Tag Archives: Lapeer

Life at Corner #16

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Kate and Jen, coloring Easter eggs, 1981

Living one year on Beaver Island had changed me. I had grown up. I had more confidence in myself. I was more comfortable with my life.

Before Beaver Island, I would beg my husband to take us somewhere (usually to his parent’s house for dinner and a few games of cards) two or three evenings a week, when he came home from work. Though I’m sure they got to the point of dreading our drop-in visits, now they were so rare, my in-laws even brought it up. Our relationship with them hadn’t changed.  I was just less needy.

We were busy, too. Our first year back seemed to fly by. Jen zipped through the second grade. She started third grade the same year that Kate started kindergarten. They were in swimming classes for part of the year, and ballet classes for part of the year. I was back in college, in Flint, with a full load of classes, and working as a server at the Big Boy restaurant in Lapeer. Terry traveled to Arkansas for a few weeks to help his cousin with a big job there. I wrote an essay for a national organization, and won an Honorable Mention. Sometimes, with a deadline for a drawing or painting class, I’d turn our kitchen into an art studio. For a few days, meals would be basic picnic fare, as I took over table and wall space for creative endeavors. We planted a big garden in the summers there. My sister, Cheryl, and I started bicycling together. Now and then, I babysat for her children.

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Easter morning, 1981

We had left Beaver Island with a stack of bills, and a packet of information on new land parcels for sale on Eagle Hill Drive. We intended to get caught up, then buy land, eventually put up a small house, and move back to the island with a secure place to live. It was a good plan, and we were making good progress on the stack of bills…when my husband fell off a roof.

Terry broke both arms and sprained a leg. We were lucky! It could have been much worse. With my restaurant tips now our main source of income, all plans slowed. Still, I continued to send little checks, five dollars here, ten dollars there, to the patient creditors on Beaver Island, to pay off our debts. Mrs. Chapman, whose husband had provided us with both gasoline and fuel oil, would always send nice receipts. “Thank you for the effort,” she’d write, “every little bit helps!” I continued, too, to put a little bit in a savings account every week, looking to the future.

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Jen, looking for eggs, Easter morning, 1981

 

Corner #16

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Cindy, in the kitchen at Corner #16, 1980

“Corner #16” was at the intersection of M24 and Burnside Road. My next address was 31 E.Burnside Road, just two buildings away from that intersection, in the back half of a duplex that was made of the building that was once the Deerfield Township Hall. The new Deerfield Township Hall, a big, modern building with a large, fenced parking lot, was across the road.

Our building was a long rectangle of cement blocks, painted in that pale green that is often associated with hospitals and other institutions. The large yard was fenced on three sides. On one side of our house was  a cute little residence where an older gentleman lived. He had a stash of “the good stuff,” he told us: the spray for insects that was now illegal. If we’d like, he could spray our yard, too. “No, thanks,” I told him, “I don’t mind the bugs.” He was friendly and kind to us, but I can’t remember his name or much of anything  about him except for the DDT. Past that house was Bryan’s Market, on the corner.

In the other direction, there was a drive with small houses lining it; more yards and houses and drives that led into little subdivisions continued down Burnside Road, with an occasional old farm house. My sister, Cheryl, lived down that way, in a nice home that looked out on a pasture.

Just a short drive south on M24, and off to the right was Sweet School, where Jen would start second grade. The school had classrooms for kindergarten through third grade; after that the students went in to North Branch for school. Its smaller size seemed perfect, as a transition from the Beaver Island School.

Continuing south on M24 would bring us to Lapeer, ten miles away. From there, it was about twenty miles to my college classes in Flint. North on M24 from our house would bring us to the highway leading into the village of North Branch. Though we were technically in Deerfield Township, our address was North Branch.

There were two sets of cement steps, and two doors on the driveway side of the building. The first door led to the front unit, where a young couple lived with their twin babies. The second door led into our new kitchen. It was a spacious, open room with a row of cabinets filling the far wall. The refrigerator was  straight ahead, on the wall that divided kitchen from living room. There was an old stove there, too, with only two working burners and no oven. For about the first eight months that we lived there, I used my electric frying pan to bake bread and rolls, lasagna, even birthday cake! The dining table fit nicely in the center of the room. At Christmastime, there was plenty of space for a large, decorated tree in there, too. I loved that kitchen!

