Editor’s Note: Written by Carolyn Lewis (my sister), this story recalls memories of walking around Old Mission Point in 1963. Born in 1953, she would have been ten years old at that time. Carol passed away in 2019 from complications due to dementia. This story was written in 1996 in New York, where she lived for many years before moving back to the Old Mission Peninsula. Her husband, Stephen Lewis, still resides on the OMP, and recently published the book, “Dementia: A Love Story,” available on Amazon. Also published posthumously by Steve, “The Wolfkeeper” is a collection of stories by Carol about northern Michigan. You can also find that on Amazon here. -jb
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In 1963, you could step off the old resort’s sidewalk from Haserot Beach and round the auburn sand point, flat as any young girl’s back. Skirt the tidal pool of fresh clams and shy crayfish and Petoskey stones addling in the soft shallow sand. One, two, three, and down goes your skipping stone east into the bay. The water darkens blue above the drop-off, green where your hand still lingers.
Eye the great crevice on your left stuffed with broken cars and rusted tractor wheels, mattresses loose with springs. Is it worth climbing up there for a bounce? A drive in a wheel-less ’51 John Deere? A Maserati to you, Corvair at the very least. Nah; you climb over the fallen poplars, rounding the northernmost point.
Here you drop your minnow bucket and clamber up the highest rock leaving a trail of dark wet from saturated sneakers. Stand up and gaze due north into Lake Michigan. To the left are the Manitous. Up there are the Fox Islands and Beaver and the U.P., although you can’t see them from here. Mackinac is to the right, can’t see that either.
But best of all, there, right in front of you, is where a freighter went down. Nineteen forty-six, your father said. The middle went down, the ends went up. Caught two waves, cracked it in half. You think about snorkeling. If you had a snorkel.
Round the rocky west shore now and sight the slight hills of Leelanau across the bay. Today, the green water is dark and the blue nearly black, as if a storm passed here while you were walking from the beach at Old Mission harbor. You think about how the bay calms down slower than the sky, as if it is a kid still holding a grudge long after the fight is over, if a fight is what it was.
Round the lighthouse point, fishing pole in hand, minnow bucket in the other, tennis shoes squeaking in their wet toes, and come out next to the lighthouse wall, twisting your neck to look up. The high beacon has been dulled, siren screams shot with the diminished shipping on Grand Traverse Bay. It cries for no one now. It is sad and not sad.
From my childhood home in Old Mission, I am deep into work here in New York. It is 1996. Yet pictures of Grand Traverse Bay adorn every wall. Driftwood from Lake Michigan rests happily in my Long Island garden. Lugged back from summer expeditions, Petoskey stones grace fishbowls and windowsills.
I do not mourn the passing of people’s ways of life; each one is as holy and irreverent as suits its time. I mourn a little of the Old Mission land: its shoulders bucking and heaving against the lowering sky, vast numbers of suburban houses perched on land pushed unnaturally into hills high above the bay. But even this too fits the natural order. Soon those high houses also will fall, to be replaced and mourned by those who live there now. Why do I return, if so much has changed that means so little?
I can still walk my father’s vast farms, held with an iron grip now by my brothers and sister against the encroaching city life with the purchase of development rights by the township. But I don’t. I am not pulled back to the farm anymore, but to the water. To the face of its emotions which have always so reflected my own, hidden and unhidden, raging, full, quiet. It is as if I am bidden, as if I cannot keep away. My husband asks, but I can no more go someplace else in August, than I could walk out on my own life as if I were not in it.
When I walk now, grown, it is softer, simpler, tenderer.
I wander toward the point where the gulls down the shore light on vast boulders, where Gull Island off the lighthouse rose from the water when I was a child. This is where I sit, gazing at the bay, my feet drawn up so tight you might think I was no more than stone, addling in a tidal pool in the soft, shallow sand, no more than thought this long distance home.
Have an essay about the Old Mission Peninsula you’d like to see in Old Mission Gazette? Send it to me, [email protected]. -jb