Michigan Musings: Port Austin

The morning ride to Port Austin always started before dawn in the western suburbs of Detroit when I was a kid.

My younger sister and I would pile into the car with my dad; my mom would drive up at a more respectable time with my grandparents. I was always enchanted by the sunrise. This time of day was foreign to me and it only added to the adventure. We’d barrel through the city’s interstates before taking the exit for M53, or as my ancestors called it, Van Dyke; this artery would take us to our final destination. As the road retreated back into suburban Detroit, the further we drove, the more country it became. The next thing I know, I’m surrounded by fields, microscopic one stop light towns, and signs reminding us to share the road with Amish buggies.

2 hours later, we’d come upon the largest city in the thumb – Bad Axe. Van Dyke turns here, so you have to follow the signs, otherwise you’ll be lost among an endless cornfield heading in the wrong direction, as we did one year. We’d stop here for food, now that our bodies were fully awake, as was the sun. As one who hated breakfast food, my dad managed to get me hooked on McDonald’s breakfast burritos on one of these trips.

A half hour and more fields later, we’d arrive at our destination: Port Austin, Michigan. Population: 800. Van Dyke ended at a T stop for the simple fact that Lake Huron and the city marina were directly across from this main intersection. You could see the lighthouse, which warned ships of the shallow waters since the 1800’s. We always turned left.  My heartbeat would quicken the moment I saw the lake.

I rolled into this town for the first time in summer of 1989. I had never seen the ocean, but to me, this was the ocean. This was amazing. I belonged here.

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The Dovecote

It was popular in the nineteenth century to name your house, no matter if it were a cottage or an estate. I have embraced this tradition with my homes.

Our old house was aptly named The Burning Pinecone, after the fabulous firepit my husband built (many a nights were spent drinking and roasting marshmallows with friends) and the giant pinecones that fell from the towering long leaf pines. Most of our fires were fueled by the massive amount of pinecones on the half acre of land we owned. The new house is nothing like our old house. It is much smaller and less grand: it is the epitome of average. It faces the south, so less sunlight comes through our windows, but it keeps it cooler in the summer. Our yard is so tiny, in fact, the listing had the lot in square feet instead of acres. Because of all the other expenses, a firepit has not been built yet, but we have picked out its site. There will be more nights of roasting marshmallows soon.

Our new home needed a name. I didn’t want another firepit inspired moniker and so I considered what other people have named their houses for inspiration. From one of my favorite books, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, John and Meg Brooke’s house was named The Dovecote. Having no idea what a dovecote was, I looked up the meaning of it on Google and promptly went into silent laugh mode:

dovecotehaha

I thought this was a perfect description of our new property, especially after my husband and I failed to get the loveseat through the door (he and his co-worker managed to shove it through the other door with a millimeter of clearance, but not without damaging the walls in the process).

I then read the description of The Dovecote Alcott gave in the book:

And speaking of sentiment brings us very naturally to the ‘Dovecote’.

That was the name of the little brown house Mr. Brooke had prepared for Meg’s first home. Laurie had christened it, saying it was highly appropriate to the gentle lovers who ‘went on together like a pair of turtledoves, with first a bill and then a coo’. It was a tiny house, with a little garden behind and a lawn about as big as a pocket handkerchief in the front. Here Meg meant to have a fountain, shrubbery, and a profusion of lovely flowers, though just at present the fountain was represented by a weather–beaten urn, very like a dilapidated slopbowl, the shrubbery consisted of several young larches, undecided whether to live or die, and the profusion of flowers was merely hinted by regiments of sticks to show where seeds were planted. But inside, it was altogether charming, and the happy bride saw no fault from garret to cellar. To be sure, the hall was so narrow it was fortunate that they had no piano, for one never could have been got in whole, the dining room was so small that six people were a tight fit, and the kitchen stairs seemed built for the express purpose of precipitating both servants and china pell–mell into the coalbin. But once get used to these slight blemishes and nothing could be more complete, for good sense and good taste had presided over the furnishing, and the result was highly satisfactory. There were no marble–topped tables, long mirrors, or lace curtains in the little parlor, but simple furniture, plenty of books, a fine picture or two, a stand of flowers in the bay window, and, scattered all about, the pretty gifts which came from friendly hands and were the fairer for the loving messages they brought.

