My mom’s best friend was our neighbor, Marie. Her husband also left her up on the island while he traveled back and forth due to work, and the three of us spent a lot of time together, often combining our trips to the mainland.
Mom usually drove us all in her Karman Ghia, which legally only held two people, so I got stuffed in the back cargo area, along with our dog. This could pose problems on laundry runs.
Once I was in the back with some steel screen mesh Mom planned to cover the windows of our sleeping cabin with, a rake stuck through the window, and a large barrel of clean laundry. Marie’s laundry wouldn’t fit back there with me, so the laundry lady put the box in Marie’s lap and shut the door for her.
When we got back to the marina, Marie reached for the door handle and couldn’t reach it.
“I can’t get out!” She repeated it several times. I couldn’t help, of course, so Mom went over to open the door.
“I still can’t get out!” The box of laundry was pretty heavy and Mom, who wasn’t particularly healthy, couldn’t lift it off Marie.
I was still stuck in the back of the car, so Mom had to un-bury me so I could get out and help get the laundry box off of Marie, who kept saying, “I can’t get out!”
The locals just watched us, shaking their heads and enjoying the entertainment. They did seem fairly impressed with the sheer amount of stuff that we pulled out of that tiny car, all while laughing ourselves silly.
The world always looked so large when we were in that car. Marie never let Mom forget the time that Mom mistook a sidewalk for a parking lot entrance. And she was a fantastic storyteller, so every year she would retell her favorite stories.
They would also go the the Island in the wintertime after the lake had frozen over. Marie had a great deal to say about outhouses and one piece snowsuits! The story was primarily visual, and centered around the fact that by the time she managed to wiggle out of the one piece snowsuit, she was too cold to go, so she would spend quite a bit of time taking the thing off, putting it back on, off, back on… until finally her body was so desperate that she would finally manage to do what needed to be done.
They were among the first people up there to install an indoor bathroom.
Marie’s husband was a doctor, and happily helped anyone in need. He stitched Mom’s forehead closed after she grazed a clay birdie on the bottom of the lake. We later learned that he had a terrible hangover at the time.
Dr. Bob was also the one who taught me to ski. At the beginning, he said, “Don’t worry, if I break you, I’ll fix you.” It turned out he wasn’t the danger, I was. The very first time I successfully made it around the bay and he was ‘dropping me off’ near their dock, I failed to slow myself down and ran right into it! They had to extract me from the skis, which had jammed up onto my thighs. Amazingly, the only thing that was injured was my pride.
They had a wonderful tradition, well several. They often threw people off the dock, just for fun, although they would remove items that might get damaged first. And if someone fell or somehow did something visually dramatic, first they would ask if we were OK. If we were, they would laugh their heads off. Laughter was their common state, in my memory.
We had a great relationship with them on many levels. Every day my dad would take a thermometer down to the lake when he went swimming, and yell out the temperature. Now in our bay, the closer you are to the foot, the warmer the water is, and so Bob and Marie’s water was generally a little cooler than ours, so every day that Bob was there, he would yell, “You God damned lier!” at Dad, also at the top of his lungs.
One of their sons seemed to be impervious to cold water – he happily swam in any temperature. We were out on our dock on one day when the water was coming from what we call ‘the gap’, a small opening in the bay that allowed water to come in from the open lake. Our neighbor had a guest who did know the ways of the bay, and convinced him to go swimming. The impervious one dove into the lake and appeared to enjoy the water, so his friend follow suit. We had never seen anyone move as fast as that poor boy did – it looked as though he managed to change direction soon after he first touched the water – like a video in reverse. The language that lofted toward us was not courteous.
Another thing people tend to do up there is dress down. Once Dad walked onto our dock in a pair of shorts and robe that were so torn and threadbare that the neighbors on the other side gave him a standing ovation.
That trend was begun by another neighbor who was a State Senator. He always wore a rope for a belt up there, and once, while sitting on the steps of the community center, he was thrown off as a vagrant! He didn’t tell them who he was, he never did. It was his way of getting to know the real people.
Dad once made the mistake of saying to the Senator that he wouldn’t be caught dead getting involved in politics. I never learned what the Senator said to Dad after that, he wouldn’t tell anyone, but after that Dad ran for City Council.
Michigan, and the people up there were the source of most of the joy in my childhood, as well as being the place where I got into most of my sometimes life threatening trouble. I truly love the place.