The Knuckle to the Thumb Tour

Where was I?  Oh yes, boarding a plane in Myrtle Beach.

The teenage gentleman sitting in front of me has his seat reclined before I got to mine, so it was a bit uncomfortable, especially since everything I had with me was under his seat.  I was a little miffed at his obvious lack of courtesy (it’s a 2 hour plane ride! Geez!).  I  ignored all this by reading my current book, Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.  When I got up to let my seatmate out, he saw the book in my hand and said, “Thoreau.  Nice.” with a head bob of approval.  It made me smile and completely forget he was more in my aisle than his.

Once on the terra firma of Illinois, my mom met me at the airport as we headed back to the old homestead.  We had  big dinner of steak and potatoes complete with my entire family plus future brother-in-law and my “aunt” who is really an old family friend.  Even better?  After dinner my sister showed me how to correctly apply eye make up and gave me a bunch of make up supplies!  Wow!  I’ve been experimenting with eye color and technique and am so thankful she showed me the ropes.  I had been correcting her papers for college (my sister: “Was there a lot of mistakes?”  me: ::head hits wall::) and after the 1st one with literately line by line corrections, her writing improved to just polishing what she had written.  I even asked her, “Where have you been all my life?”  It’s so weird we’re close now that there are 5 states between us, but when we lived near each other we rarely spoke.

Mom and I left the house at 5am the next morning.  Everything went fine until we got here.  And that’s when the trouble began.

Afew miles over zee boarder, there’s a new casino.  I’ve only been to casino once and I was 19….so, needless to say, at 0630, we were seated at slot machines.  And losing.  I highly suggest hitting up Four Winds Casino – it was quite the nifty place. I had no idea what I was doing, so some of it was lack of experience; some of it was sheer bad luck.  Next time, Gadget, next time!  When all was said and done, I lost $15.  I’m a bad influence.

We stopped in Paw Paw for coffee at That Coffee Place, which was across the street from St. Julien Winery.  OMG.  Michigan wine rocks.  I bought some for the General!  Their Blue Heron wine goes nicely with his tattoo of his totem.

Our 1st planned adventure was the Detroit Public Library special collections downtown for some genealogy research.  I didn’t hit the jackpot, but I was more successful at the library than I was at the casino (such is the life of a former honor student, eh?).  I found some more leads, figured out who some people where, and now I have a few more boxes filled out on the tree.  And I know which church they attended.

After staying the night at a 4 star hotel (my mom is an anti-camper), we headed up north for the thumb portion of our tour to Port Austin.  This was the place my family vacationed year after year when we were kids.  It seems so small now, after walking around downtown.  I guess I’ve seen more of the world since I was 17.  I bought a mood ring while I was there.  Ah, the simple joy of being a kid for a moment again.  This place is especially important to me on my spiritual journey: I accepted Christ here in July 1998.

We headed for the old cottage on Lake Huron to meet up with my second cousin, Austin, who had just lost his wife.  It was so good to see him again.  We headed out the the lake, sat around talking, and eventually headed out to dinner in the sleep small town of Pigeon.

It really made me homesick. I miss the small farm towns.  It was so wonderful, I wish I could have bottled it up to relive it every so often.  I love my ocean, but I found my heart longing for the homeland and snow accumulation.  We ate at the Main Street Cafe and Bakery – I had sauteed perch.  I love me some perch. You can’t get it down south.  For desert, their chocolate cream pie was out of this world.  Wow.  We came back to the cottage for wine and more laughter.  It was a good time.  The weirdest part?  “Austin, you have a message,” I said as his answering machine was blinking.  “I do?  Oh,” he said.  “I think I know who it is.”  Sure enough, it was an old message from Bea, his dead wife, letting him know where she heard the best fishing spots were that morning.  And to call her once he made it up to the cottage so she wouldn’t worry.  54 years of marriage and they were the best of friends.  I can only hope the General and I are like that in our upper years.

We left early afternoon the next day after farm fresh eggs and recently slaughtered bacon from the butcher up the road.  Amazing. We sat and talked some more and hit the lake one more time.  I was amazed at how far out I could walk (about 200 feet) and not have to worry about the current.  While the love of the lake will always be in my soul, my heart lies in the ocean now.  I’ll take my rolling waves and salt water over a lake.  Never thought that would happen!