My hear swelled. As a writer, this was perfect! My new home reflected all the nuances of the Brooke’s home, save for the coalbin. It’s coziness (read: small quarters) and less than stellar landscaping (read: years of outright neglect) will be knit into the fabric of my life. Our front yard, which is about the size of a handkerchief, will hopefully be blooming with flowers and evergreen foundation plants this time next year. We have a wonky staircase as well, I’m sure I’ll go down it pell mell at some point.

And so, my new home is affectionately known as The Dovecote. I’m looking forward to entertaining friends and strangers over tea. When our house was blessed, the pastor likened it to the moon, reflecting the light of the Son. I hope everyone who comes through the doors of The Dovecote senses the love of the Lord in this space.

I also plan to frame this passage and display it in my new home.

Releasing the House

I don’t remember where the idea came from; I may have read about it or it came to me on its own.

Way back when we sold our first house, once we were under contract, I decided to “release the house” through prayer. Alone in the house, I walked into each room, placed a hand on each wall in the room and prayed a short prayer over each wall.

I did the same for this house. I prayed for the incoming family: for their safety, comfort, the new memories they would make there. I prayed for all of those who would walk through the doors would know the spirit of the Lord was here. I don’t know if they are Christians or not; I prayed they would find Christ if they have not and grow more deeply in Him if they were. I also thanked the Lord for the opportunity to live in and use this big house for His benefit, recounting all the people we served here. I touched on memories and prayed the house into its new owners.

I am beyond ready for this experience to be done.

Writing Challenge Day 23: A Family Member You Dislike

Let me start by saying I do not dislike any family members. I’m very proud that I am not in a rift or avoid any of my kin.

That being said, there is one family member who I am not happy with right now. This person is a parent of a child in desperate need of counseling due to the extreme severity of the child’s mental health. They got on their soapbox with great fanfare about how they were a champion of doing the right thing by bringing in professionals; several months later, the words ring empty. Luckily the situation which caused all this uproar has calmed down, but I know the volcano is only sleeping; they think it is dormant. I pity anyone caught in the lava flow of the next eruption. Yours truly will probably be one of the casualties, because I care too damn much.

So be it. The child is worth it.

I live too far away and cannot become that meddling relative in matters of which I have no jurisdiction. I can only support from outside. And they know – the whole lot of them – I am always here to listen, help, and do. And unlike all of them, my actions and my words are one in the same.

April: Live with Confidence

One of the perks of living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is that you second guess EVERYTHING. Whether I am buying a house, a pair of socks, treating a patient, or making a life altering decision, my brain whispers, “Are you sure? What if you’re wrong? What if the exact opposite is true/better? How will you know? You need to think/pray/freak out more about this.” I am paralyzed by indecision and worry that my choice is wrong, either fundamentally or factually.

This month is going to require some confidence.

Heck, my entire life could use some confidence.

I’m closing on my 3rd house this month.  Yup – for those of you keeping score at home – I have owned more houses than cars (3:1). I have decisions to make about paint, decor, and where the silverware drawer is going to be in the kitchen. I have cleaning projects, landscape projects, and painting projects all lined up; most of them will be put on hold until I can unload my current property to conserve money. This is my new home, I have to own it and the decisions that come with it.

The loved one with an alcohol addiction combined with a new house that I’m 85% sure I like has been a bit more than I expected to be dealing with at this point. Nonetheless, the Lord shall provide.

I found this book about making decisions with a Christian-centric mindset, and it was like a breath of fresh air for me.  The basic principle was, “What does God think about non-moral decisions? How do I know God’s will for my life?” Mr. DeYoung proposes just to do something, much akin to throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it will stick – the fleeces we depend on are more out of our culture than the Bible. The Bible has much to say about living, but does not specifically address major life decisions such as, should I marry this person?  Should I buy this car? Obviously, seeking the Lord in all things, but sometimes He doesn’t give a clear answer. And so we act. The Lord will provide.

What does living with confidence look like? I’m not sure yet.

