Kathy murmurs something about maybe sharing too much information but she isn’t really mad and her granddaughters know it because they are both laughing, snuggled safe in loving arms.
Kay pops back up from this to launch into a detailed explanation of Bulbasaur’s relationship to Pokémon.
I learn there is something called the Rocket Team—and they are definitely bad guys. And someone named Ash who spends a lot of time in the gym.
The grandma throws in a comment to clarify a point Kay is trying to make with hand gestures that look like something is exploding.
“The Pokémon can evolve.” She says.
But into what is never clearly explained. I picture something like a Transformer—which is my cultural experience with toys that are more than meets the eye—but rounder and cuter.
I learn that the Pokémon can fight. That Pikachu has a secret weapon—something called a ‘Thunder Shock.’ And here, Kay puffs out her cheeks and demonstrates:
“His cheeks blow out really loud and he says, ‘Pikachuuuuuu!”
Apparently this devastates his enemies.
The girls are laughing and chatting back and forth when all of our phones go off at once.
Some of the alerts are voiced announcements notifying us of a Tornado alert in our area and to seek shelter. There is something really unnerving about the shrill cacophony of notes chiming throughout the cement block room. No one is laughing now.
There is a human instinct to huddle. To crouch low as if to make a smaller target. I find myself looking at the little girls across from me shrinking back and arms that had been holding them loosely now tightened. Reassurances are whispered and Grandpa is a stoic figure who rarely says a word but is a calm presence in the face of the unseen.
I try to comfort them, knowing I am helpless to be there for my own son tucked in the basement with a babysitter who definitely deserves more than I pay her.
“So, the alarms are like the ‘Thunder Shock’ Pikachu makes. It’s just a reminder to be careful.”
Then a little girl in a frilly dress toddles past and loses a bow. The pink ribbon falls near my feet and I seize the opportunity.
“Look she lost her bow. That’s a bow alert!”
Kay is delighted by this idea. When an oblivious little boy in an adorable suit trundles through bumping into nearly everything in his path, she calls out, “Baby Alert.”
Soon Kay is reciting once again the episodes and even an entire theme about her favorite TV characters. She sings some sort of anthem—it went on for about seven verses—and it is too fast and her voice is too high for me to do more than pick out one word in ten.
I’m reminded of the scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo’s dad is listening to the baby sea turtle explain the way to get to the East Australian current. After the pipsqueak voice winds down, Marlin says:
“You know, you’re really cute, but I don’t know what you are saying! Say the first thing again.”
For whatever else I miss, I understand that this language is helping Kay and Dee to deal with a frightening situation. No one can call out. All attempts to text and get replies are blocked by the surrounding concrete cocoon that keeps us safe from tornados as well as causing wireless signal fatigue. So, while we sit and try not to worry about the ominous thumps we occasionally hear overhead—we share our stories to distract each other.
Instead of spending our moments anticipating whooshing air signifying imminent destruction, we find the strength to laugh, to find the humor and our humanity in the darkness.
Eventually, the crowds that had been loitering near raw plywood and collapsed tables usually only seen fully clothed with the ruched skirts to protect the legs’ modesty, start to part. People drift away and cheers go up as we realize the danger is past. With very little fanfare, the crisis is over.
I say goodbye to the girls and soon the crowd separates us. We are all ready to be done with the claustrophobic space.
The wedding party is making its way back to their celebration. I spot a woman who is still clutching her slice of wedding cake. I can’t help but comment on her foresight.
“Well, I didn’t want to miss out if it was gone when we got back!” she says with a smile.
“I am just surprised you didn’t eat it while waiting.”
“I didn’t have time to grab a fork,” she replies.
I laugh, “A little thing like that wouldn’t have stopped me!”
Before we part, we agree, this is a wedding no one is likely to forget!
Outside, there is little evidence that a major storm front has gone through.
“Another much ado about nothing!” I think.
