Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Erin Motel


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Before I gave up on the idea of braving the winter – with my daughters – in the unfinished house on Fox Lake Road, we had nearly run out of wood. I was scrambling for a source, and trying to figure out how I’d pay for it. The house was insulated, but still drafty. It was getting cold. I stapled black plastic to the exposed support beams to cover the insulation. I hung blankets over the windows.

The line bringing water to our house from the neighbor’s well froze solid. Then I  begged a $500.00 cash advance from work, in order to hire Bud Martin to put a submersible pump in my own well and complete the hookups to the house. During that time, I hauled water each day in five gallon containers (4) from the public faucet at the township airport, for washing up, cleaning and flushing the toilet. I carried two single gallons home from town for cooking and drinking. Bud tried to hook up the pump, but said it would only draw sand, so he had to pull it back out. He said Mr. Goller must have cracked the screen when he set it.

That’s when I gave up.

Then, it was too late to move into McCafferty’s Hotel: it was already rented for the winter. I talked to my friend Roy, who owned the Erin Motel. He was one of my regular morning coffee drinkers, and also often used the Shamrock to conduct his real estate business. He was an avid hunter, which he knew I didn’t like. Our friendship was based on me serving him coffee, and him teasing me. I told him we needed to find a place to live, and that I’d like to move in to the Erin. I explained that it would take me most of the winter to pay back the cash advance from work, so I was working just for tips. If my [estranged] husband sent money, I’d be able to pay rent; if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to pay until spring.

“That will be fine,” he said.

I told him two adjoining motel rooms would be best, as they were small. That way we could use one for sleeping, one for meals and general living space.

“Okay,” he said, “that will be alright.”

I told him our beagle, Joe, would have to come with us.

“Sure, I accept dogs there.”

“…And the two cats,” I said.

Roy shook his head. His voice was firm.

“Nope, sorry, no cats. I don’t allow cats in the motel,”

I stomped my foot.

“Roy,” I said, “my girls have been through enough already! I’m not going to argue with you about this!”

“Alright,” he wavered,”I’ll make an exception for the cats.”

So it was that my dog, two cats, my two daughters and I all moved – with a few pots and pans, some dishes, one piece of art, a few books and three suitcases of clothing –  in to two adjoining rooms at the Erin Motel. The building is right on the harbor – though our rooms didn’t have a harbor view – so we could walk to wherever we needed to go. The school was two blocks up the hill; the Shamrock was right across the street.

Our rooms were standard motel rooms: square, large enough for a double bed, dresser and chair, with a bathroom and a small alcove for hanging coats. A door near the entry doors linked the two rooms. Roy had two twin beds and a double bed moved into one room. In the other, we had a roll-away bed that we used as a sofa, a couple chairs, a card table with folding chairs, and a make-shift kitchen that consisted of a dorm sized refrigerator and a two-burner range. Each room had a large window in front that looked out onto the main street.

In order to make ends meet, and keep working after the busy season, I was working six days a week: two morning (7AM to 2PM), two afternoon (2PM to 8PM) and two night shifts (8PM to closing time). Business was slow, so it was always okay for the girls to come over after school, once they had walked the dog and taken care of the cats. They could practice piano at the Shamrock, do their homework and watch television. On days when I was home in the evenings, I cooked on the little two-burner stove, and we’d play games or cards after dinner around the card table. Though it was a rough time for all three of us, I remember laughing ’til we nearly lost control, crowded into those small rooms.

The following spring, when I was finally able to pay Roy for our stay there, I also presented him with a framed drawing I had done for him, of an elderly woman fishing off a dock, her large cat dozing in the sunshine beside her. It hangs in his office to this day.


