I grew up in a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was known as the U.P. to the locals.
It had miles of untouched shoreline along lake Michigan. It boasted the best Coho salmon fishing in the state, the surface of the lake would explode with them during the spring time spawn.
Much of the was wilderness, protected by national forests, with sparsely populated communities scattered between them.
It was the spring of my Senior year of high school.
Outside of a few close friends I had been pretty much a loner. I had never experienced the romance the popular girls had, not that I didn’t want it, but rather, the boys stayed away.
A friend of mine recently wrote me a note explaining it was the town we lived in and not me, that things would be different for us when we graduated and moved out.
In telling me it wouldn’t always be like this; she was referring to the small-town curse of everyone knowing your business.
My dad worked at the papermill which was also the local gossip mill, he knew more of the happenings at my school than I did. He went to work every day and was always dependable. He belonged to every organization under the sun. Although it was never spoken out loud, we all knew he did this to avoid being home in the evenings with my mom.
Looking back on it now I can best describe my mom as eccentric. Of course, growing up we had no idea other people thought of her in this way too. She had her odd ways about her for sure but as a kid you just overlooked them and moved on.
Her hair was bleached blonde, a color change from her own dark brown. She was always worried about the sun compounding the damage already caused by the bleach. Because of this she wore a satin night cap over her hair anytime she went outside into the sun. It was just like the ones you would wear to bed at night to save a style over to the next day. She called it her bonnet, the elastic had long since worn out on the stupid thing, so the edges sagged, but that was just a minor thing to mom. Pair that together with oversized sunglasses and there you would have the everyday look of her.
She insisted we lived in the basement of our house, so as not to mess up the upstairs.
She used throw rugs to protect the upholstery in our car and had been known to shake them out in the parking lot of Foodland.
I grew up with two sisters, one significantly older and the other one a couple of years younger; I was stuck right in the middle. I had always been the good girl, never giving my parents any grief. From an early age I took on the responsibility of peace keeper smoothing over the sassiness of my older sister, as well as the recklessness of my younger one. I was the quintessential middle child, the pleaser…until that wintery day when I turned 18.
I likened my transformation at that time to a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis spreading its wings for the first time in a brand-new world. I felt as though a switch had flicked on deep inside me, it was a day of reckoning. Everything became legal, I could vote, I could drink, I was an adult, I was responsible for myself. It was the age of independence. I was ready to spread my wings and take flight.
I had to wait 4 months though for my first opportunity to do that. It wasn’t until April when my parents and younger sister made plans to visit relatives hundreds of miles away over Easter. It didn’t take much to convince them to leave me at home, after all I had never done anything other than to be pathetically responsible. With my graduation only being a month away, I played the cant miss a week of school card to plead my case.
Within 24 hours of being on my own I had skipped school, bought my first six pack of Old Milwaukee and drank it with a minor. I felt exhilarated, I felt for the first time in my life, I was doing what I wanted to be doing, I had the time of my life. I was happy, and full of confidence,
“Never pick up a hitch hiker.” Had been one of the cardinal rules we had grown up with, so, within the next few days, that’s exactly what I did, I picked up a hitch hiker.
He was just a guy who needed a ride home. Home happened to be a place called Thunder Lake, some 25 miles outside of town. He had moved up here from Florida and was care taker of a camp called Ahtawaih. The name was intriguing, until he told me it was Hiawatha spelled backwards, after that it was just cheesy.
His name was Ed, He was 6 feet tall 180 pounds, had long dark hair, with a beard. His eyes were brown, and they read my soul. He was 32, divorced, with a child.
We became secret lovers. Over the next several weeks I made the trek out to Thunder lake as often as I could. I sped down highway 94, turned off a dirt road, heading north, and kept on driving until it eventually turned to mud. That’s where I left the car, and walked the last quarter mile into the camp.
Thunder lake was pristine, it was surrounded by a virgin pine forest. The sun out of a brilliant blue sky glanced off the surface of the water, reminded me of the John Denver song Sunshine.
His rustic one room cabin was warm and inviting it smelled of woodsmoke, and had a celling lined with white birch bark.
From him I learned of love, sex, and how to smoke pot.
Being five foot two inches, and weighing ninety- nine pounds, he treated me as though I might break.
He showed me how making love had a rhythm, and wrote poetry about us.
He gave me hope for the future, proving my friend right, that outside of our dingy little papermill town there really would be a world waiting to embrace me. I was so ready.