Tag Archives: King’s Highway

Spring is Here!

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Can you see it?

You have to really look for it, out here on the Fox Lake Road.

My yard still holds much evidence of the long winter.

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But this is Spring!

I can see it in the bare-earth muddy tracks in the driveway, that continue down my road and the next two…but then open on to the King’s Highway that is (I swear it!) bare pavement for the first time in months.

Inside, the heater is taking a rest, some days, when the sunshine warms the living space (I did not lose my home to the cost of heat!). A gigantic chunk  of snow and ice slid off my roof the other day (and the roof, now exposed, seems to be still intact!).

There is a small patch of bare ground outside the back door, reminding me of the chores left undone when cold winds and early snow interrupted. I could rake that little chunk of yard, and pick up the twigs, and have that one bit clear and all ready for the season.

If I look closely, in south-side corners and full-sun edges, I can see the daffodils pushing up through the frosty soil. I can see the leathery leaves, now, of five Rhododendrons that appear to have survived the Winter. My little cherry trees are loosening their branches, trapped so long under the deep snow, and lifting them up to the sunshine.

I have seen the robins outside my window. There is an old rotted log – too large to move – that sits at the edge of the yard. It must have insects in it, because the birds find it very attractive. Birdsong enlivens the evening air.

And the dogs know. The smells of Spring are out there, and they want to explore. A chipmunk (forbidden!) has started making his rounds of the yard and garden. The soup-like consistency of the snow will no longer support the weight of even my smallest dog, making chase impossible. Ah, well, there is a spot on the back porch where the snow has melted and the morning sun makes it warm enough for a dog’s nap.

And I know. From the lightening of my mood to the drag in my ambition, I recognize Spring Fever.

My friend Kevin (whose great blog is <www.nittygrittydirtman.wordpress.com>) said truly, “after all, little darling, in the words of Lennon, Harrison and McCartney, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.”

Finally, Spring is here!

Is This the End?

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I’m afraid it might be the end.

For my good little car.

I have a history of shabby, old, rattle-trap cars.

I had a Volkswagon Beetle once – a stick shift, before I knew how to drive a stick shift – that had no heat, no windshield wipers and no floor. Driving it down the freeway was like standing in 70 mile an hour winds. I’d wear everything I could, on winter days. I’d get off at Oglethorpe Drive to pick up my friend, Linda. She’d come running out with a grin, an afghan her mother had crocheted…and ski masks! If the tires from a passing truck doused us with slush, we’d have to pull immediately off the road to chip the ice off the windshield. The gas gauge didn’t work. We often had to be rescued from the side of the road, out of gas. I drove it to and from college classes in Flint for an entire year, jerking and stalling whenever I had to switch gears.

I had a Ford LTD that burned more oil than gas. With that car, I stopped at every single gas station I passed, and bought the sludge oil that had been drained from other cars during an oil change. This was back when you could get an oil change at most any gas station.

I had a truck the first winter my husband and I separated. It had wooden side rails on the back that would fall off into the street every time I went around a corner. Not completely off, so that I could consider abandoning them. No, the back corners were firmly attached, so that if I didn’t stop and re-load the rails, I would be dragging them alongside, like broken wings. That truck also had very poor brakes. Luckily, though, it also had a horn that would blast, loudly and without reason. My daughters like to tell the story of when the priest absent-mindedly stepped into the street in front of us. I started furiously pumping the brakes, but it didn’t look good. Then – because there is a godthe horn blasted, the priest looked up, broke into a run, and made it safely to the curb.

These are not the very worst vehicles I’ve owned, nor the most colorful. Just a random sampling.

One lousy car after another.

The car I’ve been driving for the last few years, though, has been an exception.

It has been good transportation, for about five years, now.

My friend, Ruth, and her husband, Jack, sold it to me.

It was neat as a pin, got excellent gas mileage and had a good engine.

