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MICHIGAN IN A MONTH - 1

 

A TRIP THROUGH TIME AND SPACE

By PONO

The former software engineer

Formerly known far and wide as

Norman A. Sandin

 

INTRODUCTION

If you have read this far (and I assume you have read this far or you wouldn’t be reading this) (or this) (or even, this) (enough), you may wonder what the hey is going on.  OK, I owe an intro, and here it is (assuming you’ve read this far).

My father started work for the Michigan State Highway Department soon after I was born.  The job required a fair amount of travel, so Dad built a trailer to live in while he followed the jobs.  Mom and I followed Dad.  After high school and for several years off and on, I worked for the MSHD as well.  The result is a BUNCH of Michigan towns in which I lived, went to school, worked, or otherwise spent time.  Upon retirement at the end of September of 1998, I determined to revisit all of these towns that should hold memories for me.  I made an Excel file on my ‘puter with every month of my life represented, and filled in my locations.  Then I selected all of the Michigan locations.  Then I chunked the state into logical divisions (logical to me, that is) and chose a path that touched on every one of the 30 or 40 towns I “know”.  For most of these towns, some key events or memories exist.  For others little or nothing exists.  For still others (e.g., Perry), a wealth of memories exist.  As I pursued this quest, old memories came forward, and new observations occurred.  I decided to record a near “stream of consciousness” as I made the trip.  (This is not entirely true, since you will not find “Boutros Boutros-Ghali”, “Phom may day phuut phasaa Thai”, “I did it my way”, “He mau pua nani loa kl”, or “It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford” in the writing, even though all of them reached my stream of consciousness.  Well, maybe you’ll see some of them.)  At any rate, I jotted down notes as they occurred to me.  Please excuse and hopefully, enjoy.

THE FLIGHT

I took the redeye from Maui to San Francisco, arriving just in time to see the sunrise as we were landing.  A brief stop and the traditional flight to Minneapolis – I don’t know why, but I always fly into MSP to go to Michigan.  Check in at the Holiday Inn Express, freshen up a bit, and off for a traditional “shop until I drop” at the Mall of America.  Now stop asking questions, this is what I ALWAYS do.

THE DRIVE

Went to bed early due to a very confused body and woke up early, so I hit the road.  I love the drive across Wisconsin and meant to use all the daylight I could get.  I got to Cumberland around 8 am, stopped and walked the main street.  Cumberland has always fascinated me – the surrounding water, the neat main street, the Rutabaga Festival – this time I meant to experience it.  Stopped at a real estate office and got a line on a couple of rentals in case I decide to spend the color season there.  Then I skipped out to the golf course and played 18 holes.  It was great, but I still had a ways to go until my next motel.

Now that the snowdrifts are nearly gone, all the winter road kill has been exposed.  The crows have eaten so much they are barely interested in the occasional newly killed skunk, cat, or raccoon.

THE BEGINNING

I reached the motel in Hurley about 4:30 in the afternoon and checked in quickly.  I unloaded the car and walked over to Kopps with anticipation.  The dealer there was OUT!  I rushed back, got in the car again, and drove to Ironwood.   I know a dealer there named Joe who always has a supply.  I managed to wait until I got back to the motel for my fix.  Later I felt guilty because I knew Hub and I planned to share a fix tomorrow, but never mind, I’d be ready.  I didn’t tell Hub about last night’s fix, and we shared another one at his house before a long ride with remembrances.  Saturday went by with visits to relatives and I let it go using the “one day at a time” mantra.  Sunday, on the road to my next destination, I found the Wakefield dealer closed and nearly panicked.  Every town I passed through I searched for signs of a dealer, but didn’t find one until late afternoon.  After waiting nearly two full days, that fix was really sweet.  Monday morning I got one to go from the same dealer and also picked up his web site address.  I’ll never be without again!  PASTIES are really addictive.

 

To help the reader relate memories to time, I’ve included information about periods of residence or association with a town wherever it seemed pertinent. You will see overlaps and missing periods.  For example, I lived in several different places during the 11-year period during which I pursued college, and in fact part of that period I was not in Michigan.  As you will see, the order of presentation is roughly chronological.  Where I lived in a town more than once, it will show up only once, roughly the first time I lived there.

 

FROM

TO

     TOWN

ADDRESS

ABODE

 

 

 

 

 

1/1/25

1/1/40

     Anvil Location

N10306 Sunset View St.