It’s not until I am nearing home that I spot the devastation. Trees that had survived sixty to a hundred years of bad weather were torn and scattered on front yards and crushing cars and houses like giant match sticks dropped by a careless hand. I’m not even a mile away from home and it suddenly strikes me how close it came. How violent the winds had to have been to snap oaks and other hard wood like dry kindling. I later learn this was a weak system–only a category EF-0. I don’t want to ever see what something stronger could do.
My house and family are fine–two city blocks west of the path of destruction. I pay the sitter and she shrugs off the seven-hour ordeal caused by our separate vigils in the dark. Thankfully, my son was totally oblivious of any danger.
I didn’t really face the dragon—but I felt his breath on my neck. I survived his reign of terror and I can imagine how differently things could have turned out.
Thus ends my tale. The only thing left is an appreciation for Japanese culture which creates a tea to feed the soul and a Pokémon to calm the tempest in the pot.
I leave you with a final haiku:
Trees dance and bow low
Thunder applauds with fierce claps
Making dancers fall
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
* It never does
**Floral porn, take one—“Come on, you know you want to bee pollinated!”
***You were expecting a dragon ala Harry Potter, weren’t you?
We cross Lake Michigan from Ludington, MI and discover exactly how big the ‘Great Waters’ really are. Overly excited child keeps a thrilled eye on the cars and even boats being loaded onto the S.S. Badger. The ferry has a proud history serving transit needs of travelers on the lake. I’d tell you all about it, but people took up the space in the history lounge sleeping on every surface, making it hard to take notes. This is our first non-vomitous boat ride (for child and, by extension, me). Hurray for Bonine and sea bands.
Deposited in Manitowoc around noon (we crossed a date line so I’m can’t remember if it was Michigan or Wisconsin noon) we head to a park recommended by a fellow blogger!* Fritse Park is well worth the bizarre detour from the highway—I think I took seven turns in about two miles. The playground is impressive, though my twelve-year-old apparently had reservations about the incredibly long slide built into a hill. We walked the bridge that spans two cities and enjoyed the view and the stern breeze which threatened to swallow my hat until I just clutched it there and back. I’m just glad I hadn’t read this article before visiting.
It was a brief stop on our journey to Wautoma where we traveled the back roads to find relatives who live so far off the grid, the GPS tracker wished us good luck and shut itself off. A home-cooked meal of cheese sandwiches and salad and a nice long conversation about mutual relatives and photo admiration capped the day. On the way to our cheap-but-clean accommodations at Motel 8 a giant rainbow spanned the sky as if welcoming us to a brighter, more beautiful journey than the one we set out on the day before.
Day 3: I see dead people. Lots of dead people.
Two cemeteries and about three photo albums worth of ancient German heritage abounds in Merrill, Wisconsin. A lie on Ancestry is revealed and I am scandalized that someone co-opted the wrong grave markers to claim a heritage that isn’t ours. Either that, or my distant cousin, Lee, is wrong. But with his facility at naming generations of Krueger/Latzig family members, I doubt it. That he visits the graves weekly and tends their flowers suggests he had more vested in the memorial than just capturing a photo, like I have. (See photos below of the true headstones.)
We visit a former convent/girls school to reminisce with one of the last matriarchs of my father’s generation—Joan. She is 87 and, despite admitting she has memory loss, seems pretty sharp and witty during our visit. She even tolerated my giant twelve-year-old sprawling on the tiny floor of her assisted-living quarters. She shows off the photo albums she compiled. In them, pages and pages of documents identify the family tree. I see pictures of my father in his infancy and grandfather dressed for hard work, welding pipeline in unidentified states. I meet new relatives in grainy black and white and faded Kodachrome color. The photo album’s shiny pages make for poor copying, but I do my best to snap pictures on my cell phone. There is a comforting sameness to the faces—sturdy, kind, loving. Family.
Day 4: Get up and enjoy continental breakfast at Quality Inn & Suites, Menominee, WI. Son insists he wants to swim, so we wait the half-hour for it to open and he dips in it for about 5 minutes before saying, “All Done.”