Mom and I headed to our next adventure: Frankenmuth, Michigan.  It’s this cute little tourist town of German culture – shops, german family restaurants with chicken recipes that will make your mouth water.  Mom and I walked around and eventually ended up at one of their flagship stores, Bronner’s – a store that has wall to wall Christmas stuff – and it’s as big as 2.5 football fields.  Oh yeah!  As someone who suffers from OBD, Ornament Buying Disorder, this place is like a keg party to an alcoholic.  It’s a Christian run organization, slightly expensive, but it has everything Christmas.  Seriously.  There were even bulbs hailing my medical profession!  You can order stuff online, too — that was information I probably didn’t need to know.  I have 3 new bulbs this year to hang on the tree — and I have a feeling there might be more.

After Frankenmuth, we hightailed it back to the Motor City burbs.  The next day was the day I had been waiting for all week.

Mom and I went back to her hometown: Grosse Pointe.  For those of you familiar with Wilmington, Grosse Pointe is like the more affluent older brother of the Mayfaire/Landfall area.  These people had money.  And extremely large boats.  And manicured lawns that would make a Landfall member green with jealously.  It was 30 years since Mom had been there – and 30 for me too.  I was an infant the last time I was there.  My mom was born here and moved away in 1972, in her early 20’s, as my grandparents relocated to the burbs because of work and my grandfather’s heart health.  We parked the car on her old street by the house and walked around the neighborhood as Mom pointed out things as she relived her childhood memories.  We grabbed lunch at a local cafe, went down by her old high school, grabbed wine down at “The Hill” – the cute shopping district.  We also stopped at the church where my ancestors worshiped: everyone on the line I am researching had this church mentioned in their obituary.  While it was closed and the lady who did all the historical stuff was gone for the week, the kind gentleman cutting the lawn gave us a church directory.  Inside, it has the brother and sister from one of the branches I was looking for!!!  Sure enough, they’re still in the area and I have addresses and phone numbers.  I am going to write them and include a early 1900’s picture of her grandparents with her dad as a baby.  Next on my list is to contact the lady who runs the historical records – she’s in her 90’s and may have even known some of my great grand aunts and uncles!

The best part of the trip was saved for last.  Just as we were about to leave GP (as I affectionally call it now), we drove one more time by the house my mom grew up in.  We watched it for a long time.

“Let’s knock on the door and see if they’ll let us in,” I said, seeing as how the garage my grandfather built was open with a car inside.

“No, we can’t do that!” My mom said.  “They won’t let us in.”

“Come on, let’s try,” I replied.  “Worse they can do is tell us to shove off and slam the door in our face. We won’t be back here – let’s do it!”

“I’m not comfortable with doing that.”

“Alright, let’s head out.”

Just as she has clicked her seatbelt, an SUV turned into the driveway.  “Let’s go,” was all Mom said and she lept out of the car.  I quickly followed.

A beautiful twentysomething stepped out of the SUV and Mom introduced herself as someone who used to live here.  “Would you like to come in?” she asked.  Would we?!  YES!

And just like that I got to walk into the house my mother was born in.  The girl, Mel, introduced us to her mom, Dar, who was in the house.  They ushered us through the house, detailing what was redone and what was still original.  My mom chatted away, pointing out things, asking questions.  A lot had changed.  The ground floor master bedroom had an addition put on it and was now a TV room.  The new master bedroom took up the entire 2nd floor (it was originally a bedroom with a half bath where my uncle had his room).  It was huge.  My mom’s room that she shared with her sister was now Mel’s room.  The bathroom had the tile my grandfather put in — it’s quite retro — but very nice.  The living room and dinning room have remained untouched as it was when Mom lived there.  The basement still had the tile and the “bar” my grandfather put in – the bar isn’t very big nor attractive and they plan to take it out eventually, as with the tile.  The fruit cellar is now a bathroom.  I got a picture of the fireplace – only because I have a picture of my grandmother standing by it on my mantle.  Here’s a look:

It’s not quite the same angle, but it still made my heart skip a beat.  I didn’t take too
pictures of the house, just the common rooms, as I felt a bit weird snapping pictures of someone’s private residence.  They were so kind to allow us to indulge in such nostalgia.  I sent them a letter thanking them and included the picture of my grandmother seen above.  Not only did I want to thank them for making my mom’s summer, but I wanted to prove to them Mom actually lived there and we weren’t casing the place.

