Tag Archives: Kate

Back to North Branch


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I didn’t ever plan on getting divorced. That wasn’t how I’d intended for things to go. I didn’t know what to expect, from myself or others. “Divorcee” had never seemed like a particularly flattering term, and I was uncomfortable with it. That first winter, my girls and I lived in two rooms at the Erin Motel. They walked to school, came home, did homework and chores, and struggled with the state of our family. They missed their Dad. I walked back and forth across the street, from home to work. Sometimes, after my morning coffee drinkers left for their jobs, I’d weep in the empty restaurant until it was time to pull myself together to serve the lunch crowd. I was constantly worried, always broke, often lonely. We just kept going through the motions…until we couldn’t stand it any longer.

In the middle of  February, we moved off the island, and back to North Branch. My in-laws had helped me find a house to rent there, and they would put me to work in their restaurant. Though they weren’t happy about the situation between me and their son, they never abandoned me. They were always helpful, always supportive. The house I rented, on Huron Street in the town of North Branch, was listed for sale; it was only available for rent until a buyer came along.  Before I left the island, my in-laws bought it, so I’d be renting from them and wouldn’t have to worry about losing my home if it were to sell.

The house was an older structure on the sidewalk lined main street, just a few blocks from the shops and restaurants downtown. It was not far from the railroad tracks, and across from a small park. The front door led into a small foyer that opened into the living room. There were windows on the left, that looked out onto a driveway, alley or side street (I can’t remember!). On the right were two doors leading into bedrooms. A doorway at the back led into the kitchen. I believe there was a back porch, possibly screened in, and a basement, too, though I don’t think i ever used either one. We only stayed until spring.

The girls were able to see their Dad on a regular basis. It did them good to be closer to grandparents and other family, too, to ease the transition. My in-laws owned a restaurant that specialized in pizza, but served three meals a day. My mother-in-law ran the business. She put me right to work, and was a great boss. I walked to and from work. When I had a dollar or two to spend, I’d stop at the flower shop on the corner and buy a single carnation to brighten my day. When I could get a ride, we’d go to my Mom and Dad’s house for Sunday dinner. That winter, I completed registration and other paperwork to start at Michigan State University. My plan was this: we’d spend the summer back on Beaver Island, getting things in order there, then move to a family housing apartment on campus in the fall. “That will be our last move,” I told my daughters, “we’ll stay there until you finish school.”


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.


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.


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.

…And What Happened There


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Trying to get materials for our house, struggling to pay for things like septic system, plumbing and electricity, Terry and I both put in a lot of hours at work when we moved back to Beaver Island. At one point, in the first summer we were back, I was doing laundry at the Beaver Island Lodge, waiting tables at the Shamrock and helping with a small gallery on the harbor. Terry worked for Cashman, then took side jobs helping at Wojan’s Mill and left the island to work down state when the money was right. It would have worked, still, if we had worked as partners.

Our marriage was in a state of disrepair most of the time. Many times, Mary Therese would come up the stairs from the apartment below us, under the guise of asking for rent but generally because she heard our arguing. Terry was a big wall-pounder and door slammer; harder to admit is my own part in it. I was the worst-tempered of all my mother’s children. I thought I had out-grown it…but then we’d have an argument. Terry’s rages were fueled mainly by alcoholism, whether by drinking or wanting an excuse to drink. Mine were just meanness and self-righteous indignation.

In his defense, Terry was always one of the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever known. Now, sober for many years, he has a nice wife and a good life. He’s a devoted father to all of his children. Alcoholism is a disease that affected both of our families. Though my mother was a teetotaler and I have never been much of a drinker, I’m sure my reactions to Terry’s problem hurt more than it helped most of the time. I hesitate to bring up a past that can’t be altered…but this is my history, too.

The night I made these drawings of my girls, I was working the closing shift, from 8PM until 3AM. Terry was supposed to be home with the girls. He left them to come out to the bar. When he left there a few hours later, he assured me he was going home. At two in the morning, as I was locking the doors , a friend stopped in to tell me she had our car. Terry had driven it to the south end of the island for a house party. My friend lost her ride and wanted to get home. Terry told her to take the car.