I review our options and consider a nature walk, until I step out and see the rainy weather. Oh well, we did make a stop at a really good gas station.** If you haven’t heard of these, Kwik Trip was just about the best gas station I’ve had the pleasure to stop. So, here are pictures of its glorious selection. May you all be so lucky in your travels.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnote:
*I will happily give credit to said blogger, just as soon as I figure out who it was.
**You may take pictures of your cultural landmarks and famous fountains. Me? I’m impressed with a gas stop that has fresh produce and every recharger you could hope to find in stock!
Sometimes, you just need a little encouragement. Welcome to a journey I’m calling “The unintended road trip on the serendipitous path of lung-wrenching discovery.”
It is the Fourth of July and the crabby son needs quelling; so into the car we hop. My child barks directions: “left,” “straight,” “more” from the back seat. We drive south along Highway 196 headed nowhere in particular–when someone suggests ice cream.*
We brave the lovely town of Saugatuck packed to the gills with red-white-and-blue spangled holiday goers. Quirky shops nestle along the Kalamazoo River. While the pre-teen scarfs gelato as if I hadn’t fed him in weeks, I manage a quick interlude at the Saugatuck Tea Company. Decorative teapots and art-inspired mugs lure shoppers in. A huge Russian Samovar painted in bright, enameled colors squats in a corner behind a room divider–the space manages to be bright and airy despite its modest dimensions.
In addition to tea paraphernalia, one entire wall offers loose-leafed teas with elaborate names like ‘Dragon Tears’ and ‘White Monkey Paw.’ I exchange words with the proprietress. She waves me to the wall of glass jars and lets me sniff the various contents. When I mention a favorite tea I purchase from a rival gang Teavana and how expensive it is, she suggests I get the list of ingredients next time I’m there and she can try to reproduce the results.
After smuggling my score out of the store in an attention-getting paisley bag, my child and I meander. With no great plans, we are unbound by expectation. It is very carefree and relaxing. I suspect this is what leads to the eventual cacophony epiphany to come.
We pass the gazebo in Wick’s Park and I can’t help myself, I have to stop and photograph the beautifully painted cinder block building that houses the public restroom. Who wouldn’t want to pee here?
Then, it is along the water to the nearby point of local interest–the chain link ferry. I brought my son here many years ago, when he was just a little guy. In a fit of nostalgia, I drag him to recreate the experience.
College students busk for tips, joke with passengers, and lure small children into photo ops turning the hand crank that churns the small boat across the river on a rickety chain. It is a swift journey and we are deposited on the other side to seek the experience that will make our day: the climb to Mount Baldhead.
As we leave the small boat, the crew encourages us to: “Be careful as we disembark.” And in passing, they say, “Oh, enjoy the 302 steps up! Don’t worry, it doesn’t get hard until the last two!”
Join me in the ascent. And like the experience itself, I will let the view speak for me…mostly because I am wheezing and turning magenta as I make my way up the vertiginous climb.
My son quickly leaves me in the dust. He prances ahead a spastic, loping blur of red–I am struck by the fanciful notion that for once, the sun/son rises in the West. Hypoxia sets in very quickly it seems.
As if climbing a sheer-faced cliff, the higher up I get, the less oxygen there seems to be–despite the valiant effort my lungs make imitating a wounded bellows. I get dizzy by the fourth flight and feel as though the signposts are talking to me***:
Cautionary warnings mark the trail, if only you know where to look:
I pause frequently to admire the view/find peace with the inevitability of death.
Before long, the signs of the prophets speak their words of wisdom–no subway walls required:
Many have come before us…
Some found love to hold and keep them strong–quite recently it seems:
Some return with their love to mark the passage and constancy of their union:
Some are a bit defiant about it:
Step-by-gasping-step, life lessons are revealed…though the truth is somewhat debatable:
Some who wander the path share their pain with the world:
She has a lot in common with a fellow traveler:
And then, there is the impetuous voice of youth speaking to the ages:
The stair treads pass slowly. I pause more frequently and try not to feel as if one quick shove would send me over the edge. The signs urge me on….
