Only three more hours left and we could kick back and relax from being on the road non-stop for the first couple weeks. Before Bia could wake up we kicked off with the sky still completely black but an urgent final stretch before true rest. Expecting snow as the Upper Peninsula is known to have lots, I was surprised to see very little as we inched closer and closer to my younger years hometown of Munising.
Munising is a tiny town with just over two-thousand residence, meaning in the Anishnaabe language (a local Native American tribe I am a part of) “by the island.” Grand Island the island said is a large island a mile out in Lake Superior that shelters the small harbor town. It was definitely chilly here while decked out with Christmas perephenalia but with a serious lack of snow. Just slightly disappointed I was sure it would come in our stay. We had planned on sticking around until just after Christmas as it had been almost ten years since I’d been home for the holidays.
Last visit to Michigan I had promised the lots of family another hello, who lived throughout this barren peninsula at the southern side of the great lake Superior just south of Ontario, Canada. I was filled with excitement both for the introductions along with all of what I’d described my upbringings to Bia, hoping not to disappoint.
My grandfather whom we’d been carrying his anniversary coffee mug commemorating his 60 years of barbering (now 65) as seen in some of the past blogs was one of our first stops. Don’s Barber Shop, a hidden business with no signage tucked behind an insurance agency and gimmicky touristic shop has been his place of business for most of the 60 years. If you’ve ever came across the sensor triggered talking fish “Big Mouth Billy Bass” before, he’s the concierge who greets you from entering with a “you can tune a piano but ya can’t tuna fish,” or sings you “Bad to the Bone,” before entering a small room large enough to fit a couple double seated bench seats probably from the late 60’s and an old-school barberchair with a new reupholstered look but a style from the early 1900’s. The man who had taught me how to garden, write in calligraphy while doing crosswords, bake bread, had brought me to violin lessons as well as football games, and of course had cut my hair up until I moved out of Munising sat, leg crossed with his newspaper as he always had with down time and a mischievous grin unknowing to our visit.
After some quick conversation, my grandfather did a final sweep through his barbershop, a quick accounting of the day and prepared to head home. He forever had walked the mile each way to and from work for the extra exercise but over the past few years had opted to use a personal parking place the neighboring insurance business had gifted him. Bia and myself followed up towards his house, only a few blocks east of the house I had grown up in. Lightly covered with snow as the season hadn’t quite taken off as per usual and the driveway and sidewalk up to his front stair case clean and scraped to the surface of any precipitation led us up into the house I had briefly lived in as a child as well as spent countless hours hanging out for family events or just because. Bia and I shared an evening watching sports, drinking coffee and dinner as we would continue to on and off throughout our stay in Munising.
My mother’s house, a brief walk or even shorter drive hadn’t changed much either over the years besides the door colors and ornaments strung around the front of the house set for the season. Inside holly hung across a main center beam of the downstairs, pictures galore from over the years and my siblings bedrooms now without mess but unaltered. Bia and I stayed in my sister Kathleen’s old room bringing back memories of staying up late past my bedtime sharing stories of our days past.
Each morning my mom would have breakfast ready or some sort with the immense selection of fudges and every other sweet under the sun that her husband Steve would painstakingly put together. This was the season of the weight gain as the both of us had spent the entirety of the month so far in the car, snacking staying in different towns eating and now with family, over-eating during a season where all of the savory and sweet items come into play. We had planned on trying to get outdoors for exercise along with picking up one of the essentials for the season, a Christmas tree.
While in Chicago I’d always gone to a grocery store parking lot to pick up a real tree but it’d been years since actually going to a tree farm. Bia and I bundled up head to toe and drove a brief ten minutes out of Munising to its neighboring and even smaller sub-zone Wetmore where for twenty dollars you could pick out any tree of your liking. Hand saws hung at the entry with a path that snuck into an opening of perfect Christmas trees surrounded by woods. It was tough picking the perfect tree since all were exceptional but then the right one called to us. A minute of sawing as low as we could get we hiked the beautiful gift from mother nature back to the Honda and with much struggle were able to fit most of it into our trunk and back seat. Once home and none of the parents around we trimmed and shaped the rest of the tree before stringing it with lights, beads and other decor and of course topping it with a shining star. To finish we fit a battery powered train on its track to watch over the tree when we weren’t around.