Just to the left of the entry door, a wide passage led into the living room. Windows on both exterior walls all had deep sills, compliments of the concrete block construction, that were perfect for holding houseplants. A “front” door in that room led out to the back yard. It was the biggest living room I’d ever had, almost twenty feet in either direction.

Two doors on the far wall led into  bedrooms. For a home with such an expansive living space, the bedrooms were tiny. Their dimensions were, I’m guessing here, maybe 10′ x10′ with a closet carved out of one wall. A hallway to the right led to the bathroom, which also held the washer and dryer. A door at the end of the hall hid the hot water heater.

This was our new home!

 

The First (Upstairs) Court Street Apartment

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Well, when I was eighteen years and four and a half months old, I got married.

There was talk, young and poor as we were, that we would move in with my in-laws. I didn’t like that idea (though my in-laws were wonderful people!) and neither did my sister, Brenda. When everyone else was telling me there was no way we could find a place to rent with our meager income, Brenda was helping me scour the newspaper classified ads, to look for affordable rentals. She was helping me plan a reasonable budget. She made me excited about having my own place, and setting up my own household.

My soon-to-be husband made about ninety dollars a week working on the line at a small factory. I worked two days a week as a Nurse Aide at the hospital; it paid minimum wage. About a month before the wedding, we put a security deposit down, and paid first month’s rent for an odd little upstairs apartment on Court Street in Lapeer, Michigan. The rent was $105.00 a month, heat included.

The address, if memory serves, was 207B N. Court Street. It was two blocks away from the beautiful old Lapeer County Court House where sit-ins and other protests occasionally took place. It was across the street from Anrook Park, and walking distance to all of downtown. The building had been a large, Victorian duplex. It had a big front porch, heavy doors and etched glass in the transom windows. It had clearly been an impressive building, at one time. Not so much, in 1971, when we rented it.

At some point, the building had been divided into four apartments, with the bare minimum in adjustments. Our apartment had once been the upstairs bedrooms for one of the duplexes. That’s how it was laid out. When you crossed the porch and went through the entry door, you found yourself in a small foyer. To the right was a door that led into the downstairs apartment. Straight ahead was our door. There was barely enough space for it to swing open, and beyond it, immediately, were stairs going up.

At the top of the stairs, there was a long hall. Straight ahead, what had originally been a bedroom was now plumbed, wired and divided into an alcove that held the only sink, a kitchen and a bathroom. down the hall and off to the right was a large room with a walk in closet. Though it was clearly meant to be a bedroom, because of its close vicinity to the entry, we deemed it the living room. At the very end of the hall was the largest room; we used that as the bedroom.

The building had clearly settled over the years. The room that we called the living room had a two-foot drop from one side of the room to the other. The hallway tilted to the north and the west. The bathtub sat at a rakish angle that was most evident when filled. The walls were rough plaster covered with a variety of wallpapers. Floors were linoleum with old fashioned patterns. We thought it was all quite wonderful!

The kitchen was my favorite room. It had one of the few brand new furnishings: a small dining room set, purchased from the trailer factory outlet. Oval in shape, metal legs supported a dark brown wood-look top, and four gold vinyl chairs. The wallpaper in that room was a floral red, yellow and blue pattern on a cream ground. I hung my “Uncle Sam wants YOU” poster on the wall. I brought in the wedding gifts of daisy patterned melamine dishes, Teflon pans and CorningWare.  I had the cutest set of glasses: clear with red and white stripes around the bottom and blue stars around the top. My  father-in-law had picked them up at a country auction, and gave them to me when he saw that they went along with my color scheme.

I don’t have a single photograph of this apartment. I can picture it clearly in my mind, though, as if it was only yesterday that I tilted down that crooked hall!

 

Before I Move On…

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Back row, left to right: Cheryl, Sheila, Ted, Cindy, Brenda Front row, left to right: Nita, Robin, David, Amy

 

 

I’ve had dozens of addresses in my life so far. That is dozens of writing prompts, at my fingertips…just as soon as I leave Hunt Road. And I will. I have thought I was done with it, but then realized I wasn’t quite ready to go. There’s no sense in moving on until I’m finished here.
The house is wrapped in memories. I remember springtime, when it was warm enough to leave the big door open. Mom would gather us together, point out the hole in the screen, explain how we had to be careful to keep it blocked so bugs couldn’t get in, and then ceremoniously place a cotton ball in the hole. I remember summer baseball games in the backyard when, between our family, Brad, and Aunt Margaret’s family, we had a whole team! Sleepovers, pajama parties, sneaking out at night to meet our boyfriends…and in the blink of an eye we were grown and gone.