It had one major flaw. The radio stations could not be tuned in. “I’ve got it on a station now,” Jack told me, “just don’t move the dial, and you’ll always have radio.” Great!

Five hundred dollars. Exactly my limit when looking to purchase a new car. Worth every penny!

It’s a stick-shift, and I now know how to drive one! It has front wheel drive, so gets around well on Beaver Island roads. I know for a fact it will hold at least nine adults when, after closing the bar, we decide it’s necessary to go out to the Port of St. James and climb Mount Pisgah. We tested it!

There have been expenses, of course. I had to have the heater fixed, and I bought a set of new tires before the first winter. I replaced the battery after a year or so. I spent almost a thousand dollars getting the brakes fixed, before they were finally really, truly fixed, but it now has some of the best brakes I’ve ever experienced!

There have been a few unfortunate incidents.

My grandson got mad at me – for a totally non-car-related reason – and deliberately (might I say maliciously?) spun the radio knobs. That was the end of the music.

My windshield wipers worked great for one year, then worked independently for the next two. That meant I had to stop frequently to disentangle them. When the passenger side wiper quit working altogether, I considered it a blessing.

Driving home from work one summer evening, a deer jumped in front of my car and I couldn’t avoid hitting it. The accident crumpled the hood, broke out most of the plastic grill and shattered the headlights. From that time on, the hood didn’t quite latch properly.

A few months later, driving down the King’s Highway, the hood flew up and wrapped itself around the windshield. I had experienced that several times before with a Subaru I’d owned, so it didn’t scare me as badly as it otherwise might have. In fact, it took a bit of the crumple out of the hood, though it was left with an upward slope that held quite a bit of water.

From that time on, the hood was secured with a length of rope, compliments of my friend, Laura.

I had, at that time, only one working headlamp, and it aimed directly into the treetops. I’m not often out past dark anyway, but when my sisters visited, that was not acceptable. The nice repair job – not really visible in the photo – involves three small blocks of wood, two new headlamps and a half roll of duct tape.

The very day I quit my job at the hardware store, the rope that secured my hood snapped in an extreme gust of wind, and again sent the hood flying up to the windshield. This time, the glass cracked – pretty severely in one corner, with a long crack at just below eye level across the front. It dented the roof of the car, and sent the rear view mirror flying. I whipped over to the roadside and reconfigured the rope. Good as new.

Except that, in snowy weather, the rope gets frozen in place, making it very difficult to check fluid levels. Regular maintenance gets neglected. The last time the oil light came on, it took me two days with an extension cord and my blow dryer just to get the rope off! What I found when I got under the hood was not good.

About that same time, my only remaining windshield wiper quit working.

That was followed by consultations with professionals and friends and a day trip to the mechanic’s shop for an oil change.

The rope has been replaced by a stainless steel bolt for a hood ornament, holding a slick black rubber bungee cord to secure the hood.

The wiper is fixed temporarily, but it needs a new motor. Dare I order it?

Sometimes it only takes an expensive new part or a full tank of gas to put the curse on a car.

We all had high hopes. It seemed to be working fine.

Then, leaving town last night after dinner and a movie (Eggplant Parmesan was terrific; “Argo” was sensational!), I had just rounded the corner onto the King’s Highway when lights started coming on.

Check Engine.

Oil.

Battery.

I lost power. The car shuddered, then stalled. It would not re-start.

It may be terminal.

Thank you, dear Liz, for picking me up from the roadside, and driving me all the way home.

Thank you, Tom, for giving me a lift to Aunt Katie’s this morning, so we could get to church.

Michelle and Deb, thank you so much for taking time this morning to push my car off the road!

Bob, thanks for the ride home after Mass.

Thank you, Laura, for offering me the use of your car while you’re on the mainland!

Thank you, Johnny B, for offering me the use of your vehicle – indefinitely – until I can get something else!

Thank you, Doug, for your willingness to go to town three full hours sooner than you’d planned, in order to see that I get to work on time!