…And the Depths of Reality


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Before the summer was out, living in our little unfinished house on the Fox Lake Road, we got chickens. Though we didn’t have a chicken house, nor fencing or even the money for fencing, we had often talked about raising chickens for eggs. My husband called one day to tell me he was on his way home, after working down-state. He was bringing a truckload of building materials, and two dozen chickens. They were Black Minorcas, and they were beautiful. They lived in a rickety, crooked chicken house that we clabbered together, surrounded by a bit of chicken wire fencing that was barely supported and offered little in the way of containment.

We got a goat. We named her Solly, and loved her dearly. She lived in an over-sized dog house. When she wasn’t following the girls around, we tried to keep her tethered. She was awfully good at escape. Many times, the girls and I took off together in the front of the old rattle-trap pickup truck, to retrieve Solly from where she had wandered. She’d ride home in the cab with us, grinning at her adventure.

Late in October, my husband and I separated for good. We’d had a terrible fight; he was scheduled to leave the island the next day for a job down-state. He suggested not going, so we could work things out. I told him I’d rather he left on schedule. Usually that would be the end of it…we’d both cool off, and things would go back to “normal.” I was getting very sick of what we’d learned to think of as normal.

When my daughters were very young, and their father was drunk or otherwise behaving badly, I’d cover for him, just as my mother had covered for my dad. “Daddy’s very tired,” I’d say, or “Daddy’s cranky…give him some space.” As their own tempers became an issue, it seemed ridiculous and unfair to justify his tantrums. “Daddy is behaving badly,” I’d say, to holes punched in walls or chairs thrown across the room, “Daddy is not controlling his temper.”

My daughters were now nine and twelve years old. What was I teaching them by continuing to live with behavior that was admittedly bad, and undoubtedly getting worse? We’d been repeating the same argument now for over thirteen years. I had tried every tactic I knew to get him to quit drinking. It was time to walk away. When Terry called, later in the week, to ask, humbly, if his behavior had pushed me to the point of no return, I gathered up all my strength to answer, “Yes.”

He came to the island  to talk me out of it. He said, “Let’s get off of this island! I will quit drinking! I can’t do it here, but with a fresh start, I can do it.” I held my ground. Together, we told out daughters. They were devastated. This was going to be difficult for all of us.

There was a predator taking my chickens, one each day. I never saw it. I don’t know if it was raccoon, coyote or chicken hawk, but each day as they gathered around me for their feed, I counted them. A few minutes later, though I hadn’t left the yard, there would be one less chicken. At first I thought I was miscounting, but finally had to admit that I was unable to keep them safe.

One day, we pulled in the driveway to find Solly on her side, dead. Probably, I was told, she ate something that she shouldn’t have. The ground was too frozen to dig. I pulled a big canvas off its frame, and I wrapped her in the painted cloth, dragged her to the front of the property and put the bundle in a hollow left by an uprooted tree. We covered her, then, with rocks…”a cowboy burial,” I told the girls. Then, I got out the paints, and the girls covered the surrounding trees with their sorrow. “Here lies Solly, beloved goat,” and “Rest in Peace, you wanderer,” shared space with hearts and flowers and polka-dots to mark her resting place.

The weather was turning cold. The girls and I slept together in my one big bed, and dressed in front of the wood stove. Wood was in short supply. When the water – coming to us from a pipe on the ground from the neighbors house – froze, I had to cry “Uncle.” That’s when I gave my remaining chickens away, packed up what I could, and we moved into the Erin Motel.

Timeout for Art: Talking


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I spent some time yesterday talking with friends about art. Not my own work, and not theirs either, but art that we’ve admired or that we’d like to try. There aren’t very many opportunities for that in my life lately, and I miss it.

In college, there were a dozen chances a day to speak with others about art. After a while, it seemed like we’d all get too much “in our heads” about it, and it would be helpful to step back. Sometimes the best conversations are just between the artist and the materials.

I like the “conversations” that go on between art works. When created by the same person, there’s always an ongoing dialogue that adds intensity and interest to each individual piece when viewed among its “peers.” A good curator can create interactions between disparate works by different artists by careful juxtaposition.