Amazing!  We just kept saying, “Can you believe we did that!?” for the rest of the night.  So awesome, my mom was so happy about it.  We celebrated our genealogy successes and toasted our amazing trip at this great Mediterranean place in Northville, Le George.  The food was amazing, even thought the menu was hard to read — so many words I had never heard before — but the waitress explained everything so perfectly!  Dinner was fabulous, a chicken dish with perfect spices; it summed up our trip perfectly.

Saturday morning came too soon as I boarded a plan in Detroit bound for Myrtle Beach and a $50 parking tab.  Ugh.

So much research is ahead of me and I am so thankful I did this trip with Mom. Not only did she spoil me rotten, but we have these amazing memories that will keep us smiling for the rest of our lives.

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“Detroit, Detroit. Got 1 hell of a hockey team; got a left handed way of making a man, sign up on that automotive dream….” (Paul Simon)

Just landed back in the humidity of the Carolinas from the Motor City.  Many adventures to report, but I will do so at a later time.

In other news, I accidently bought the same pair of jeans I already own and aren’t too fond of.  Drat.  These are more conservative than the edgy ones I tried on (and by edgy, I mean they left nothing up to the imagination in terms of bum); other other ones appeared too paper thin and I feared they would last a year without holes.  OMG.  I’m old.  And why do I always buy a pair in the same size that I haven’t tried on?

More to come on the adventures.

Oh, and the $40 that went to Spirit Airlines?  They refunded it once I explained to them everything fits under the seat and no overhead bin would be needed.  SCORE!  It pays to travel light.

 

Another star in the sky tonight

Bea died yesterday.  It was expected: she was 79, had breathing problems for years, and the leukemia that was in remission came back for a vindictive final round.  She started chemo – her kidneys started to shut down with treatment – her body wasn’t able to take on the added stress.  So she went home.

No one seem to know what flavor of leukemia she had, but I would assume CLL because of her age.  Saying you have leukemia is like saying, “I drive a Ford.”  Well, are we talking an Escort, Mustang, or F750?

Bea was the wife of my 2nd cousin (once removed!), Austin.  He was old enough to be my grandfather and we spent many of our summers up at his cottage on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan.  He took my sister and I out trolling in the lake and was generally a blast to be around.  Austin cooked the most amazing perch, after we caught it, and was one of those jovial souls who loved to be around kids.

Bea and Austin got married after he came back from a tour in Korea (circa early 1950’s) and together they had 5 children, who are pretty successful (engineers, doctors, etc) with scores of grandkids.  One is even adopted from overseas.  They loved spending time at the cottages, their home in Detroit, and with their kids.  They lead a very full and enriching life that touched many.

And now she’s gone.  I’m not as upset as I should be – or feel I should be.  I don’t do well with death or funerals.  I spoke with her on the phone last fall and after 15 minutes, she was out of breath and tired.  Luckily, they got to meet The General 3 years ago – we had dinner at their house and it was lovely.

The funeral is this Friday.  I’m tempted to fly in for it; my mom is going, as she was extremely close with them growing up.  Mom lives in Illinois, which is a feasible drive to Detroit.  Me, on the other hand, would have to fly.  It’s a 14 hour drive from here to there that I would have to do by myself; The General is heading to his homeland this weekend to meet up with family he hasn’t seen since the 1st Bush Administration.  What’s holding me back is the money and work bit.

While I have the money to easily make the trip if I dip into my savings (again); I also have nearly $1,000 in dental work to pay as well as brakes on my car: something I should have done last month.  I just scored a random 3 days off, and then working through the weekend, starting tomorrow.  We’re short at work.  I’d have to be back Saturday in time to be at work, mainly because I volunteered this weekend and we still don’t have enough to run the place.