I need to pray about that some more.

Change & What Follows

My new gig is nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced in my field before. It’s embarrassingly easy.

The first couple of weeks were nothing but solid stress. There was a large stone in my stomach, even while I wasn’t at work; that seems to be subsiding now. My two employees under me had the task to train me. One of them was so Type A it was nearly suffocating. The other was so Type B it was comical. I learned a lot from both of them, though. Luckily, I do not work with them on a regular basis; they only cover me when I am out.

I work alone in a glorified closet.

In between seeing a fraction of the patients I saw at my old job, there is a lot of free time. As a contract employee, I do not have to conform to the rest of my office mates. I exist for one job and I’m the only one in the building who can perform it. Everyone has been nice, but distant. I can’t figure out if it’s office dynamics, me being introverted, or if I’m disliked. I’ve been advised to keep a low profile as the office can be a bit of a shark tank. Nonetheless, I am left to my own devices.

At first, the free time seemed nonexistent, as I was trying to get my feet underneath me. Now I’ve settled in to a comfortable routine, with the things I was fretting over are now on autopilot. Or at least I think they are.

I’m taking this time to read news stories, watch my Twitter feed, write, and read. It’s an introvert’s dream. As soon as I get the funds, I’m purchasing a 20lb kettleball weight to work on my flabby arms. I started doing push-ups on the countertop and walking on a trail at lunch. I’m going to use this time to get myself in better shape and work on my writing. And I’m very excited about that!

In other exciting news, my husband and I got a buyer’s agent: we’re officially house hunting to downsize. I have a sense of peace about this. I’m only a little sad to lose my dream house. It’s so much to maintain, inside and out: as we get older, it will only become more of a burden.

And so everything is changing again. As the leaves are in the bud stage, with pollen everywhere, spring is here. And like the trees, I believe I am coming into season as well.

Bring on the summer.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

This Morning’s Prayer

After Communion this morning, as I attend church alone, I walked back to my seat and bowed my head to pray.

I struggled emotionally this service, as the holidays are always a bit hard for me, and I have no family here.  Everyone around me was trying to quiet their toddler, standing with their older children, or resting their hand on their ever-growing belly, having their own little Advent inside their bodies.  Alone, childless, and in the back – I was feeling low.

I spoke to the Lord about all this.  For reasons only He knows, I can’t have children.  It’s not even miracle worthy, it is just a simple fact of biology.  There is no fix.  It just is.  I’ve struggled to understand or at least get over this stupid concept.  I’m much better than I was at this time last year, I believe having a direction (writing) and keeping my quiet time with the Lord has improved that.

Anyway, as I’m on verge of tears, head bowed, with my thoughts circling around the fact that I will never have the experience of children, especially at Christmas, BAM! out of no where something large knocks into me.

I’m in the middle of a row by myself.  This was a tactical move.

Startled, I look up and see my friend’s three year old foster son, all smiles, with those sparkly blue eyes that are going to break hearts when he gets older.  He ran to hug my legs and exclaimed something I couldn’t understand.  I am not fluent in Toddler and it wasn’t English.  Maybe it was Tongues, but no one interpreted.

I couldn’t help but smile.  This kid usually pays me no mind, and honestly, I’m not the best with kids.  His mom quickly pulled him away, with that “Sorry for disturbing your prayer!” look in her eyes.  I just laughed.

Maybe that was God’s way of saying, “Buck up.  I Am enough.” or “This is My Way of reassuring you that everything will work out according to My Plan.”

Nonetheless, I got a hug from God today.  And for a non-touchy-feely person like myself, it was so very cool.

Merry Christmas.  And if you have children, hold them close, and bask in it.  For me.

The Chapel of Love

The one thing I love most about my church is how random it is.  It is a gathering of a bunch of misfits for Christ, and with the Holy Spirit blowing through, you never quite know what’s going to happen next.