Yesterday was simple: just the pleasure of a chat, with art as the subject.


Fox Lake Road: the Reality

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My house on Fox Lake Road, circa 1990

So then we come to reality.

We decided to build the garage first, and live in it while we were putting up our house. This building was 24′ x24′, with the south half of the house – shown in the photo – having the bathroom and laundry area toward the front, a kitchen at the back, and a stairway leading up to two small bedrooms just four feet in front of that red door. The north half of the house was an open space for living and dining. When we finished the real house, those two rooms would become a one car garage. The other half would be spare accommodations for guests.

This picture does not reflect the way the house looked when we first moved in to it in the mid 1980s. Then, the only windows were on the front and back walls, facing east and west. All of the windows and doors had been salvaged from my in-laws house down-state, when they put new ones in. We framed the house to fir them. The only exception was the front door, and the back window in the dining room. Those, I bought used from Catherine White, when she replaced them. Thus, all the windows and doors were old and drafty.

Inside, we had managed to get enough sheet rock put up to give walls to the bathroom and the stairway. In the rest of the house, we were looking at the studs, with un-faced insulation tucked in between. Porcelain fixtures with bare bulbs provided light. The floor was  cement. There was less than a cord of wood stacked outside, with wood our only heat source. We were still negotiating with the man that held our land contract, for him to finish our well. He was off the island more than on, it seemed. To satisfy our water needs, he ran a flexible water pipe over the ground from his house to ours.

By the time this photo was taken, I had (with the help of my sister, Cheryl) painted the OSB sheeting on the outside of the house, in an effort to save it from the weather. I had used many cans of foam insulation in the corners, to try to seal the exterior. I had managed to find another source for used windows, and added one on the south wall of the kitchen.

When we moved in, in the summer of 1984, there were no flower beds. I ordered dozens of bulbs: Red Riding Hood tulips and Siberian Scillia. I planted them in the fall, with high hopes for greeting spring in a blaze of color, and we watched the colors change from our little house on the Fox Lake Road.


Fox Lake Road: the Dream


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First of all, dreams are easy.

They can ignore reality in ways so extreme, it is only in hindsight – when wide awake – that their unreasonableness comes clear.

My plans and schemes and dreams for our home on Fox Lake Road were based on other buildings I’d admired: my grandparent’s house in Lapeer, Michigan, and the granary at the farmhouse on Beaver Island. Ideas were gleaned from books, magazines and diagrams of house plans. I filled notebooks with clippings; I drew diagrams on graph paper.

I did not consider available time…or money. I had no idea about the sequence of events that had to be incorporated into the building process, when they had to happen or how much they would cost. I didn’t know building codes or practices. I complained loudly when trying to redraw my perfect plans to show 4″ interior walls and 6″ exterior walls. Graph paper does not easily accommodate the fracturing of the square foot. Everything was skewed!

My plans were of a more ethereal, artistic nature. An imaginary grid would overlay our property on a north-south axis. All buildings would line up with the grid, presenting the roof pitch on the north and south sides. Passive solar features were considered in the house’s design, and we wanted to be open to other solar options as they became more affordable.

The house (28′ x28′, with a basement) and the garage (24′ x24′, on a cement slab) would each be one and a half story buildings. All others structures (garden shed, chicken coop, tree-house, barn) would mimic that shape in smaller versions. All  buildings were going to be square, each roof would have a 12/12 pitch, and each finished shape (adding the overhang of the eaves) would be divisible by five (I KNOW!!). Windows and doors would be placed symmetrically in each structure. All siding would be dark gray, board and batten; all roofs would be shingled in a lighter gray, to give the appearance of being bleached by the sun.

The basement would have winter play space for the girls. It would also have room for my art studio. Beyond that, there would be laundry facilities, a large chest-type freezer and storage shelves. There would be a door leading to a second stairway up to the outside; in the winter that area could be used as a root cellar. We imagined growing most of our own food, buying in bulk and keeping a well-stocked pantry and freezer.