Thank you, John R., for always being willing to help!

Finally, thank you, Aunt Katie, for calling just to check on me this evening, because you worried.

I was fully planning a self-pity extravaganza. I was well on my way.

I’m still a bit depressed over the condition of my car.

It’s the best car I ever owned!

Among the good people here, though, blessings abound! It seems you can be down…but you’re never down and out!

#24 Emma Jean

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I don’t decorate much for Christmas in recent years, but I always haul out all the old memories.

My friend, Emma Jean, has an important role in my memories of Christmases past.

I first met Emma Jean in 1978. I had just moved to Beaver Island with my family. Emma and I worked together as waitresses for the breakfast shift at the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant.

It was my first job as a server, and I took it seriously. I was a perfect example of the completely over the top and very annoying “Hi, my name is Cindy and I’ll be your waitress…” type. Combined with my clumsiness and ineptitude, I was quite a sight to behold.

Emma Jean, on the other hand, was very skilled at the job and a little bit famous for her “What the HELL do you want from me NOW?” greeting.

I’d see her rolling her eyes at me, or grumbling under her breath, or laughing out loud at my foibles.

As the year wore on, though (no-one was more surprised than I was!), I caught on to the job. Through busy mornings and kitchen disasters and after-shift cocktails, Emma Jean and I became friends.

She is #24 on the list of 60 Most Influential Women in My Life that I compiled for my sixtieth birthday. In my life, though, Emma Jean is invaluable.

And, in my family, she saved Christmas. Twice.

The first time was in perhaps 1981 or ’82. The island ferry had quit running early that year, and we were dependent on the planes for supplies. The weather conditions were such that the planes couldn’t fly…for days on end. At Christmas! The airport in Charlevoix was packed with groceries, gifts and people waiting to come to the island. Several of Emma Jean’s children were among them, as was my husband…with our Christmas turkey and all of Santa’s gifts. In the little apartment we were spending our winter in, we were facing a tree with few presents and a can of cream of mushroom soup.

On Christmas Eve, we gave up hope that the planes would fly. Emma Jean pulled out the food she’d planned for her family meals and started cooking. She called all the “strays”. Anyone that had been trying to go home for the holidays and couldn’t, anyone who’d been expecting family that didn’t get here, anyone that hadn’t ordered groceries early enough…all were on Emma Jean’s list of invited guests.

Emma Jean’s table had been extended to the limits of her small kitchen. Lace cloths covered the surface. Christmas lights twinkled and candles glowed. Bottles of wine and other spirits waited on the sideboard. Real crystal glassware. Her best china. Hors-d’oeuvres, salads, turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, several lovely side dishes and elegant desserts. Offered, as if we were the most important guests in the world, to a motley crew that included a group of course linemen from Mississippi, a young bartender, a group of rabbit hunters and…thankfully…myself and my two young daughters.

It was a wonderful meal filled with laughter and camaraderie.

We walked home, my girls and I, around the harbor, with the water at our side, a sky full of stars overhead and the church bells sounding for the midnight mass. I still think of it as one of the loveliest nights of my life.

The second time was just a couple years later. My husband and I had separated in late October, and started divorce proceedings. As the temperatures turned cold, staying in our house proved impossible. Faced with less than a cord of soft wood for heat and water that froze whenever the temperature dropped, my daughters and I moved into a motel room in town for the winter. I packed up the car with the bare necessities while Jen and Kate were at school. In a moment of hope and with a bit of extra space, I added the tote of holiday decorations.

I was angry and sad and broke. Add confused to that list to get of picture of my girls’ state of mind.

And yet, here was Christmas.

Emma Jean stopped one Saturday in early December, with the Shamrock truck, a large pruning saw and a brown bag of refreshments.

“Get your boots on, girls, and we’ll go get trees!”, she grinned. “We need two for the Shamrock: one for the dining room and one for the dance floor; two for my house: one inside, one outside…one will probably be enough for you here”, she said with a glance around our crowded room.