I finished my closing duties and walked home. There were my girls, alone in the apartment as they had been all night. Jen was on the couch, Kate on the floor beside her, where they had fallen asleep in front of the television. Their sweet, innocence brought me to tears. What were we doing? Where was this leading? When did work and drink replace bedtime stories? These were the thoughts that filled my head and broke my heart as I wound down with a cup of tea while I sketched my precious daughters. Then I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning to Terry telling the girls, “Do not – under any circumstances – wake up your mother!!” Then, under his breath as he went out the door, “I’ve gotta find the #@(%$!# car!”

Back to Beaver

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The farmhouse on Beaver Island, circa. 1982

It was in the early spring that we moved back to Beaver Island.

Now, springtime on Beaver Island is beautiful. Just like in every other place that experiences winter, spring is welcomed. However, when you haven’t been on Beaver Island for the winter, to experience the transition from extremely cold to not quite so bad…when you come here from a place three hundred miles south, where the grass is already green and the flowers are already blooming…when you land on Beaver Island right in the middle of what the local folks call “mud season” and before the temperatures have risen above 50 degrees (even colder at night!), this is not a pleasant place.

That is what we did, and that is where we found ourselves: in a pretty dreary place.

Our property was not yet paid off; our house was still in the planning stages. The well that was included in the price of our land was not even started. We moved, again, into the family farmhouse.  The girls were switching schools near the end of a school year, with little time to make new friends or get into the swing of classroom activities. Terry’s job was, in fact, still several weeks away from beginning. The Shamrock was in the process of changing hands, and still a month away from looking for summer help. We almost immediately regretted turning our lives upside-down without better preparation.

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Jennifer, trying to keep warm in the living room of the farmhouse

We spent long days driving around on muddy roads, searching for a bit of green, keeping watch for downed trees that we could cut up for firewood. Evenings were spent drawing and re-drawing plans for our house, lining up help and materials and planning the sequence of activities to get a structure up. Until we started working, and generating some income, of course everything was on hold.

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Me, walking the property

Reality was affecting our house plans, too. We couldn’t possibly get our house up in time to move into it before the next winter. Every single thing was costing more than expected. We had to bring electricity down the Fox Lake Road. Even when sharing that expense with the man who had sold us our land, and who owned the property adjacent to ours on the north, it was still going to be a huge out-of-pocket expense. Septic system, plumbing, wiring…we were quickly overwhelmed.

Our house plans were modest: a 28′ x 28′ story and a half structure with a basement and a detached garage. Three bedrooms, one bath. We planned board and batten siding and simple finishes throughout. The house would be laid out to take best advantage of the sun; solar panels on the roof would help with energy costs. A central wood stove would provide heat. No matter how we looked at it, it was still impossible, with our time and money constraints that year.

When given the choice of putting in the basement or putting up the garage – to live in either while we finished the house – I chose the garage. I am eternally thankful that I did, as that is the structure I am still living in today. If I had chosen the basement, I may have been living underground all of these years!

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the stakes set, for the cement slab foundation for the garage

Changing Direction

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Me, at my Mom and Dad’s house, Easter Sunday, 1982

When I sold the gallery in Lapeer, I bought myself a one-year membership in a new health spa on the main street. My girls were in school, in brownies and girl scouts, swimming and other extracurricular activities. My husband was taking night classes and had finished requirements for his contractor’s license. Our families all lived near by. We were vested in the area.

We talked about moving as far away as Schwartz Creek, so that I could pursue further education at Michigan State University in East Lansing. That city was about halfway between my husband’s job in Lapeer, and where my college courses would be. We would each have about a thirty-five mile drive. More fair than one of us having to commute the whole distance. It didn’t make a lot of sense, though. Our children would have to change schools…and if something happened where we were needed right away, both Terry or I would be thirty-five miles away, in different directions. That wasn’t fair to them. On top of that, unreliable cars and Michigan winters kept all of this in the discussion stage.

My husband continued to spend several weeks each year in Arkansas, working with his cousin on various projects. He continued to drink too much. Side effects were getting worse. One night, he came home and drove right into the door of the garage, doing extensive damage to it, and his vehicle. One morning, he woke me up early. Pale and shaken, he told me he had hit something the night before. He didn’t know what. He couldn’t have said whether it was an object or a person. I drove him down the dirt roads, following the erratic tire tracks that showed his weaving path home, until we came to the mailbox that he had mowed down. He made reparations; he swore he would change. Still, he kept on drinking.