Back, though, for Sunday dinners often, and for holidays whenever possible. I have photos of my baby Jennifer and her cousin Alan each in one of the stainless steel sinks in the kitchen. When my youngest, Kate, had her first baby, we stopped at Mom and Dad’s on the way home from the hospital. Dad got tears in his eyes when Kate put Michael in his arms. He said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve held one this fresh!
I can’t leave Hunt Road, though, without bringing it up to the present. A few years ago, the old house was especially busy with visitors. My mother was dying, and we all wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. My sister Sheila, who was staying there to help care for Mom, died unexpectedly. That brought all of us together at once, to the house we’d grown up in, to mourn our sister’s passing, and to be with our mother, to make her as comfortable as we could, at the end of her life, in her own home. It was an awful time, but filled with blessings and joy, too. I cherish the memory of that hard time there; it changed me forever.
My brother, Ted, has moved in to the house on Hunt Road with his small family. He keeps a nice – though manageable – garden. He sometimes has good conversations with Dad, in the early morning hours. I understand that; I hear Dad’s voice, too, though he’s been gone for many years. The last time I stopped, Ted was going over the grounds with a metal detector. I’d bet there are some real treasures to be found there.

If memories are treasures, I’m absolutely sure of it!

Bringing the Farm to Hunt Road

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In the Garden, with Tomatoes Back row, left to right: Cindy, Ted, Brenda Front row, left to right: Sheila, Cheryl (hiding), Nita and Robin

My father grew up on a farm, here on Beaver Island. He knew first-hand about planting, growing and harvesting. He knew about animals.

We knew the stories. We heard about the bull that Dad could ride, about long days spent at the hot and itchy job of haying, about the tree that he’d sit under for shade when he’d take a break from plowing the field.

We knew that, as a teen and young adult, he’d worked on the ferry boat in the fall when they shipped the cattle across. His job was keeping the cows on their feet, no matter how rough the sea, because if they lay down, their stomachs would tangle and they’d die. That was accomplished by riding in the lower deck with the cows, and “jostling” them if they showed signs of leaning or falling.

When we visited the island, we saw the familiar places. We knew the horse barn, and the barn for the cows, with the lean-to attached where the sheep were kept. We saw the chicken coop, and the fenced path for leading the cattle to and from pasture. We knew the pig house, the granary and the wood shed.

I don’t think Dad intended to farm when he moved off the farm, to Lapeer, Michigan. He went to work with my grandfather, his father-in-law, and learned the electrical business from him.

It all started with a tiny plot at the back of our yard that Dad worked up, to show us how things grow. Nothing is so exciting to children as watching things spring from the ground where a seed was planted; nothing tastes as good as fresh-picked tomatoes, or raw peas from the pod. Dad loved our excitement and enthusiasm. Every year, the plot grew larger.

My grandparents home was on one side of our house; a widow named Magabelle owned the property on the other side. The land was bare, except for a small storage shed in the middle of it. Though ten years older, Magabelle was a good friend of my grandmother. She and my grandfather, however, were mortal enemies. Because of that, Magabelle had planted thorn bushes all along the border between her property and theirs. That part of the property became ours.  As children, we ran around bare-footed all summer long, and were constantly picking thorns out of the bottom of our feet.

After Grandpa died, Dad approached Magabelle about using her property for a large garden. She agreed. That’s when we started planting a quarter-acre every year.

Dad was not good about collecting money for electrical work, but he was pretty slick when it came to striking a bargain. One year, a truckload of manure was accepted as payment. Lumber, a piece of equipment or a load of wood chips might show up without warning. Dad used some spare lumber to build a small chicken coop. More to build a pig pen, shelter and feeding trough.

Eventually, Mom realized that we were going to starve to death if we were dependent on Dad collecting payment for services. She convinced him to take a job at the shop. Once Dad started working as an electrician at Chevrolet Manufacturing Company, farming became more than a hobby. Then it was life…life beyond work.

Dad worked second shift, and wasn’t home until midnight. Still, in the springtime, he was up every morning early and out on the tractor to get the garden ready. When it was harvest time, his lunch box was always full of samples for his co-workers: the hottest hot peppers, the freshest tomatoes, or the longest cucumbers. When company came to visit, Dad would walk them through the garden. Long distance competitions raged from Russell Green on Beaver Island to Peter “Doney” in Marlette to my Dad in Lapeer over whose corn was the highest, whose pumpkins the largest.

