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An Ode To That Special Place. No, it’s not Detroit.

Let me point out for you one of the best articles in last Sunday’s New York Times.
It was in the second magazine section and was easily missed.
(Hat tip: AH!)

Ann Patchett writes a beautiful essay about the wonders of Northern Michigan. She even allows us to do a fly by of one of her favorite book stores on the planet, McLean & Eakin, in Petoskey. (Check out their staff favorites tab, excellent!)

Okay, guilty. I was raised in Michigan. And generally, we are a proud people when someone can cite something about our state besides the depressing state of Detroit. So work with me. Give us our moment.

And, admittedly, her exquisite detail hit a sentimental nerve. She speaks of places that I don’t know specifically, but can feel the humid air, recognize the smells, and taste the flavors generally.

But this is what really struck me.

Across the U.S. last Sunday, thousands of people read this story and inserted their own version of Petoskey, Michigan. When someone with such talent shares a beautiful description of a place, we fill in the details with our own experiences. This is what separates the book from the movie–we get to fill in the blanks with our own reality. We get to go somewhere new and yet familiar at the same time.

Funny enough, Patchett’s article took me somewhere different in Michigan — to a small little smidgen of a place called Harsen’s Island. Fifty miles from Detroit and sitting pretty in the channel between Canada and Michigan, I spent more times there than I can count during my childhood. It’s undoubtedly idealized in my mind.

Patchett’s essay helped me to recall:

  • That my grandfather used to sit in a chair listening to the Tiger games on the radio, eyes closed and occasionally lobbing a lougie of Red Man into a spittoon.
  • That my grandmother used to buy Planters cheese balls in a can.
  • That there were sodas in tall bottles stacked in crates on the porch with the bottle opener mounted to the wall.
  • That we used to watch storms out the front window and my grandfather used to try and convince us there was something called “snake lightening”. Which we could never identify but he certainly seemed to be an expert in spotting.
  • That my parents and aunt & uncle used to play pinochle in the evenings which seemed to result in incredibly unhealthy competition and so legend goes the deck of cards ended up in the fire. The loser was guilty.
  • That we dipped cattails in kerosene and lit them on fire to use them like torches. (Um, guys, really bad parenting there, FYI.)
  • That the best place in the Chris Craft after waterskiing was laying on the inboard motor because you got warmer faster.
  • That you could swing from the weeping willow trees like Tarzan into the canal if you timed it carefully (again, suspect parenting.)
  • That it was the first time I heard my Dad *really* swear when the tow line got caught up in the propeller and he said: “Marv, make sure the f**&$# engine is off.”
  • That he used to allow us to try and get the boat ourselves into the boathouse which required a lot of reversing, several passes and his hand at the bottom of the steering wheel.
  • That I spent my tenth birthday with ten girls and as many fishing poles in chaotic bliss.
  • And that my grandfather made the same damn scrambled eggs every Sunday and called them “Palmer House Specials”. He would periodically look out the window to see if “people were lining up on the road” to get them. The joke never got old.

So, this was a very long winded way of saying:
Read the damn article, people.”

I don’t care if it’s Harsen’s Island, Fire Island, Whidby Island, a Wisconsin lake, a house at the beach. It doesn’t matter really. It will be a fun trip.

Did this article remind you of a certain place?

P.S. Anne Patchet: I am sorry I said you are the same person as Anna Quindlen and Annie Lamott and all those other Annes. I take it back. You’re cool, girl.


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kelly Fordon #

    I read the article and loved it!! When I first moved to Michigan from D.C. I thought people were deluded when they talked about how great it is “up north.” I assumed that they had never seen all the spectacular places on the east coast (Rehobeth, the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard etc)…Then I went up north. It was prettier and less hectic and crowded up north than it is anywhere I’ve been on the eastern seaboard. I was really dumbfounded! That took my east coast snobbery down many many notches.

    May 28, 2010
  2. Girl, I loved this.

    It took me back to the 6 month stint my nomadic mom and I spent in La Jolla, CA. We lived mere blocks from the beach, and I spent many many summer afternoons prancing in the surf with my friend Lea… circa grade 5 – that magical pre-adolescent time. We literally lived in our bathingsuits. We would stand thigh deep in the water and “punch the waves out” as they rolled in. Because we were pacifists, we felt guilty about the violence of punching the waves, so we called it “love punching.” Hilarious. My hair would be crunchy from the salt water, and I’d fake washing it so I could keep that feeling going for an extra day or two.

    Thanks for taking me back.

    May 28, 2010
  3. Diane Johnson #

    Loved the article, but really loved that your piece. I am ready for summer! Stacking up my pile of books and hope to head to my friends place on Bucks Lake!

    May 29, 2010
  4. easyreader #

    Thought of you when I was in Berkeley a couple of weeks ago, Katy. I LOVED Patchett’s story in the NYT Magazine. Just loved it. I immediately wanted to go to that area, that bookstore. . . . I always soak up Ann Patchett’s writing, but that piece spoke to me even more than I expected. Great post.

    May 30, 2010
  5. Brian #

    I loved your post, Katy. You, MB, Geoff and I were so lucky to have those times on Harsen’s Island. Your memories took me right back there.

    I’ve tried so many times to describe it to my girls, but there’s no way to do it justice.

    May 30, 2010
  6. Pat Garvey #

    I also read this article and enjoyed it so much even though I’ve never been there. However, I really enjoyed your descriptions of the times you spent up there with your family. The scenes with your Grandpa are wonderful as I remember him as a man with a great sense of humor, and I really got a laugh out of your Dad’s losing his temper in the boat and the card games. It brought many memories back of my own childhood. So, thanks.

    June 1, 2010
  7. Jim Dara #

    You are a great writer. I am stealing the Palmer House bit and using on the kids….

    August 2, 2010
    • Great to hear from you! Yes, those eggs were all about the Marketing so glad the concept can be of use….hope to see you on one of my pass throughs….

      August 3, 2010

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