That was the start of our wonderful day.

We drove down the east side as far as it was plowed, and around McCauley Road to the King’s Highway, Paid Een Ogg Road to the West Side Drive, and on and on. Whenever a trail looked passable, we took it. Whenever a tree looked interesting, we stopped to check it from all angles. When we found a “keeper”, I was the one to shimmy under it and cut it down. Though I’d heard a lot of, “Don’t worry about who’s property it’s on, it’s one small tree…” from Emma Jean, when a car came down the road while I was, belly down, under an evergreen with the saw halfway through the trunk, Emma shouted, “Quick, into the bushes, girls, HIDE!” and they ducked for cover. If the driver of the vehicle had looked into the field, he would have seen a small tree swaying with my uncontrolled laughter.

By evening, we had dropped four trees off at their proper locations and were back in my little motel room setting up a fair-sized tree. I made hot chocolate; Emma Jean cracked a beer. I strung the lights. Then the ornaments came out.

“Show me”, Emma Jean said, and my daughters did, shyly at first, and ready to discount their offerings as worthless at the slightest indication.

“I made this one in Brownies when I was little” Jen shrugged, “It’s a tuna fish can with cloth glued to it.”

“I made this in Sister Marie’s class” Kate offered, “It’s a ring from a jar with yarn wrapped around it.”

Before they could finish their description, the sparkle of interest in Emma Jean’s eyes told them the items they held were of tremendous value.

“Bring that over here so I can get a better look…”

“Now tell me again, what? A canning jar lid? Amazing!”

One after the other the ornaments came out, and were described and discussed and marveled over. One memory at a time, we were integrating Christmas back into our lives.

“This one…”, a big sigh, “…I made it in kindergarten…it’s a lid from a margarine tub, and we cut out pictures from old Christmas cards and glued them on…”, another self deprecating shrug, “…then we put glitter all over it…”, another sigh. “I hate this one, really. I always want to hang it on the back of the tree where no one can see it. My Dad always says, “NO! I love that one! That has to hang in the front!”…”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Emma Jean asked, “So, where are you going to hang it this year, Honey?”

My daughter’s eyes went to the side, and there was a slight pause before her face brightened and she laughed out loud. We all joined her.

There, in that tiny motel room, with hot cocoa and beer and evergreen, and with tremendous thanks to Emma Jean, we started to learn how to move forward.

And that is how Emma Jean saved Christmas…twice.

Golden

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Color is a big topic up here on Beaver Island, in the Fall of the year.

People who want to come here to experience the colors ask, trying to plan their visit for the optimal time.

Folks who have seen the spectacular Autumn show in other years ask, to see how this year is shaping up in comparison.

People who live here talk about it, and report on their own experiences with the colors. If you’ve been up in a plane, or driven around the island, or stopped at Miller’s Marsh or Barney’s Lake, or if you’ve driven down the King’s Highway or Paid Een Ogg’s Road or the West Side Drive…you have something to talk about.

We tell of our experience to anyone who asks, assisting those who are trying to plan a trip or make a comparison.

We tell about it just for the sake of relating our own experience.

“Not as good as in other years…still pretty.”

“I’m not seeing those bright reds this year.”

“From the air, it looks like they’re at their peak!”

“Not so much contrast as we’ve had in the past.”

“Beautiful color around the Fox Lake area!”

“A little past their prime, but the colors are still pretty.”

Our colors reach their peak just a bit later than they do on the mainland, most years.

Weather makes a difference. The amount of moisture in the earth determines the intensity and longevity of the Autumn hues. A few days of wind or rain can strip the trees and change the color of the landscape entirely.

This year, the Autumn colors come to us after two very mild Winters and at least one dry Summer. They come when lake levels are down lower than anyone here can remember. They still show up, though we’ve had weeks of wind and rain.

The Fall colors are here!