House

 

I visited Brother-in-law Frank ‘Hub’ Holevac, Cousin Roland ‘Lolly’ Lindberg (I’ll bet no one calls him that anymore) and wife Carol, and Lil Tillner (wife of  late Cousin Dougal Tillner).  Roland had some pictures from his late parents’ estate that he shared with me and Lil had some from Uncle Carl and Dougal that she shared.  Hub and I took the traditional ride to the Black River Harbor where I washed my rock in its home waters.  I drove around some also, seeing the site of the Newport Hospital where I was born.  The hospital, of course, was razed long ago, and the site is congested with rubble so that it can never be used again.  Memories of this area would fill a book.

 

I passed “Massati’s farm” on US-2 between Wakefield and Lake Gogebic.  We were parked there for part of a summer early in our travels.  I put the name in quotes because I have no reason to believe any significant farming ever took place there.  There is a building on the north side of US-2 and a pond on the south side.  I think it was Grandpa Tillner who called such tiny ponds “oncadoms” (spelling is phonetic – may be a genuine Swedish word or a variation).  I remember sugar cookies.  I think it was Mr. Massati who made them.  Not sure if this is a first or second hand memory.  Also vaguely remember chickens and dogs wandering loose.  I think for a while there were several trailers there and Dad called it Olsenville because several of the trailers belonged to Olsens.

Permit me an observation.  This actually came up in a discussion with Cousin Roland Lindberg, but I’m sure I’ve put my own spin on it.  I remember the concept of “cottage-on-the-lake” in terms of “different-from-home”.  Home consists of work/school, store nearby, comforts, neighbors nearby, dry land.  COTL consists of play, take-everything-you-need-along, outdoor plumbing, disconnect from other people, connect with family, and the lake.  Tillner’s cottage on Lake Gogebic was always full of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, grandparents, parents, siblings, and FUN!  Card games, drinking, joking, swimming, fishing, boating, laughing, telling stories, remembering, eating, swinging on the porch, picking raspberries, chasing bears, hiking up to Alligator’s Eye, sleeping all together in cramped quarters, farting and laughing some more, smelling the coffee beans Grandma put on the wood range in the morning, and then getting up and doing it all again.  People probably still have fun at cottages, but TV, electricity, plumbing, foul weather gear, bug spray, fishing and hunting licenses, smaller families, and dispersion of families has changed things.  I miss the wood range, the coffee beans dancing on it, the two-holer where Lolly and I shared a poop and a rhyme, Aunt Rubie, Aunt Marge, and Auntie ‘Ola always ready for double solitaire or Old Maid or whatever our age allowed, swimming in the icy water until our lips turned blue, picking raspberries until every pail was full and then fooling Grandma into thinking we only got a few, catching brook trout until we couldn’t carry any more and then having Grandma cook them for breakfast, hearing the stories of earlier summers from the adults as I got sleepy in the evenings, feeling the warmth of the kitchen on a crisp morning.  I wish I could bottle these memories.  There must be a market for them.  Maybe I could sell them to folks sitting in their “homes-on-the-lake” pretending they have “cottages-on-the-lake”.

 

STEPHENSON, GLADSTONE, AND WATERSMEET

6/1/34

7/1/34

     Stephenson

 

Apartment

9/1/38

11/1/38

     Gladstone

 

Trailer

1/1/40

4/1/40

     Watersmeet

 

Trailer

Stephenson and Gladstone hold no memories at all.  Watersmeet has one memory.  It rained one day across the road from our trailer, but the rain never touched us. Watersmeet feels right though, like the place I lived.

Every village, town, and city in Michigan has a sign announcing its limits.  So it has always been.  Now, however, every entity announces its past prowess in terms of high school achievements, to whit, “Home of the 1983 Class D Synchronized Swimming Champions”, “Home of the 1998 Runners Up 4-H Sheep Shearers”, or in terms of some other attribute, “Smallest Town in Michigan”.  Now, I don’t think geopolitical entities should hide their lights under a bushel basket, as they say, but first one should determine if the light is as least equivalent to that of a firefly.

 

IRON RIVER

4/1/40

8/1/40

     Iron River

 

Trailer

I have a couple of memories of Iron River but the visit did almost nothing to refresh or recall them.  I think we had our trailer parked behind a restaurant.  I remember a girl my age who was daughter to the owner.  One day we were both in the restaurant and she yelled, “He’s doing it again.”  The tone of the yell implied trouble, so I ran out to the trailer and hid (as if it’s possible to hide in a trailer).  The girl and her mother followed and I swear, I have no idea what I did, what agreement Mom made with them, how it was settled, or what happened afterward, but having written it all down, I am released, and I will never feel guilty again!  (About that, anyway.)  The other thing I “remember” about Iron River is a park or something with a rock construction (fountain?  garden?).  The reason I remember this is that a picture of me in this environment exists.  I stopped in downtown Iron River and asked an old guy about the rock area.  He thought he remembered something like that but before he could dredge it up he had spit tobacco on my shoes a couple of times, so I thanked him profusely and walked away quickly.

