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Positively Speaking

Then, it seemed like my parents idea to go to Michigan was born of a desire to be in the best place possible for summers. Every year, for seventeen years, the pilgrimage to Grandma and Grandpa Anderson and Grandad and Grandma Richards was made. It began with a seventeen hour drive thru categorized by the seven tunnels, Indiana and ‘up to Kalamazoo. Drivers switched off at two hour intervals. First my mom and dad, then when my brothers were older, them too. Finally, me.

Going to Michigan fell under the definition of ‘carefree’. Visiting Kalamazoo meant family gatherings around Uncle Robert’s pool or up at Uncle Artie’s cottage on Gull Lake where he owned multiple speed boats so the kids wouldn’t fight over them. My mom’s side was a dynasty. She was ninth of ten (with two sets of twins) and Grandad, as I’ve mentioned often, created the tool and die industry in America. So family and ‘the shop’ were the center of everything.
In an era where white gloves and hats and teas at department stores still existed, a trip to Gilmore’s for the latest fashions was a delight.  Best yet at Gilmore’s were the night concerts. With the parking lot closed off , the stars in the sky providing a good portion of the light, Symphonies and ensembles and soloists treated us to musical respite from the long hot days.  

Two summers I got extra time without the family. The first, I flew out by myself for two weeks ahead to be alone with my grandparents. Alone never happened. I was surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles who gave me all manner of direction and diversions and learned useful things like how to make honey butter. I also got hours alone with the baby grand my grandparents owned. Don’t get me started on being the center of controversy when I did not inherit the baby grand. Mom, really, take a chill pill. Where would I put it? Seriously!

The second time alone was two weeks with my cousin Charlotte at my Uncle Robert’s Appaloosa horse farm. He owned the Grand Champion at that point so I learned all about the money market for stud fees. I also learned how to ride, and that I loved riding . Uncle Robert wanted to give me a colt that wasn’t going to colour out but had been sired by Rudy so I could pay for college with stud fees. Mom didn’t like the idea so Daddy Long Legs stayed in Otsego, location of the farm.

I  learned I loved living on a farm. I loved the hours, the chores, the hard work, the groundedness of it all. I loved living that close to the cycle of life. I saw a horse palpated which will make you think twice about growing up a woman if you haven’t had your first ob/gyn appointment. I also learned how to pick out the molasses from horsefeed and how to love a big animal like it was a kitten.

Grandpa was a shuffleboard king, literally president of the St Petersburg club, so of course there was a shuffle board court in the back of the house. There was a tree shaped like a swan’s neck right above. Perfect place to sit and be a kid. And the old grassy hill over by the insane asylum where we could roll down all we liked and never get scolded for getting grass stains, because in those days there were play clothes and there were dress up clothes and play clothes were meant to get dirty.

When the neatly divided time between the two sets of grandparents had arrived at the halfway mark, we made the seemingly endless trip from Kalamazoo to Muskegon. My dad’s parents were considered the poor side of the family. I dunno. To me, if you have two houses, one in town and one at The Lake, and own everything you possess outright, you’re pretty wealthy. Granted they weren’t buying a new Lincoln with cash every year like Grandad Richards, but it taught me ‘poor’ is relative.

The Lake was middle lake of Twin Lakes, which was actually three lakes. Never did figure that one out.
Grandpa and his brother built houses next to each other and since they were lumberman and carpenters after they finished owning a grocery store, they built boats and docks and diving platforms and a cool raft that floated on old oil barrels.

I learned to swim there. I learned I loved the water. At one end of the lake there was a ‘life size’ dollhouse with columns and a front porch. I would row one of the boats down there and just kind of float and covet all at the same time for as long as I could.

Now, now I would gladly receive a baby grand and an Appaloosa and a life size dollhouse with columns and a front porch and a cottage on the lake that has a shuffleboard court out back. They would be icons of summer pleasantries and the softer side of life. They are the landmarks of childhood for me.

When Caity was given the huge scholarship from Interlochen and attending the Academy for high school became a reality, it brought three trips a year to Michigan. Isaac and I took several loooong road trips from Midway up to Traverse City where Interlochen is located. Bringing Caity back down with us that last year after graduation, I stopped by the cottage on Middle Lake to show them. Isaac said, “I thought you made this place up, Mom. It’s really cool”.  No I did not, and yes it is.

Then we stopped for a last time in Kalamazoo. I drove to the house where my mom was raised, the source of so many good memories for me. Like all places revisited from childhood it was smaller and less than I remembered. We drove by the shop which had been sold to the city after the business was moved to China. I said good bye to an era now erased by all but memories.

We were summer people.  There is joy in being the summer people. Let us be good hosts.