Early one spring, my husband got a call  from Bill Cashman on Beaver Island. He had several jobs going; he could use Terry’s help. He knew we were buying land on the island…would we consider coming back right away?

“This could be the best thing for us,” he said,”A change of scenery, a different lifestyle, work that I can count on…”

“That could do it for us,” he said, “There, I can do better.”

Well, my heart was never far from Beaver Island. We’d had a direction; we were working from a plan. We all know what they say about the best-laid plans. So it was that we again packed up our household, and shortly after Easter in the spring of 1982, we headed back to Beaver Island.

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Hitting the Wall



Isn’t this the most beautiful baby?? My newest little great-grandchild, Lincoln…I’m so glad I had the chance to meet him!

I had never been to the east coast before, either. I have always wanted to see New England, so this was a great opportunity. My daughter and her family were fantastic travel companions. The trip there and back was tiring but fun; the time spent with Michael, Samantha and this new baby was a treat. All of our side adventures were memorable. I don’t regret a thing.


Back from Connecticut, one night in Lapeer, then a four hour drive to Charlevoix, a twenty minute plane ride to Beaver Island, a rush to go pick up my little dog, then home.

The next day, it was back to work. Plus attend a meeting, mid-morning, at the Community Center, pick up a week’s worth of mail at the post office and collect my luggage – which arrived a day later than I did to Beaver Island – from the airport. In the evening, three hours of computer work regarding the news-magazine, then bed.

Yesterday, up early to write my blog, nine hours at the hardware and  a visit with Aunt Katie before going home. There, I had a stack of subscription renewals and address changes to enter into the database, several phone calls to return, one story to rewrite for length, my personal bills to pay, two bank deposits to prepare, laundry, play with Rosa Parks, then bed.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that vacations – no matter how joyous – are exhausting!

I’m so tired!

I have this day and two more to work at the hardware before I have a day off. I am also in the thick of trying to get one issue of my magazine to the printer, and the next issue plotted out and written.

Today, for my daily writing, this is it. I have hit the wall. A complaints list…a bit of whining…that’s all I’ve got this morning.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig


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It was wonderful to get away!

I had good visits with two of my sisters, both of my daughters and three of my grandchildren…plus quality time with Lincoln Phillip, my tiny new great-grandson.

I waited at the airport on Beaver Island for more than four hours with a driving snowstorm going on outside, before finally making my way to Charlevoix. The flight was good, Charlevoix was clear, and the four hour drive was uneventful. That was Tuesday.

On Thursday I met up with the Clark family: my daughter, Kate; her husband, Jeremy; their two youngest children, Madeline and Tommy. They would be my traveling companions for the next several days. We were headed for Connecticut to visit with Kate’s oldest son, Michael, and his little family.

I hadn’t seen Michael in a couple years. I had not yet met his girlfriend, Samantha. They had recently added a new family member, that we were all excited to meet.

The drive was long, but good. There was plenty to see (except in Ohio, of course) and lots to talk about. Kate and I had each brought stories to read aloud. She brought a short story collection by Steven King; I brought essays by Evan S. Connell. We played travel games; we napped.

Jeremy is a good driver. He doesn’t get nervous, or angry, or impatient. He can change lanes quickly and safely when needed, and he doesn’t mind if we miss an exit and have to backtrack. He doesn’t get agitated when a passenger (me) audibly sucks in her breath or says, “Oh, shit!!” or “Yikes!” or “Look out!” He doesn’t mind stopping for rest rooms or hunger. He doesn’t seem to mind driving for hours on end through pouring rain.

Kate is a fantastic navigator. She was in charge of the map, directing the driver. She had the trip plotted out ahead of time. Kate helped us avoid areas that were costly or that would slow us down, but she also was on the lookout for areas of interest that we might want to see. She could tell us how far we’d gone, how far yet to go and what our elevation was at any given time. When we crossed a bridge, she’d tell us the body of water. When we came to a new state sign, we cheered.

