My wife Cathy goes to a book club. A group of middle-aged, multi-degreed successful professional women; they talk about books and they talk about life. The other day, her friend “Wilma” was discussing a talk she had with husband “Fred.”
“Honey,” Wilma said, reaching over and patting Fred’s arm. “We need an exit strategy. I do not want to live the rest of my life in Flint, Michigan.”
There are good things happening in Flint. The downtown is coming back, due to the University of Michigan, to Kettering University, and the brave men and women who have moved back into the area as it recovers. But this re-living will be for another generation. Not for mine.
Fred didn’t argue. He spoke with their son, “Dino.” Dino is in graduate school.
“Dino, what would you think if your Mother and I sold the house here in Flint, moved some place, er, nicer?”
“The house here in Flint? Sure, whatever.”
“But Dad, you’re not thinking of selling the cottage up North, are you?”
Up North. In Michigan, Up North means north of the 45th parallel; halfway between the North Pole and the equator. For city dwellers in the southern portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Up North is an entirely different state. The Northwest corner of Michigan is our Napa; an enclave set apart to soothe our spirits. It is where family memories are made.
“No, Dino. We’re not thinking of giving up the cottage on Traverse Bay. Just the house here in Flint,” said Fred.
“Oh, okay. Cool. Whatever. As long you don’t sell the cottage Up North,” said Dino.
What is it about “place”?
I grew up in the north end of Flint during the 1960s and early 70s. As a child, our neighborhood was a true neighborhood. Everyone knew everyone. Everyone looked after each other’s kids. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Within five years, the neighborhood blew apart. Today, my old homestead; the region around Sally Ct., Banbury Place and Orange Lane is, per capita, one of the deadliest neighborhoods in the USA.
But still, every year or two, I drive through there. Our old house on the corner looks the same. At the Sutphens’ house, their garage is now an enclosed porch with steel-barred security windows. My head is on a pivot as I drive around, hyper-alert, as I feel my pulse pick up a few beats. I still conjure up our lives in the late 1960s: evening games of kick-the-can, the street baseball games of Five Hundred and the football games we had on Saturdays whilst listening to broadcasts of college games on an AM transistor radio parked on a picnic table. It was home. For a few moments, it again feels like home.
My parents are East Coast people. They grew up in Reading, PA (pronounced Red-ing), not far from Philly. I hear the word Reading and I am eight years old again, traipsing around Reading with my grandfather, Pop-Pop Sam, on his Saturday morning rounds, always ending up at Rudnick’s Deli where I’d get a bissel free piece of smoked fish.
I am on the Sinking Springs Golf Course with my Dad and Pop-Pop Carl. If I’m quiet for a moment, I can still hear Carl after he hooked one into the woods. I hear that “Clunk! Click! Shit!!” His punch shot out of the woods hit a tree, and ricocheted right off of his belt buckle onto the fairway. I am home.
When I was eight on that day, Mort, my Dad, was 35. Carl, my grandfather, Mort’s Dad, was around 62. I am 55.
We have a family place Up North. Off a dirt road, which is off a barely paved road, seven mostly uphill miles out of town, it is so quiet that my son; Aaron, aged twenty, needs to run a fan to sleep at night.
The cottage is filled with photos that his Bubbie; my mother, has taken. They’re affixed to poster boards throughout the house, a visual of the memories the three grandchildren have made since 1992. There are photos of infants being bathed in the kitchen sink and splashing in an inflatable wading pool. There are photos of toddlers standing next to the herd of Holsteins on the hill. There are photos of sailing and fishing and golf and hikes through the 40 acre woods, skiing and snowshoeing and sledding- a history of the family’s Up North memories. Home.
Several years ago, the cottage was having an electrical issue. Every lightning strike seemed to hit a particular utility pole on the property and blow out a few breakers. My Dad was concerned, rightly so, that another strike might cause a fire before the power company could sort out the problem. My wife, the lovely Cath, Aaron and I were Up North. It was storming. I was on the phone with Mort.
“If there’s a fire,” he said, “Just grab all the photos and get the Hell out of there. We can replace everything else.”
We can replace everything else.
This post originally appeared on June 7, 2013 at http://dstan58.blogspot.com/2013/06/where-does-your-family-create-its-dreams.html