On the ground floor, skylights would brighten the spaces. Wood floors would be of maple we’d milled ourselves. A centrally placed wood stove would provide heat. There would be a view from every window. Upstairs, a bathroom and three bedrooms.

Paving stones laid out in straight paths would lead from one area to another.  Fence lines would honor the grid that dictated placement of all man-made features. Wild bursts of flowers and other plantings would provide contrast to the strict layout. From the sky (at that stage in our lives, my husband was still talking about learning to fly an airplane), it would look like a series of Monopoly houses scattered across the landscape.

These were the plans we made, with papers spread out over the dining table at Charbridge Arbor and the big kitchen table of the farmhouse. They were discussed at length, fine-tuned and improved upon while we lived at Corner #16 and the house on Johnson Mill Road. Plans for our island life could lead us away from almost every argument, and bring us back to a place filled with big dreams for the future.

‘Course, like I said, dreams are easy. Real life, on the other hand, is…real. That’s what we came face-to-face with when we started building on the Fox Lake Road.

Monday Morning


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It’s a gray, rainy day on Beaver Island this Monday morning. It’s cold, too, and the wind makes it feel even colder. Though I was willing to gear up for a wander around the yard with my little dog, Rosa Parks declined the offer.

The electricity has already gone out twice this morning. Each time, I lost the work I was doing on the computer, and had to start over. Two telephone calls, three pauses to refill my coffee cup and several stops to give Rosa Parks a belly rub or a good scratch behind the ears rounded out the list of interruptions.

Now, it’s eleven o’clock. I have yet to get out of pajamas, in to the shower, dressed and ready for my day. I haven’t had breakfast. I have a full day ahead.

The writings that I’ve spent the morning transferring to a printable document will have to be Emailed as an attachment to me, so that I can access it and print it when I get to town. I’ll take it, then, to the radio station at our Community Center, to record my little “Island Reflections” radio broadcast. I have a meeting at 2PM. I have to get to the farmhouse to clean my aunt’s floors before the afternoon is out. I hope to have time to fit in an interview. If there’s time, I have another meeting covering advertising, tree work and other issues.

Home, I have notes to type up into one article, letters to request permission to use photographs for another article, writing to do in several other directions along with an editorial. I have a stack of correspondence to answer, including that difficult letter I’ve been sulking over for a week. I’m torn between a simple, curt, “Thank you for your input,” to a motherly scold of the “If you don’t have something nice to say…” sort. I have one change of address and three up-dated subscriptions to enter into the database. If there is time (and there won’t be time!), I still have to write out invoices for the classified ads.

I have clothes in the dryer that need to be folded, and towels in the washer that need to be transferred to the dryer. The plate, fork and glass from last night’s dinner are waiting in the sink and the pan used to warm it is still sitting on the stove.

Since I started this little essay, I’ve received three more telephone calls. I now have one new advertiser, an article on trees coming for the next issue, and an invitation to have dinner at my cousin’s house.

This is my Monday!

The 52 Lists Project #17


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List the difficult moments in your past that have shaped you for the better:

  • Not really a “moment,” but rather a life course, is being put to work as a child. I thought it was cruel and unreasonable, as soon as I was old enough to think about it. I was a lazy child and wanted out of house work and garden work, helping with the babies and little ones and helping my younger sisters and brothers with their school work. Mom used everything from flattery and cajoling to threats of the willow switch and extreme guilt to get us to do our jobs. I swore I would give my children an easier childhood, and I did. Looking back, there was never a doubt in my mind that I was an integral and necessary part of the family. I don’t think my brothers – who had a much shorter list of obligations – ever felt that way, and I don’t think my children did, either. My daughters knew they  were important because I loved them, but not because they were needed. It’s a slight, but important difference. In addition, I grew up with a good work ethic, the capability of doing many different things, and the knowledge that no job is beneath me.
  • Giving birth. Motherhood in every aspect challenged and shaped me. I can’t imagine who I would be if I hadn’t had children, but I can’t believe it would be any shadow of the person I am.
  • Divorce. It was forging new ground in many ways, but it stretched my ideas of what I was capable of and made me more aware of my own thoughts and motives.
  • Returning to college. Learning isn’t easy whenever you choose to learn as opposed to just showing what you already know. It is always worth it.
  • Death. When friends or family or loved ones die, I always learn something of value. Sometimes it is the clear knowledge that I can survive heartache that seems unbearable. Sometimes it is the awareness that a kind word or a casserole dish make a big difference when a family is grieving, and it’s worth the effort. Sometimes, by example, it is good information about how to make that particular passage when my time comes, with charity toward others, dignity and strength.

The Property on Fox Lake Road


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The land we bought was part of what had been a 40 acre parcel: a square, 1/4 mile on each side. Fox Lake Road curves a little bit through the western boundary line. It had been split into two twenty-acre parcels, both with access to Fox Lake Road, still 1/4 mile deep. The northernmost parcel had a two acre lot cut out of the northwest corner of it, and had a little cabin on it that was used as a hunting camp.That was owned by Thomas Tange.

The rest of that piece – eighteen acres – was owned by Dick Goller: pilot, plumber and  well-driller with a well-deserved reputation as a con man and a shyster. He was a short, round man with black hair, a booming voice and a big grin.  Though he was sharp at making deals, he also had a reputation for being a little dense. He came in to the Shamrock one morning, complaining that his foot was killing him. He swore the boot had gotten smaller overnight.

“Did you leave a sock inside there?” Bill Welke asked him.

“Oh, I dunno. That’s a thought, I guess!”

With that, he unlaced his boot and pulled it off. To guffaws and chuckles all around the coffee-drinkers table, and to Bill Welke’s absolute glee, he spilled a dead mouse out of his boot on to the floor.

“Huh! Well that explains it,” he said, “…suppose it wasn’t dead when I went to put the boot on. Little guy should’ve spoken up!”

Goller worked mainly from his home in Cedar Springs, but had started taking quite a few jobs on the island. Enough, he felt, for having a second home here. When he started putting his house up, he accidentally built it over the property line, on the land belonging to Tange. He split the 18 acres in half, then, and sold nine in order to purchase the section that his home was sitting on. He priced it pretty reasonably and, to sweeten the deal, he offered to put a well on the land for no additional cost.

So it happened that – just as my husband was recovering from his fall from a roof and getting back to work…as we were moving from Corner #16 to Johnson Mill Road…as I was opening a gallery in Lapeer, Michigan – we got a call from Ed Wojan about buying a piece of land. Ed was in the real estate business, and knew we’d been looking at property on Beaver Island. He thought we might be interested in this deal. We were! We made a trip to the island to have a look.

Seven miles from town, the land had a rough old two-track logging road running through it. My Dad said, “That’s a little too far from town,” and we said “No way!” From our home in North Branch, no town was closer than seven miles; I traveled twice that distance to Lapeer, and twenty miles further to college in Flint. Seven miles seemed like nothing. The logging road would be an advantage, we said. We could use the first part of it as a driveway. The back was a ready-made walking path through the woods. We could drive a truck back there, too, for hauling out firewood.

The property had three hundred foot of frontage on Fox Lake Road. The front third was a fairly open field with  wild black cherry trees and juniper bushes scattered throughout. The back was hard wood forest: plenty, if managed correctly, to provide us with a constant source of wood for heat. On the north side of the property, on what had long ago been the edge of a farmer’s plowed field, were three huge maple trees. That was it…the final selling point. We loved it!



Back to the Farm


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One more summer at the farmhouse, while we put our energies toward getting the building closed in on our property.