For us children, things were not as much fun. The garden was no longer something we did with Dad, it was something we had to answer for. Weeding and watering were our jobs: weeding in the morning, before the sun was too high; watering in the evenings, to soak in overnight. Mom didn’t dare let us slack off, or she’d be called on to explain why the weeds were overtaking the garden or the vines were dried out.

We couldn’t get attached to the animals. We’d get fifty sweet, fluffy chicks every spring, cull the roosters for fryers after a few weeks, keep the hens for eggs until late winter, then they were butchered, too. We’d get cute little pigs every spring, too, feed them corn that we’d gleaned from the fields, scraps from the table and excess from the garden. They would  go in the freezer, too, before the year was out.

Work on the “farm” was play for Dad; for us it was just work. By the time we were grown, most of us never wanted to set foot in a garden again.

And yet…the garden calls to me. In my adult life, I’ve never gone long without a garden. Maybe that’s how it was with Dad, too.

Next…

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I pulled a book off the shelf: What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. I bought it several years ago, with the intention of working my way through it, chapter by chapter. I did one blog about the first chapter, “First Lines,” then closed it, put it back on the shelf and never looked at it again until today.

I don’t remember being resentful or mad about it, like I’ve become over the 30-day Creative Fire journal. I just quit. There is a strong possibility that I am just a quitter when it comes to goals I set for myself. I could make quite a list of examples, if I’m ever called upon to do it!

Anyway, paging through the writing exercises in this book, I came across several that grabbed my attention. They don’t seem to have an answer in mind, but rather just suggest a topic, very open-ended, and say “write for twenty minutes on it” or “fill one page.” It seems like a pretty good book; I’m going to give it a try.

In a chapter titled “Who Are You? Somebody!” the authors draw from an essay by Richard Hugo, who suggests that in a world that tells us “individual differences do not exist” and that “our lives are unimportant,” writing teaches that “you are someone and you have a right to your life.” They then offer several topic suggestions. The first is this:

List in detail all the places you have lived…

That’s where I start.

3678 Hunt Road, Lapeer Michigan was my first address. That’s where I spent the first eighteen years of my life, in a house that my father built with his own hands, right next door to my grandparents.

The land was a wedding gift to my Mom and Dad, from my mother’s parents. They could not stand the thought of their only child moving far away, so they gave them a place to make a home. In the year my mother graduated high school, the yearbook predicted that “in 10 years…” she would be “married and living on a farm on Beaver Island raising a half-dozen children.” Instead, she got married the August after her  graduation, but stayed close to home. My mother was born in the little cottage that stood on the lot to the right of our house; she was raised in the house on the other side of ours, and spent the rest of her life in her own home between the two.

I’ve traveled farther from my starting place than my mother ever did, but I’ve always held it close to my heart. Any memories of place, though, start with the address next door, where my grandparents lived.

My grandparent’s house was a story and a half, cottage style, with a stone foundation, and curved cement steps leading up to the front door. Flat, colorful rocks were embedded in the cement, and formed interesting patterns on the surface. Cedar hedges stood on either side of the door. A snowball bush sat beside the driveway.

On the far side of the house, there was a separate, flat-roofed garage, and a small orchard beyond: three apple trees, one pear. The back yard had a grape arbor with benches inside, a garden spot and a big willow tree. On the side of the house closest to ours, there was a fenced area enclosing a cesspool where the washing machine drained.

A neatly trimmed hedge divided front yard from back. A birdhouse anchored the large flower bed in the front yard. It perched on top of tall, ladder-like trellises that enclosed climbing roses and were surrounded by peonies and other blooms.  Huge elm trees provided shade and created a park-like setting. A white bench sat under the big trees. It was constructed of flat panels, much like a church pew.

That’s the description, bare. It doesn’t speak to the feelings, the deep-seated memories, the warmth. The sound of the wind when it wheeled through the branches of the willow tree…the quiet shade provided by the grape arbor…the flowery shelter of the igloo-shaped snowball bush…the feel of trudging through deep autumn leaves…these stay with me. Grandpa Ted would sit on his white park bench when the weather was mild, and we’d wander across the yard to talk to him. I never remember a time when he wasn’t glad to see us. We were always welcome there.