We had a lovely visit with my grandson and his family (I’ll devote a separate post to that).

We took a slightly different route back to Michigan, to change the view. We made a couple detours and stops to enrich the experience.

I spent Monday night back at my sister Brenda’s house, and drove back to Charlevoix Tuesday. I caught the last flight of the day, went to pick up my little dog and came home.

Happy to get away…so glad to be home!




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Yesterday was crazy.

My list was long and diverse.

I had to “copy and paste” several blog entries to Wordpad, and mail them to myself so that I could print them out when I was in town (I no longer have a printer). Then I had to take them to the Community Center to read them into a microphone, to be broadcast on our little radio station (WVBI…”the voice of Beaver Island,” found on Beaver Island at 100.1 FM, and worldwide at http://www.wvbi.net). My appointment was at noon.

By two o’clock, I had to be at the County garage, to catch up with the head of our road crew. I interviewed him for the news magazine, and wanted to give him the chance to correct any fallacies in the article before we go to press.

I had laundry to finish: dark clothes in the dryer to be folded; towels to be dried.

Clean house, keeping in mind that whatever I neglect will be there, a black mark on my happy homecoming, when I get back next week.

Because, yes, I am traveling. I’m going to Connecticut, to introduce myself to my tiny new great-grandson, Lincoln, to see the parents: my oldest grandson, Michael, and his love, Samantha. Grandchildren Madeline and Tommy will be there for good company on the long drive. My daughter Kate and her husband Jeremy will share the driving, so I don’t have to worry about that.

Good thing, as I had enough to worry about!

I had to pack – secretly, so the little dog wouldn’t notice – clothes for this variable weather (which means layers!) that would be suitable for out to dinner or other excursions, comfortable for travel, plentiful enough so I won’t have to consider laundry and compact enough to fit into one small suitcase. Then, of course, there are the other rules for clothing: nothing binding; doesn’t make me look fat, or short; doesn’t make me look old trying to look youthful…but doesn’t look like grandmother clothes. Finally, everything must match, or at least coordinate, so that I can make last minute variations to planned outfits.

Then there is everything else that needs to come with me. Credit cards (check balances beforehand!), books, notebook, camera, sketchpad. Appropriate writing instruments. Yarn and crochet hooks, because I am at the last possible moment finishing a gift for the new baby. Medicine. Make-up. A special reminder to remember tweezers and the small magnifying mirror, as it is discouraging to have that annoying chin whisker make an appearance when I am hundreds of miles from home.

I had to spend time with sweet Rosa Parks, who will (my heart breaks) spend the next seven days in the doggie kennel. I had to give her lots of loving attention, without being so over-the-top that she’d know something was going on. Because I cannot tolerate those sad eyes, that reproachful stare…

I had to schedule my flight and call my sister with an approximate time of arrival. I’ll have an overnight at her house before we head out.

I had to take time to see Aunt Katie, to bring her up to date on my travel itinerary, get the car keys and last minute instructions.

I had to figure out my blog. At this time, I am toggling between two computers. The archaic one, that is about to become obsolete, is the one I understand. I can easily download pictures onto it, I know how to hook the scanner to it, and I can predict it’s behavior. The new one, which I’m sure is capable of doing everything the other one does, is still alien to me. I don’t know how to download photos from my camera; I’m not sure how it works with the scanner; the keys often seem to be a little bit off to the left. Foolish to pack two computers, when even one may not fit in the car for the trip.

I worried I wouldn’t find opportunity to write.  Do I want to pull away from rare enough time with loved ones to get my daily blog published? Do I want to shelve it for a week? The answer to both is NO! One solution I thought of was writing a weeks worth of blogs before I left. That might have been workable if I’d thought of it before my last – too busy already – day at home. So, I’m going to compromise.

First, I am putting the address series on hold until I get back. We’ll just pause, at Corner #16, with no great drama, until I’m back home. I loaded a bunch of photos to the WordPress site, so I’ll have access to them when I’m away. I am cutting corners: while I’m traveling, these 500-words-a-day are not going to happen. But I’ll still check in with a daily post.

So, that’s how yesterday went, full of worry and preparation.

Today, I’m off!