If you’ve every built a house, you know. There were permits to be filed and payed for. There was an order in which things had to happen, that involved several different contractors and their schedules. Drainage pipes had to be in place before the slab was poured. The place had to be wired for electricity before drywall could go up. Plumbing, too. Our plumber didn’t even live on the island!

While I had spent hours pouring over house plans, drawing up ours on graph paper, I hadn’t imagined all the things that would prevent those walls from going up. Lumber was bought or traded from the island mill for some purposes, but because it wasn’t kiln-dried, it wasn’t suitable for all of our needs. When we ordered lumber from the mainland, we had to arrange time to meet the boat to pick it up.

Unplanned costs were everywhere. Terry became a master at bartering labor for materials. Lumber that came from Wojan’s Mill would be paid for by his work at the mill during the next winter. Blue board and other insulation received from Cashman would be worked off, too. The Butlers put in our electricity with the agreement that Terry would work on the house they were building. Through that summer, he was spending many weeks down in the lower part of the state, doing jobs for his father’s roofing and siding business. When he came home, it was always with a truckload of materials.

I was in the luxurious position of not being a builder, so there was little I could do on our house at this stage. I worked at the Shamrock, made hearty meals for whoever was at the farm, kept up the yard, maintained the house and took care of the laundry with a wringer washer and a clothesline. Still, it felt like a life of leisure!

I worked at the restaurant all summer, but my morning shift ended at two. I’d go pick up my daughters, who would have completed their chores by that time, and we’d often head back to town to the beach. I did a lot of reading that summer, and had a great tan!

We had company through most of the season. Cousins came to stay at the farmhouse. Aunts and uncles came for vacation; other relatives stopped in to visit. We had many meals where the large table was filled with people of all ages, telling old stories long into the night.

By the middle of August, we conceded that we were going to have to finish the house while living in it, so we went ahead and made the move to Fox lake Road.

Timeout for Art: Critique


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Having had experience of late with some well-meaning but hurtful criticism, I’ve been thinking about how we approach one another’s shortcomings.

Critique was a major aspect of college art courses. It was important, we were told, to observe closely our own work and that of others, and learn to talk about it in critique. I think “to observe critically” speaks about the detachment we should feel toward the work, so that it can be honestly appraised, without attachment to the process, the subject matter or the maker. Too often, it was interpreted – by teachers and students alike – to instead mean “find the flaws.”

That never felt comfortable to me. No matter how diplomatic, no matter how true, criticism is always hard for me to take. Too often it seemed an exercise in ego rather than a learning experience. I decided early on that I would not participate in that way.

When my work was being critiqued, I would listen and nod thoughtfully at whatever was said. I would thank them for their thoughts and ideas. I would never defend or argue. I would take everything I was offered and sift through it when I was alone, to glean from it what was helpful and discard the rest.

When it was up to me to offer critical assessment of someone else’s work, my policy was to speak only positive comments. That is not to say I offered only gushing superlatives. Words like “wonderful,” “beautiful” and “outstanding” can be nice to hear, but on their own are not appropriate or helpful in a critique. It’s helpful to break a piece down, before speaking about it. Does the color appeal to you? Is one area stronger than another? What works? A critical comment might be, “My eye keeps moving toward the upper right corner where your color is so dense and lush…” or, “I’d love to see the background darker, to show off the beautiful line quality.”

Whenever I teach, the rules for talking about work – whether your own or someone else’s – is “Positive Comments Only!” It seems especially important because I often teach children. We can easily see the reasons for not discouraging a child’s early efforts. I think we’re all children at heart, though. We all tenderly and cautiously put ourselves out there, exposed, hoping for approval. We can each be knocked down without too much effort, by the criticism of others.

I think most of us are pretty good at self-assessment. We usually already know what our failings are. We know what’s going wrong. Sometimes, we look so hard at those things, it’s hard to see what we’re doing right. It’s certainly hard to know if others do. It seems to me, in life as in art, to hear what is working is more important than to be told what isn’t.