I reach the top victorious where my son hands me his lemonade to open. I stagger over to admire the view which is truly spectacular–if somewhat buried in the surrounding trees.
I get mere minutes to enjoy the splendid view before my child hares back down the path as if gravity has no greater significance than a propellant to urge him onward. I am more cautious–and cognizant of how difficult it would be to get a gurney up to retrieve my broken ass if I fell.
There you have it. Wooden aphorisms mark a trail for the intrepid explorer to follow. You can be your own Magellan–circling the world to find answers to life questions. You can take the wisdom of others–picking and choosing to see what fits.
You can wear your epiphanies on your chest–much like my son’s perspicacious porcine persuasion.
Or you can wander off the path to make new discoveries and record them in out-of-the-way places to be discovered or not as the universe sees fit.
As for me, I follow the signs that speak to my heart:
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*It might have been me.
**I now have ‘connections’–so, if you need some prime, illicit loose leaf, you know who to call.
***Actually, I did not see most of these signs until I was making my way back down. Call it ironic hindsight.
Saturday, we over-nighted in Bear Lake – a tiny town 22 miles south of Frankfort, Michigan—the place my son randomly picked on the map that, surprisingly, did not have any hotel rooms available the night before a three-day holiday weekend.* Some people might thrive on the uncertainty of housing and the joi de vivre of impromptu journeys–it gives me hives. Fortunately, we found succor at the Bella Vista Inn. As it turns out, the relief of making the 2 ½ hour journey was to be compounded by Fate wagging a playful finger in our direction.**
Bear Lake is a blip of a town, but that is part of its appeal; it isn’t intended as a huge tourism destination. The lake is placid and shallow fairly far out. Kiddos can splash in the water by sandy beaches. Gnarled trees of indeterminate species grow along the lake’s edge. The trunks dip and bend toward the water as the earth crumbles away in gradual increments.
We’d navigated our way to the tiny motel and decided to walk across US 31 to admire the lake. Our access beach was a sliver of sand in a small crescent carved out from the neighboring trees. But it was sufficient for a quick dip. I opted to stand and watch while my son dabbled in the water. Now that he is older and can swim a bit, I’m less afraid of imaginary undertow currents taking him to Davy Jones’s locker.*** I snap a few quick pics with my phone and upload a selfie-free greeting to all my peeps on Facebook. My son scampers around in the water, barely bothered by his mom’s admonition to “Pull up your shorts, your butt is showing!” (Time for a new swimsuit, I guess the elastic is blown in this one.) We stop at the gas station/store/pizza joint on the way back to our hotel to grab some dinner. I’m standing in line waiting for a sub sandwich when I get a phone call:
Vacation Reenactment Players present:
Peculiar Coincidence or Celestial Serendipity?
*BrrrrrrrRing* (Honestly I don’t know what noise my phone made, my son changes the ringtone daily.)
Caller: “K…where are you?” (Names abbreviated to protect the clueless who think this will keep serial killers away.)
Me: “M? We’re at Bear Lake.”
Caller: “I know. I saw your picture on Facebook. We’re at Bear Lake. Where are you exactly?”
Me: “Uh…” (I stop to look around for the name of the gas station.) “We’re at a BP across from the Belle Vista Inn. The kid is getting some pizza and I’m waiting in line to get some dinner.”
Caller: “We’re down the road at a campground. We’re grilling hot dogs. C’mon over.”
Turns out it was walking distance from us. This is the kind of adventure you can’t plan. (Okay, maybe you could plan it, but it would then lack romance—or whatever the parenting equivalent is!)