The crackle of drying leaves underfoot, the smell of autumn fires or the springtime scent of peonies in bloom can, after all these years, still transport me right back to that place and time.

After the Party

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After days of covert travel and secretive blogging, I arrived at my sister Brenda’s house in Lapeer on Friday evening. She was surprised to see me.

“Your blog said you were going to Jen’s first!”

True. I told Brenda – on the phone – that I was coming to her house. In my blog, I said I was going to meet up with my daughter, to work on the news-magazine.

That’s because my sister Amy also reads my blog. If I had said I was coming to Lapeer, Amy’s suspicions – that her daughters were going to throw a surprise birthday party for her – would have been confirmed.

Actually, Amy’s surprise 50th birthday party was my sole reason for extending my travel beyond Aunt Katie’s doctor visits.

Since I’m here, I will get together with my daughter Jen to do some work on the Beacon. I’ll get out to see my daughter Kate’s new house in Clifford. I will stay for Thanksgiving. I thought I’d even get into North Branch yesterday, for my mother-in-law Pat’s surprise 80th birthday party…but weather got in the way of that.

Though big wintery clouds were constant, the weather was clear for my drive down-state. Yesterday morning there was just a dusting of snow. I planned to drive to Clifford, then to North Branch (the surprise was scheduled for 3PM there), then back to Lapeer to be at Amy’s party by six. We had visitors, so I didn’t get out of the house as early as planned. Then the snow started seriously piling up, accompanied by winds that kept the roads slick and the visibility low.

First I delayed going, then I decided not to try it at all. The first snow is always the worst for accidents, before we remember how to navigate through winter weather. I’d been on the road seven hours the day before, and wasn’t up for more, especially fighting through a snowstorm. I would have loved to give Pat my good wishes, but wasn’t crazy about being stranded with my ex-husband’s relatives. Finally, I couldn’t chance missing Amy’s party.

My other sisters – Robin and Cheryl – had arrived at Brenda’s shortly after I did on Friday. Cheryl thought we should do a “production number” to honor Amy. She had several ideas in the works, that we tossed around. We finally decided on “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” re-written to say “Aaamyyy…Don’t Let Age Get You Down,” with lyrics pertaining to her legendary forgetfulness (can’t blame that on age!) and the fact that all of us are older than she is. My grandson Brandon found the background music for us (“Make it really loud,” I told him…to drown out our poor singing voices and help to keep us on track). My brother-in-law Keith did a mid-night shopping run for poster board, glitter, ribbon and markers. We made a giant four-part birthday card, that we’d wear for our “performance.” As Cheryl left, she suggested we all arrive a little early, “for rehearsal.”

With snow piling up, we received phone calls throughout the day from cousins and friends that weren’t going to be able to make it. Keith came in shaking his head about the bad roads. Brenda accidentally exploded a whole spaghetti squash in the microwave oven: clean-up was necessary. Still, we all managed to be showered and dressed in reasonable time. The party was less than four miles away…no problem. Well, in Keith’s little hybrid car…on un-plowed roads…with snowfall of close to a foot, plus drifts…in a blinding snowstorm…that was a long four miles…ending with getting firmly stuck at the end of the driveway!

We made it though, and the party was wonderful. Amy seemed surprised and pleased by all of it. Our little production number went without a hitch except for our bright blushing faces.

Today, the storm is over. The snow has transformed the landscape into a beautiful winter wonderland, and I’m happy to be here with my family.

 

 

My Week Away…and Other Distractions

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The sun was shining yesterday, when I made my way home down the Fox Lake Road after a week away.

Today, it’s raining.

That’s fine with me, as I have work inside. I’m finding plenty of things to lead me away from the writing and other desk work I have to do; I can live without the further distractions of yard and garden.