Sometimes I feel bad for people who attend “normal” services with a dress codes and decorum; the ones who take a sanitized mission trip for 2 days out of the year with the youth.  Or the ones that have Sunday School which covers safe biblical topics and the correct answer is always Jesus.  It’s the churches who build giant buildings and with theatrical lighting and sound systems which rival that of my college: I want none of that, it’s not part of the gospel.  Life is messy and they’re missing out on the “get your hands dirty” message Jesus preached of relationships with others.  Our church does a lot of crazy, unconventional things in the name of Jesus and I could not be more proud.

Case and point: Sunday morning.

At the beginning of the service, our pastor announced there was going to be a wedding afterwards and to stick around for it.  It was for a couple who had done pre-marital counseling with our pastor.  They were in their mid-40’s or so, and while they weren’t homeless, they lived far below the poverty level.  The wedding was scheduled to take place several weeks ago, but it kept getting delayed for unknown reasons.  Today was the day.  We meet in a small room, so you always see what’s going on: the bride walked out of the bathroom in a big white wedding dress that looked like it popped out of the early 1990’s.

I should also mention this was during the sermon.

This wasn’t a typical bride:  her hair was down, unstyled, unwashed, with no make up.  She wore a Dollar Store-esque tiara on her head and her dress wasn’t ironed.  There was a stain on the back bow – and her dress wasn’t zipped up all the way.  I was hoping someone else was helping her and maybe she was just waiting to zip it so she could breathe.  She passed by me a couple of times, as I was near the back.  Finally, once I realized she didn’t have help, I jumped up and asked if she needed help zipping her dress. “The zipper won’t go up anymore,” she whispered.  “Let’s try,” I said, as I pulled the dress together and tried with all my might to zip it.  The dress was too small for her rib cage, but I didn’t give up until I took the skin off my index finger, attempting to make that zipper move.

The sermon was still going on, by the way.  I’m sure we were quite the spectacle.

Nobody had a safety pin, as another lady sent out a text to the ladies in the congregation (I learned this later).  I tucked in the sides of her dress that were unzipped so the back of it looked like a V.  Later, her train was in the way while we walked up for communion, so another woman and I tried to figure out her bustle situation.

Yes, this was in the line for communion.  We totally held it up.

We found the loops she could put over her fingers and we carried on, and she thanked me for my help.  Moments later, the bridal couple walked up to the alter and exchanged vows and rings.  I captured a few pictures on my phone.

I’ve never met this woman.  I’m as shy as they come and I’m usually the one hiding under my chair when the pastor tells everyone to stand up and shake hands with everyone.  But there was something about this bride that made my heart leap out to her.  Most wedding days are stressful, long-planned out events and everything has to be just so – surrounded by family and friends.  This was not the case at all here. I counted 2 friends and no family. It was all so random.  And beautiful.  A husband a wife started the long journey of marriage today.

That’s what I love about my church – there’s so much room for the Holy Spirit – sometimes you’re a walk-on bridesmaid for a stranger.  Those without homes are welcomed with open arms, complete with coffee and breakfast.  White, black, or a combination thereof walk through our doors.  There’s always someone there to one-up me on the awkward/weirdness scale.  This is what Jesus calls us to do: to come along side others, especially those who are less fortunate, and go through life side by side as equals, as friends.

I didn’t get a chance to congratulate the newlyweds.  The bride disappeared back into the bathroom again after the ceremony and I had along list of Christmas shopping to finish, as the family Christmas party is next weekend.  As I left, the pastor thanked me for helping the bride.

I’m still giggling about it.  It’s absolutely nuts!  Never in a millions years did I expect to be a bridesmaid at church for someone I never met!  But that’s exactly how the Lord works!

I am so proud to be His daughter and am looking forward to the next adventure with the Holy Spirit.

And here’s to the new Mr. & Mrs!  May their marriage honor the Lord and may their union be strengthened with each passing year!

 

All that’s left is a band of gold

Last time I visited my childhood home, my mom set out several jewelry pieces from my grandmother she wanted me to have.  A simple gold wedding band was among them.  It appeared slightly weathered, but it fit my finger as though it was custom made for me.  There was an inscription inside: “RE to GA Dec 29 – 1910.”  I knew right away who it belonged to: RE was my great-grandfather, GA was my great-grandmother.

