Doug is probably best described as an “instigator,” a term I am pretty sure he would find agreeable. Doug is a retired auto-factory worker who lives int he house next to what used to be my grandparent’s cottage in northern Michigan, a quiet fishing town and republican alcove where Doug calls himself a lone wolf. His little house is lakefront and next to the bank, a prime location for him to decorate his yard with political signs “so those old white men have to read them as they pass through the drive-through,” he explains, rocking himself proudly in his armchair. He and his wife, Val, are, like most Michiganders, very involved in their local politics and general goings on. They sit on their couch with binoculars on each end table. Doug will claim, with a snarky chuckle, that the binoculars are for "bird watching," but I know better.
We love Doug and Val.
We chose the absolute worst time to depart from Sharon’s farm, and left just as a giant storm rolled across the shore, drenching us. Since it was such a short jaunt, we wore our regular clothes, and everything was drenched. Luckily, Onekama is only 10 lakeshore miles from the farm. We rolled into town and the rain let up, as is usually the case, and we holed up in the laundry mat, a white building I used to look at through the window from my room at Grandma and Grandpa’s - a building I had never seen anyone enter. We washed and dried all our clothes, ate a Kit Kat, and took a little nap, waiting for Doug to return my text.
“Well, dang, girl! You should know the door’s unlocked for you!” Doug burst in the laundromat, hugging me and Ivan fiercely.
We walked across the street to Doug’s house and he made us heaping ham sandwiches with raisin bread and honey.
I doubted how tasty ham on raisin bread would be, but Doug’s family used to own a bakery, he told us.
And he was right, it was the best thing we’d eaten so far.
Our plan was to have a rest day in Onekama, so I could show Ivan the Purple House, a gift shop that used to be purple where I used to buy Nancy Drew novels as a kid, and Shakers, an ice cream shop that had changed names about 12 times but that everyone still called Shakers, and the Big Beach where I used to fish and play as a kid. But it was raining (the story of our trip…), so we ended up napping and watching Netflix.
Before dinner, we walked next door to where my grandparents used to live, in the Blue House behind the bank. It was sprinkling and I pointed out to Ivan where the big willow tree used to live, right by the water and the dock my grandpa built by hand. The new owners cut the willow down because it was rotting in the middle, and we stood on the wide stump, almost as big as the table in Doug’s breakfast nook.
“It’s sad that they cut it down,” Ivan said, “But I guess if it was dying, they had to….”
I told Ivan about how my mom would make me climb up it so she could take pictures with the branches dancing around underneath me, and how a whole flock of birds used to live in there. I wondered where they lived now.
I realized, the rain misting around us, that I was becoming a person that describes things as they used to be. The idea of this trip, setting it in Michigan, was to show Ivan a piece of my history, but so much had changed since I could call these places my own, that the stories seemed thin and fragile, and a little sad, like standing in the ghost of a missing willow tree.