The forests of Michigan are teeming with wildlife.  Each night they congregate and draw lots to see who gets to go out on the roads and play in the traffic.  Of the “winners”, only nine out of ten come home in the mornings.  I’ve seen about one raccoon per mile, one opossum per five miles, and one skunk per twenty-five miles or so.  One pheasant and a few rabbits were seen.  The “locals”, cats and dogs, are more protected, but I’ve seen a lot of them as road kill, as well.  There are also fresh deer – not the frozen and thawed variety.  And today I saw a Canadian goose.  There is something for every recipe.

 

MICHIGAMME

8/1/40

9/1/40

     Michigamme

 

Trailer

Michigamme memories are of recovering from my appendectomy and of having a tent along a white picket fence.  The appendectomy story starts in Ironwood or Bessemer.  Mom and Dad and I were visiting Pavlinski, the insurance salesman we had policies with when I started having severe pains.  I have a vivid picture of rolling around in pain on the floor of their front porch.  The rest is pretty blurred until I was picked up from the Grand View Hospital after the operation and driven to Michigamme to take up residence.  Mom had a fit because when I got outdoors I walked out on the wall by the front steps – she was sure I would do more damage.  I believe Bud drove Dad’s ‘37 Chevrolet on that trip because Dad was working.  It may have been Bud’s first solo.  At Michigamme, I had to go to the doctor many times because my stitches were having trouble dissolving or coming out, and festered a lot.  Each time the area was cleaned and cauterized.  The resultant scar is atrocious.  Once when I was being treated, an emergency came in with blood all over the place.  Mom couldn’t take it and left, but sent Bud in to stay with me.  It took weeks for that scar to seal and heal.  The tent was the product of the little-girl-playmate-in-residence and I.  It was just a blanket attached to the fence, but we put up signs calling it the Deer Tail Inn.  That’s Michigamme.  A forest fire closed all roads to Michigamme, so it is the one and only hometown I missed seeing.

Public Radio!  Throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the same thing has happened.  When I turn on the radio and seek something to listen to, I get through the C&W and the R&B and the All News and All Bible and finally find classics or interesting discussion.  Then a few minutes later they have a station break and – Public Radio!  What did we do before?

 

MARQUETTE

9/1/40

1/1/41

     Marquette

 

Trailer

I lived in Marquette in 1940.  I recall that our trailer was behind a house on a fairly busy street, near a playground, a couple blocks from a small creek.  The street out front was flat and across from us was a good sized building – a school, business, hospital?  That’s about all I remember about the town of Marquette.  I drove around town and two things became clear immediately.  The College dominates and the Lake dominates!  My memories don’t include either one, so I don’t think I have a chance of recovering anything relative to where we lived.  I do have several vivid memories of life in Marquette.  My teacher gave me a jackknife for my 7th birthday.  I promptly cut my left middle finger seriously enough to need attention.  Then I managed to let the car door slam on it for still more damage.  A playmate lived with his father by the creek in a tarpaper-thatched shack and ate mashed potato sandwiches. That image provoked me to have a fit about Mom dying.  Construction was going on (sewers?) in front of our place, and I went out with bottles of water and made lots of tips.  A bus went by and clipped one of the sawhorses used to guide traffic.  The horse went over and took me with it, breaking the water bottles.  I remember jumping up and counting my tips – no damage – no loss.  We acquired/adopted a cat.  I remember Dad coming home from work and playing with the cat.  I don’t remember any jealousy.  I went home after school one day with Geraldine Papineau Olsen.  I didn’t let anyone know and stayed late.  Mom and Dad were livid.  Geraldine had a slight lisp and Dad would never let me forget her name – said with a lisp.  (I just looked up Olsen in the phone book and found a FULL page – out of a total of about 144 pages – and that’s just the one spelling.  There are only 4 Papineaus though, so I’m tempted to call.)  With memories like these, how can there be room for trivialities like a College or a Lake?

I’ve seen trees resplendent in dark red leaves, blossoms of bright yellow, white, and pink, catalpa trees with their unique upside down candelabra flowers, tulip trees, white and violet lilacs, forests carpeted with violet, white, and yellow – and that’s just the natural flora.  Around the homes and bordering the streets are crocuses, violets, pansies, tulips, and all the colors of the rainbow.  Spring in Michigan is an explosion of color.