They were married on a Thursday, like me.  I don’t know how they met or what their relationship story was.  I have pictures of them with beautiful smiling faces, they look so happy together.  I have pictures of her with the ring.  It’s hard to make out, but I can see it.  This union produced one of my all-time favorite people: my grandmother.

If only that ring could speak!

I’m sure it’d tell me of the giddiness of January 1911, every time she glanced at her left hand: I’m married!  Women didn’t have many rights back then, marriage was a step-up for her.  Despite the typically scripted quiet and obedient wife of the time, my great-grandmother was kind, sweet, and quite the firecracker.  She was fierce as much as she was loving.

I wonder if the ring stayed on her finger during her pregnancies, or if the swelling became too much and it was left in the drawer.  I wonder too, what the ring would say to the arguments the neighbors undoubtedly heard: my great-grandfather was a drunk, especially during Prohibition (our family never was one for timing….).  When he was sober, he was a quiet, kind man.  When he was drunk, he would chase my great-grandmother around the kitchen table with a butcher knife, transforming into a monster.  I bet that ring felt awfully heavy in those moments.

It was common in such events, when he was drunk and violent, that my great-grandmother would lock herself and the three girls in the bedroom until he passed out.  Then they would board a streetcar and go to her mother’s house, even in the dead of a cold Detroit winter night.  I wonder if she absentmindedly fidgeted with the ring, as she stared off into space on the streetcar; fighting tears, trying to be strong for her girls, and figuring out her next move.  I wonder if she took off the ring for a time, carefully considering if she’d put it on again.

Nearly 17 years after the band of gold was placed on her left ring finger, she filed for divorce and it was granted.  She was kicked out of her church because of the divorce.  My great-grandmother took things into her own hands by working the assembly line at Dodge to provide for her daughters, despite the small alimony check; she was a welder.  The family lived with her widowed mother.

She had a handy man come to the house to do some odd jobs; they fell in love and married.  This man (my great-stepgrandfather!) was a WWI veteran and beautiful soul who was always smiling.  They stayed happily together until she died in the early 1960’s.

I wonder where the ring spent all those years.

And now it has come me.  I wear it on  my right hand.  It’s a perfect everyday ring, as I don’t have to worry about losing heirloom diamonds at work.  It’s sturdy, and in the quiet moments of work I find myself staring at the inscription.

The three girls from this marriage all died old women.  Their children are senior citizens.  These people are lost to time, only existing in stories and the random documents I’m able to unearth.

And all that remains is this ring of gold, to mark a family united and torn apart. It is a link of my ancestral past, which will always be near and dear to me.

Legacy

Her name was Rose and I knew her as Grandma Rose. She died when I was about 3 and I remember her open casket funeral and the many bouquets of flowers that surrounded it. I don’t have any other memories of her.

As I got older, I realized I couldn’t account for her on the family tree. “She was my neighbor growing up,” my mom had said. Her and her late husband were so close to my grandparents that she was considered family. What an honor.

That’s everything I know about Grandma Rose.

Oh, and one other thing: she crocheted beautifully intricate blankets.

My maternal grandma was the proud recipient of several of these pieces, and since her death over a decade ago, they now grace the couch in my sitting room. The thick yellow one, complete with tassels, is one of my prized possessions. Every winter I curl up under its warmth. And with this cloudy season of the soul I find myself under, it has been a source of comfort as well.

Over the holidays I too was gifted with the fine art of crocheting, as my sister in law showed me the basics. Now on my third project, I am finally making something that doesn’t look like an intoxicated spider weaved it. I have years of practice ahead of me to be on par with Grandma Rose, but I’d like to think I’m on my way there.

Rose probably never thought that 30 some odd years after her death, one of her creations would bring such warmth to a woman who was a baby last she saw her. Her legacy lives on, woven together on a single thread of yarn.

I want that. My bloodline dies with me and there’s no options to alleviate that. And so, while DNA is not meant to be my medium, I believe yarn will be. It will stand through the test of time, but like all things of this world, it will wear out and cease to be. But long after I meet the Lord, I will leave something behind to comfort, warm, and decorate.

And if I’m truly lucky, a child will ask, “Who was Grandma Simonne?”