After a day’s delay in leaving the island, several hours of waiting for the fog to clear for the flight to the mainland and a great deal of traffic and road work to make the drive a nerve-wracking one, I had a good time down-state. My sister,  Brenda, included me in her twice-a-week water aerobics class. Another sister, Cheryl, arranged for all of the sisters  – along with our friend, Joel – to play Pub Trivia one night. Another evening, we played Scrabble. I had good visits with each of my daughters. I received a beautiful hand-forged gift from Kate’s husband, my son-in-law, Jeremy. I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with Jennifer’s friend, Jamey. I met my two little great-granddaughters for the first time, and managed to get hugs and smiles from each of them. I spent a wonderful afternoon with Madeline and Tommy, wandering in and out of the galleries, bookstores and specialty shops that – along with a few good restaurants – have come to define downtown Lapeer, Michigan. I met the newest member of our family, my grand-niece Hannah, just ten days old. I had a nice visit with my brother, Ted. My brother-in-law, Keith, presented me with a pair of cowboy boots that he found for a price he couldn’t pass up. They fit me perfectly! The week was filled with walking and shopping, and lots of catching-up. There were meals out and meals in, all wonderful, and even better for the companionship and lively conversation. .It was a good week!

Now, it’s time to get back to work.

I made a pot of coffee and turned the computer on first thing, ready to get at it.

And yet…

The little dog reminds me frequently that – after a week alone in the kennel – she needs attention. Rosa Parks is a very social animal, and this was her first trip to the boarders without Clover to share her space. Dropping her off alone was traumatic for me (I saw none of the usual tail-wagging when we got there) and I’m thinking it seemed like a long, lonely week for her. When she wants attention, I indulge her; I was lonesome for her, too.

I have made several trips to the laundry room, to keep things moving there.

I’ve paused more than once to page through new reading material – books and magazines – that came home with me.

I called to check balances on each of my credit cards, to assess my spending habits while away.

I threw out a bouquet of long-dead tulips and watered my houseplants.

I went through a stack of mail, made a grocery list, answered a few Emails and returned a couple telephone calls.

I balanced my checkbook.

Then, it seemed of absolute necessity to report here, on my trip.

That’s it…I’m done! It’s time to get down to work…just as soon as I put those clothes in the dryer.

Dressing the Beaver

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One hundred years ago (or so it seems), I attended Bishop Kelly Memorial School in Lapeer, Michigan.

Our teachers were nuns. Our nuns were Dominicans.

They wore habits of white and black. Their only embellishment was the long, black rosary that hung from their belt.

No patent leather.

No plaid.

No mohair.

On the deep windowsill of the elementary classroom sat a small statue of the Christ child. About eighteen inches tall, with porcelain features and outstretched arms, I believe it was “the Infant of Prague”. Not a newborn baby Jesus, but a toddler sized version, with a kind little face and sweet blond curls.

The very best thing about the Christ statue was that he had different outfits. Though he looked to be made of the same material as any statue, it seems he must have had some flexibility in his joints, because his clothes could be changed.

There were lacy and shimmery robes of velvet or satin with gold and silver embroidery. Tiny, precious beads and crowns. A gold necklace with a large, glowing jewel. The colors seemed to coordinate with what the priest was wearing at Mass. I’m sure there was seasonal significance, with special robes for Lent or Advent or Epiphany.

As a child, it just seemed glorious to come in and see the Christ Child in new colors. I pictured the nuns sitting around in their drab but well-pressed habits, trying one outfit after another on the little statue until they were satisfied. I imagined their glee when He finally looked just right.

When I started working at the hardware store more than ten years ago, I knew nothing about the business. I was unfamiliar with the computer system they used for purchases, ordering and inventory. I was ignorant about plumbing and electrical methods or materials. I had not yet learned about paint and caulk and nuts and bolts.

As I learned, I made myself useful doing what I knew.

I cleaned the rugs and swept around the fixtures in the front of the store. I went down the aisles with the big push broom and then the mop and bucket. I cleaned the pavement outside with snow shovel or rake or broom, depending on the season.

It wasn’t especially rewarding, but it made me a valued employee. I was willing to work every single weekend, and do the grunt work. It ensured that I would keep my job long enough to become good at it.

Still, I looked for creative outlet.

As the morning server at the Shamrock, I’d been known for my “Specials” board. In addition to posting the daily specials, soup of the day and dessert offerings, I added birthday wishes for my morning regulars, sketches of the weather, and caricatures of my customers. When people marveled over it, I’d say, “Oh, thanks…thirteen years of art school, twenty thousand dollars in student loans…I can do a pretty good specials board.”

At the hardware store, I set my sights on the beaver. As tall as me and three times as round, the beaver stands on a fleecy log inside the entrance. When I started working there, he was just a greeter. He wore a simple work apron. A sign hung around his neck saying “Hi, I’m Bucky Beaver! If you need help, ask someone dressed like me…” or some such nonsense.

