When I was a child, every vacation my family took was to Beaver Island. It was where my Dad had grown up, so he had friends and family there. All of us children loved it. We never once questioned our destination, or complained about lack of variety.
I’m sure it was not so pleasurable for my Mom. It was a lot of work, packing and preparing to take nine children on vacation. It started with a long road trip through the night. In the morning, we all had to be fed; this was our once-per-year restaurant experience. We all took turns using the restaurant bathroom to change out of our pajamas. Then, we caught the ferry boat to Beaver Island.
None of us were particularly good travelers, so by the time we reached the island, Mom had been dealing with kids throwing up for more than eight hours. Then, on the island, we stayed in the family farm with my grandparents…Mom’s in-laws. Though I remember a few sighs and weary expressions, Mom never discouraged our vacation. In hindsight, it was probably one of her greatest tests of patience and self-sacrifice!
We, on the other hand, had the time of our lives. We roamed the fields and built forts in the rock piles that bordered them. We explored the old buildings and swung from rope swings in the barn. We climbed the ancient apple trees. At night, we sometimes chased fireflies through the yard.
We thought using the outhouse was grossly adventurous, and snapped pictures of family members as they entered and exited it. We helped Grandpa George dig potatoes, pick beans, or husk corn for dinner. In the evening, Grandma Florence played cards with us at the kitchen table. One night of the vacation, we went with her to the church hall to play Bingo.
There would always be at least one good day for the beach. Dad knew them all, and had stories to tell about every one. He’d pull up to a stretch of beach, and we’d all pile out of the car. White sand stretched for what seemed like miles in either direction. If there was another single person in all of that space, Dad would shrug. “Crowded,” he’d say, “get back in the car, we’ll go someplace else.”
A trip to town would always mean a visit with Aunt Elsie, and Dad’s cousin, Catherine. We’d all sit silently around the table, while Dad chatted with his family. Sometimes, Mom and Dad would go into the “Beachcomber” bar, for a drink. Then, we were allowed to walk through town. With water on one side of the street, and little shops on the other, souvenir shopping seemed like an exotic experience.
Beaver Island always seemed like a magical place to me. I always dreamed of living here. Finally, as an adult, that dream came true. Oddly enough, when one is living here rather than just vacationing here, it’s actually quite a different experience. Wages are generally a little lower than they’d be for the same work on the mainland, and the cost of living is considerably higher. It’s hard to get ahead. Fortunately, even with the down-sides of real-life making a living, for me, this island has held on to the magic!