Funerals are for the living.  I want to be there to support Austin and my mom.  I always take the work part in these things: I didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral because of school.  I didn’t go see my sister in the hospital when she had a suicide attempt because of school and my mom said it wasn’t necessary for me to be there: in hindsight, I needed to be there for my mom because my dad wasn’t.  I regret that.  Ah, but when you’re in your early 20’s, sometimes you don’t think about those things.  That’s perspective I have now that I’m older and have been through more.

And then there’s the part where Austin is going to be surrounded by his kids, grandkids, and other well-wishers and I know he is going to be overwhelmed as it is.  I’d rather spend time with him away from all the craziness of a funeral: it’s like a wedding.  You’re so preoccupied with what’s going on that you can’t always see everyone.  But is that a more selfish reason for me?

I’m going to talk to Mom today and get her perspective on it.

Then again, maybe the General and I can head up there this summer and go to the cottage with Austin and fam.  I haven’t done that since my youth because I want that memory to stay pristine and not record over it.  It will be different now that my Grandma and Bea are gone.

I’m sure they’re having coffee looking over the lake now, laughing about the old times, just as they always did.

 

Her name was Anna Caroline

She was born in Detroit, Michigan to Prussian immigrants in 1888 the youngest of 5.  I’m not sure how much school she had, but she wasn’t college educated.  At 22 (circa 1910) she married a man named Edward, a china packer,  and they too stayed in Detroit.   They had 3 daughters.  Their marriage would last about 10 years before she would file for divorce (something that was seriously frowned upon in that time period).  Edward, who was a kind man – he cried as hard as the kids did when the family dog died – had a Jekyll/Hyde personality when he drank.  Which was often — and during Prohibition.  Anna would lock herself and her daughters (the youngest still an infant) in the bedroom because of his antics, which would include chasing her around the house with a butcher knife.  When he would pass out, she would gather her kids – even in the dead of winter – to catch the streetcar to her mother’s house.  As a woman of the 21st Century, I can totally understand how this would constitute a divorce.

Back then, it wasn’t seen that way.  As a Lutheran, she was thrown out of the church of her youth due to the divorce. She moved her daughters in with her mother and got a job at Chrysler on the assembly line, putting arms rests in vehicles.  In the 1920’s, the kind man down the street named John, married her.  They had no children together, but had a happy 30+ year marriage.

Anna was the most beautiful Gibson girl and was quite the pistol.  Once she got an idea in her head, there was no stopping her.  Rumors spread about how she drove half way across the south with a shotgun in the back of her car for justice on someone who did her loved one wrong (it worked out okay in the end….I’m sure the shotgun helped things along…..no one was hurt).  She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind in an era when it was derogatory.  As passionate as she was, she loved hard too.  All who knew her spoke of her kindness and she helped people out whenever they needed it. Even when her ex-husband Edward was sick with the flu, Anna would stop by his apartment to bring him soup and make sure all was well.  She was a loving grandmother to all 7 of her grandkids.  She was always entertaining people and had a large group of friends that would meet in her home for cards every week.

Anna died from breast cancer in 1961 at 72.  The funeral director made the comment to her family that in all his years he had never seen so many people turn out for a funeral.  The doors were bursting at the seams.

Why all this?  Anna’s middle daughter was my grandmother.

I found a bunch of old family photos – a lot of negatives from the 1950’s that were hers, too – and decided once I had my house I would put these photos in frames and display them.  I’m still getting around to it, but I came across this photo (which now graces my mantle) that really struck me:

I don’t know who took this photo, when, or why, but it seems to sum up her personality.  I love how most photos of that time are very serious and formal — she clearly is not!  Classy, sexy, and not afraid to wear a weird hat! ((There is another pane to this, a picture of her with a girl, who I imagine is a friend – I cropped it out for continuity)).  I showed it to a friend of mine who said she can see some of my facial features in her.  I don’t see it, but it made me smile nonetheless.

Some other Anna pictures:

Anna (in the middle) with her sisters Louise (left) and Martha (right)

 

This picture was on my grandmother’s mantle – Edward and Anna’s engagement picture circa 1910.
My maternal great-grandparents.

 

Anna (right) with her niece Esther and Esther’s husband Coy, sometime in the 1950’s.
(How those 2 got together is a whole blog post!)