Pizza and sugary drinks in hand, we followed her directions to what had to be the smallest campground I have ever seen. It was a slice of beach carved out behind the town, lined with camper trailers and crawling with dogs and children. Friend M was corralling her herd—she has three, which is enough for a herd in my opinion—with equal parts humor and no-nonsense parenting. She could write a book about it if she wasn’t so busy. We exchanged chit chat and delighted in the coincidence that brought us together.
“I grew up here. My grandfather planted trees along this lake.” She stops, looks around and points to a nearby tree. “He planted that one.”
There is pride in her voice. You can tell she is happy to be from a small town and has pleasant memories. I’ve often wondered what that felt like.
She offers us canvas chairs at her parent’s trailer. It is a cozy niche just down the road a ways from her childhood home. There, the grandparents are doting on a precious little girl who has decided to wear a batman mask, it slips off repeatedly as she toddles around. It is a bit incongruous with the pigtails poking out on either side of her head. Everyone is laughing or joking about Bat Girl. I have a feeling I’ve accidentally wandered into a Norman Rockwell life tableau, except that M’s husband is on the road and she isn’t sure when his hectic schedule will bring him back into the family orbit. I comment on the peacefulness of location and she nods. “This is my oasis—I can relax here.” She hands me a cream-flavored, alcoholic ginger ale. “I could stay here all the time.” Taking a sip of mellow intoxicant, I’m finding myself in agreement.
During the visit, her children are in constant motion—her son is off at the little playground beside the beach. Her daughters are crawling in and out underfoot. M is the serene center of a frenetic buzz of activity. We stay as long as my son will tolerate and M hands me a plate of potato salad for the road. We hug before parting and I thank her for a wonderful time. She smiles and says, “We’ll be coming up for a long week around the 4th of July, if you want, you could rent a tent space and join us.”
I’m touched. It is a generous offer to be included in a family trip. (With a special needs child, it is especially nice to be invited anywhere.) I may question my sanity when I take trips with my son so far from home, but it is moments like these that make it worth the effort.
The rest of our weekend is a blur of touristy moments:
Frankfort has a beautiful grassy park and nearby playground for kids to run around on. My son looked especially appropriate in his yellow slicker standing on the mock prow of the playground ship.
In town, many shops devoted to the American spirit for shopping and dining abound. The Crescent Bakery & Cafe served about the best pesto/giant mushroom panini I’ve ever eaten. If I hadn’t forgotten my purse and had to schlep all the way back to our car, we might have avoided a major meltdown moment! One caveat if you dine here—it’s a popular place and the service can be slow, which is a bad combination if your son is starving to death before your very eyes. (Cell phones pay the price for such inconsideration.)
The death of his favorite entertainment hits my son hard…even though he was the one to throw it in a fit of hunger-induced rage. After lunch, we mourn with ice cream served up at the ever-so-festive The Scoop—a local joint that serves up Moomers Ice Cream.
We are surrounded by candy and sugar on all sides—it is very cathartic. It is also just about the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
We drive to Ludington to spend the night at a Best Western. Despite being tired from the day, I decide to take the internet’s advice and hit the popular local restaurant: The Old Hamlin.
Above the door as you walk in, the sign says “Family Restaurant Since 1926.” They must be doing something right because the place was doing pretty good business despite the later hour. The décor suggested its roots might be as a Greek diner—the dusty murals and ancient faux wood roof tiles suggested a warmer climate. Old Formica tables and naugahyde padded seats welcomed weary travelers; the furnishings’ sturdy qualities matched its customers perfectly. The food was the standard eclectic American Diner fare—good and plentiful. And as a local had suggested, the homemade bread made it worth the trip.
Stuffed to the gills, my son and I walked to visit the beautiful nearby Lake Michigan shoreline and enjoy Stearns Park where my son dragged his paper and crayons to every single piece of playground equipment to write numbers in a new, exciting location while his mother climbed sand dunes to get a picture of the lighthouse against the backdrop of the sparkling waves. It was reassuring to learn I wasn’t too old to enjoy a good sunset. (Although I wisely refrained from investigating the skater’s park nearby—one hip replacement is enough for now.)