Seems like I usually hear about major disasters, even though I live on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  I hear about and even track hurricanes off Florida.  I know about tornadoes that hit Oklahoma and floods along the Mississippi.  Why then didn’t I hear about October 5, 1997?  On that day many square miles of forest in the UP were leveled.  I don’t mean annoyed, I mean leveled.  Not only are all trees and bushes down, they are mashed like they had been in a tornado.  A small sign records the facts – “Damage caused by high winds on October 5, 1997”.  Paul and Sandra and Glenn and Julie say they didn’t hear about it either and they live in Michigan.

Who is this guy driving all over the UP with a silly grin on his face?  It can’t be Norm, the guy with a constant frown and a world-class case of procrastination.  Norm would be sitting at home postponing the dishes, laundry, trip to the post office, and even postponing making reservations for golf.  And why the grin?  I understand it, but can I explain?  It’s things like signs for pasties and boiled dinner, smelt fry on Wednesday and fish fry on Friday.  Things like Indian, French, Scandinavian, and other European names on towns, rivers, lakes, places, and people.  I’m writing this on Big Bay de Noc.  Lake Gogebic, Escanaba, Ishpeming, Manistique, and Naubinway are all around me.  Towno Aapala used to do carpenter work for Dad, Paavo Nurmi is known and loved by all in the UP, Dregina Elibosich was an early girl friend of Bud’s, Mutsy Jurokovich and Mario Zadra were neighbors in Anvil.  Andersons, Olsens, and Johnsons are more common than Smiths.  Things like leftover piles of snow, tall, skinny houses, white-haired kids, crows and robins and seagulls, lakes and ponds and rivers, ancient stout brick buildings, bluffs and forests and farms, people with the easily recognizable UP accent, and memories.  They all keep me smiling.

 

ST. IGNACE

1/1/41

3/1/41

     St. Ignace

 

Trailer

I drove around St. Ignace and found a place on the East Side of town that just FEELS like where we had our trailer.  I recall going to school with the local Indians and after a winter in the wind and sun reflected from the snow, looking just like them.  The Wells family was there also.  I saw the Wells parents once at Mom and Dad’s in Bessemer just before they moved into Hautamaki’s.  Buddy Wells was my age and Wanda was his sister.   I didn’t recognize contemporary photographs.  I remember the smell and/or taste of butterscotch candy related to St. Ignace.  I have tried ever after to recreate that sensory memory, to no avail.

In Mackinaw City I had to do laundry.  I started it and found a bench outside at the intersection of Old US-31 and (supposedly new) M-108.  I sat on it.  Nothing happened.  I found an interesting rock but it was too big to carry in my pocket.  Nothing continued to happen.  I found a black rock – it was a chip off the bituminous roadway.  Twin blonde ladies about 34-22-36 or a little younger stopped their flatbed Ford and asked me if I wanted to go to bed with them.  I woke up because it had started to rain.  I moved my laundry to the dryer.  I sat and watched it.  My purple shirt dominated!  I wondered if purple molecules are heavier than other colors – or just nastier.  Two brunette ladies stopped their flatbed Ford and asked me for directions.  I flipped them off and went on sleeping.  Two Ojibwa ladies with coal black hair stopped their flatbed Ford and asked me if I would like to get my crud out of their dryer.  I obliged.

Breathtaking!  Ten or fifteen miles of M-119 south from Cross Village is a drive not to miss.  Picture twenty feet of paved road with no shoulder, trees on both sides leaning toward the center of the road, with white lilies-of-the-valley carpeting the forest floor.  The tree leaves are all light green miniatures giving what seems like a green glow to the gray light filtering down.  Awesome!  (Notice.  This drive must be undertaken on May 7th at 10:30 am with Interlochen Public Radio playing the classics to make the experience total!)

 

WAKEFIELD

3/1/41

4/1/41

     Wakefield

 

Trailer

Wakefield has only one memory.  The owner or operator of the service station we had our trailer parked behind “helped” me build a huge kite out of newspaper.  We flew that thing up as far as we had string for it.  The string broke and we watched the kite come down in the hills about a mile away.  Dad drove me all over that area but we didn’t find the kite or even the string.

 

 

 

AFTERWORD

 

OK, there it is, the first quarter of a month in Michigan reliving memories!  I’m not sure if I enjoyed the memories of my LIVING those years or RELIVING them!  I hope you got something from one or the other.  I warn you, three more episodes are coming.

 

I’m tempted to make massive changes to the text, but I fear it will change the spirit of “stream of conscious”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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