The next day, early for Christmas but a family tradition at one of the local Upper Peninsula families houses we trekked up to another small town Ishpeming, 60 miles west along Lake Superior where another pod of relatives resided. Gifts were exchanged, an enormous feast presented much of it provided by my cousins Derrick and Sarah and tons of photos by my young niece Alison and my second cousin Jonty. After much shared love Bia and I made our way through the first big snowstorm, since we’d been here with I believe seven or eight inches that fell. You couldn’t see ten feet in front of you with the view looking like we were in hyperdrive in the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. The sides of the roads weren’t defined and went into glens and totally covered with snow with the only way of knowing which side of the road was what was by opposing head lights. What should’ve taken an hour or so took almost three driving 30-40 miles per hour. This was the Michigan I’d known and winter was now upon us.
While attempting to get outdoors a little more we took to the hills and photographed the local football stadium, found hidden waterfalls, made way along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s beginning at Sand Point and finished towards Miners Castle. In order to reach this stunning yet popular tourist destination we came to an un-groomednon-maintained road that went for four miles of deep snow. Without the ability to stop or we’d be stuck in the middle of nowhere we slid our way floating on the snow with the Accord until we made it to a parking lot without a track in site. The only life out here besides some squirrels collecting what was leftover to eat was a couple of snow covered trekkers who had probably hiked the shoreline. Miners castle was a point that used to look like a castle tower but over time had the sand stone had worn down and was more of a flat tower base that stood hundreds of feet over the solemn Lake Superior. From up top you could see the curvature of the earth as the lake went for hundreds of miles out. Once we’d hit our fair share of cold we made way to visit my dad who lived in the woods in a cozy house not too far from the lakeshore.
Showing up on Christmas Eve we’d talked about having a dinner and when we arrived he had venison meatballs, veggies and rolls ready to go. Another wonderful meal to help keep us warm through the winter struggle. In addition to the absence of our late and childhood cat Sandy was the most energetic young Rocky, a brilliant German Shepard still large enough to knock you to the side with just his tail. Keeping the ever so sweet and shy Jinksy cat at bay he roamed his domaine ready to play at all times. Over dinner we shared old stories of good memories along with updates of our trip. As to get a good nights rest before Santa came we shared hugs and made it back to the mothers house tucking in before midnight. Waking up every hour with thoughts of someone on the roof as well as considering the idea of me being insane as I was a thirty-year old man and through reasoning knew the chimney was closed up and he would have trouble getting in made way through the early morning.
After my sister and niece stopped by and Steve and my mother woke up we all shared a moment of gift exchanges and breakfast this Christmas day. Our departure from Michigan and towards the east coast was supposed to commence the upcoming day but through Facebook messenger I’d caught word from my brother Colton who was out of the Army but working in Iraq through contracted company now would be coming home the 30th of December. It was a rarity to see him as he’d been enlisted for the past eight years and had been all over the world. Through reorganizing the trip we decided to stick around town for the next few days which also allowed us to stay through my 31st birthday on the 28th, no big deal. The rest of the day was leisure besides a trip to the grandfather’s house where we put together another big meal for the holidays. By this time we were holding our stomachs and I believe I at least had put on an additional fifteen pounds since San Diego.
For my birthday my brother had bought us a tent and a space ship from Star Wars, a childhood favorite. Like children we set the tent up in my sisters room leaving no clearance to walk around and with our sleeping bags and pads rolled out we snuggled watching “A New Hope” while the night and my age past on.
Another friend who had visited us in San Diego a couple times as well as me in Chicago lived a couple hours east of Munising next to the Sault Ste. Marie in a town Brimley. We’d promised a stop by while in the area and followed through on the 30th. Living in a beautiful cabin right on the frozen lake Monocle we cooked up venison, and tacos as Ryan mixed cocktails and his cousin Alex came to join the festivities. As the night grew on we built a bonfire on the frozen lake watching the lights in the distant sky dance. Following into the next day we were able to take the backroads unto another waterfall area, the Lower Tahquamenon falls.
Once back in Munising all of my siblings reconnected and shared rare moments of laughter over a few drinks and food. Another stop out to the dads place brought pasties, a local favorite kind of like a meat pie with root vegetables served with ketchup or gravy, ketchup my preferred way.
For the New Years the Uncle Perry and cousin Molly joined the family up north as we brought in the joyous new year along with my brother Colton’s 28th birthday. We were able to enjoy the next couple of days getting the last bits of being fat and a last dinner with the family at grandpas house for the time being before setting out on the 2nd for our trek out of the great cold north…