What is the thing, by the way, with all beavers being named “Bucky” and all dachshunds having a name reflecting the fact that they look like a sausage?? Aren’t we glad that we, as humans, aren’t named for our most obvious physical feature?

Anyway, I adopted the beaver as my creative outlet. In my mind, his name is now something a little less about the teeth and more about respecting his gender-variable status. Maybe Lance.

I watched the re-sale shop for items that might appeal to him, in the triple-X size. I stitched fabrics together at home. I fashioned costumes out of plastic trash bags and foil gift wrap and poster board. I put together a box – labelled “Beaver-Wear” – of all of his costumes.

I dressed him for the seasons the way the nuns used to dress the Baby Jesus.

Maybe even a bit more flamboyantly.

For New Years, the beaver is a middle-aged drunken version of Baby New Year, with a glittery sash marking the year, an off-kilter crown and curled-ribbon confetti.

He has worn a stove pipe hat for President’s Day.

He’s the cutest, furry Cupid for Valentine’s Day…and on, and on.

I like to think it makes people a little giddy to see him re-dressed, the way I used to feel coming in to the classroom (one hundred years ago).

I know it makes folks smile.

I left the hardware last Spring – just about the time I got really good at it – and moved on to other things.

I re-learned jobs that I used to excel at before computers entered the picture. I found that – though I may be an old waitress – I am not too old to do the job. I set my sights higher, when other careers opened up. I kept going.

The beaver looked a little sad, whenever I stopped in.

He wore a camo jacket that the owner bought just for him, and put on a jaunty hat for St. Patrick’s Day…but the flair just wasn’t there.

I am back now, just temporarily, working one day a week at the hardware store…to supplement my income in the off-season.

Yesterday, I dressed the beaver up for Easter.

Isn’t life grand?

Reassessing 2012

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I’m thinking I may have been a bit hard on 2012.

I spoke of bad luck and hard times, and how sadly it fell short of my expectations.

How audacious of me, anyway, to decide that 2012 or, for that matter, any year – a man-made measurement of time – was going to be “my best year yet”.

I spoke it in hopefulness, and in the spirit of manifestation (which sounds, as I write it here, a bit like a plague!). I was opening myself up to wonderful things.

It turns out, I was opening myself up to disappointment.

How could any year compete with the golden years that live in my memories?

Jennifer’s second year:  we tilled up a section at the back of the driveway at the little house near the lake, and planted a tiny garden and she learned the joy of growing things; I took pictures every day of my beautiful daughter…trying on her Daddy’s work boots or in her Halloween costume, with her puppy or her plate of freshly-dug nightcrawlers; I sewed sundresses for her, and made seed mosaics and bead curtains and crocheted slippers; it seems like we walked down to the water every single day…

Katey’s first year: at the townhouse in Lapeer, my perfect little family; two daughters in the bathtub, two daughters getting tucked in at night; with Katey in the stroller, we’d go to the park…Jen would walk ’til she was tired, then she’d stand on the axle and ride along; I learned to cook Chinese food and started taking college courses. My husband would play his guitar in the evenings and my daughters laughed and sang…

That first year here on Beaver Island: the heart-stopping, joyous rush every time I rounded the corner into town and was faced with the harbor view; the seasons, each one a new adventure…When a tree fell in a storm that first winter and crushed our car, my husband and I looked at it, turned to each other, grinned and said – in unison – “Firewood!”

But, you see, I’ve forgotten all the bad parts, of all the good years.

Since my memory is selective, there is no competition.

Held up to my standard of “best year yet,” of course last year fell short.

By any other standard, 2012 was a good year.

In my family, we had weddings and births, new houses and new jobs.

In February, my sisters and I went to Florida together for a wonderful vacation. Three sisters, three nieces and I went to Chicago for a lovely Mother’s Day weekend. Three of my grandchildren and my daughter, Jen, came here for a week-long visit in July. Family and friends came to help me celebrate my birthday in August. Other friends came, through the season.

I quit my job in 2012! I could write a litany of difficulties it has caused in my life, but the bottom-line is, I enjoy what I’m doing and I feel good about it.

I have consistently written and posted these blogs through all of the past year. Knowing my habits, I know better than anyone what a huge accomplishment that is, all by itself. On top of that, it has introduced me to a world of good writers, of old and new friends, of support and love and mutual admiration.

I walked every day in 2012.

I laughed every day in 2012.

Looking at it now (eight days past), 2012 was a very good year.