We walked a bit and discovered another sandy pleasure—beachside cuisine. At The Sunset Side Concessions, I was momentarily tempted to order Deep Fried Oreos, when my better senses prevailed.
Despite having eaten enough pancakes and bacon to sink a battleship, my son happily gorged on yet another scoop of ice cream (What is a holiday without overindulgence and stomach aches?) before returning to the Best Western, splashing in the pool, and then conking out for the night. (If you are tired out reading this, imagine how exhausting it was to cram all this into a weekend!)
Sunday heralded the end of our vacation. After barely making it under the wire for breakfast, we packed and visited the lake shore one last time before heading home.
I managed to lure my child to visit the light-not-a-house via a long walk down the concrete breakwall to the Ludington North Breakwater Light. It was tricky going as he desperately wanted to fling himself down the slanting embankment to investigate the giant, no-doubt-slippery rocks framing the walkway. At the lighthouse–sorry, I can’t break the habit–I was dismayed to discover that, this far north, The Square™ is a tricky device that doesn’t always work if the wireless connection is iffy. I’d spent the last of my cash leaving a tip for the hotel staff—and on the electric massage chair in the lobby. (The only way to travel.) The volunteers graciously let my son pell-mell his way up the stairs to take in the view. Since they couldn’t get the credit card taker to work, they handed me an envelope trusting in the honor system to see payment received by check later that week. What a gift that was to a weary mom and an overly excited child.
We snapped a few pictures—my son insisted on photographing the graffiti—enjoying the sun and the boat wakes creating liquid contrails and a mock surf at the water’s edge. All in all, it has been a postcard-picture perfect visit. As the tourism ads voiced by Tim Allen would say, “It’s Pure Michigan.”
Don’t you wonder if Missy & Bob are still together? I like to think they are!
So that was our Memorial Day Extravaganza. Mostly unplanned and as spontaneous as I can ever get with my oh-so-special life. I hope you enjoyed tagging along; you’re welcome anytime.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Did you catch the sarcasm in that one?
**Not THAT finger, thank you very much.
***One flavor of paranoia—imagined parental fears.
Wandering Highway 31, driving north along the Lake Michigan shore is equal parts mind-numbing, tree-infested sameness interspersed with glimpses of magnificence and moments to marvel.*
One of our first stops was a total accident.
We had been looking for the Riverflats Coffee & Tea cafe the highway exit had assured us was only 500 feet ahead, when we missed it and drove until another sign lured us to a quintessential part of American family entertainment–the well crafted Ye Olde Tourist Trap. Fortunately, this is exactly the kind of fun and surprises I had been hoping to run across.
The White Pines Village in Ludington, MI is of the Potemkin variety. Buildings were collected from various locations to recreate a fake experience of life at the turn of the century in rural Michigan. (In other words, there is a great emphasis on farming and self-sufficiency.)
I love old homes and poking my head into a modern facsimile of the past. It’s convenient and tactile visual exploration that beats a book hands down.**
I had a great time. My son, on the other hand, delighted in trying to escape the experience as fast as humanly possible. So, while I am quite overwhelmed with lovely photos, I am not quite as educated as I might be.
Enjoy the images and just imagine the rich, educational experience to be had. Just, not by any child living today who has access to a digital device instead.
After our brief sojourn in the bygone era, we gratefully climbed into our air-conditioned car and drove onward to Bear Lake…where amazing adventures awaited us.
You will have to imagine those adventures, as my son is demanding time on the laptop to play Where’s My Water…at top volume might I add. (Perhaps the Amish aren’t entirely wrong about eschewing technology.)
Oh, and we did finally locate the cafe…where we had lunch with a stuffed squirrel.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Warning: travel brings on alliteration–as well as gas.
**Sorry, books. You just can’t compete with the awe-inspiring site of a fiberglass cow milking demonstration.
***And this is why it is a good thing the Amish do not use the internet.