In My Own Backyard

Being a new resident of Michigan my husband and I have spent the summer exploring many of the small towns on the western side of the lower peninsula.  We have discovered some beautiful art galleries, unique antique stores and loved the beaches and lighthouses all along Michigan Lake.

It has been interesting to me to discover that many of my new friends who have lived in Michigan for years have never visited many of these places.

Funny how we will spend time and money to visit far away places while often ignoring what is in our own back yard.

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day and we wanted to get out and enjoy the day.  We wondered “Is there anything near our new home town that we have not bothered to check out?”

Yes – In a town just 20 miles from us we found a castle and some interesting history.

On the outside it looks like a castle from a fairy tale.  On closer inspection we discovered it was built in 1922 by writer James Oliver Curwood as a writing studio.  Overlooking the Shiawassee River Curwood composed many of his novels here.  The castle was not meant to be a home.  This was  Curwood’s “man-cave.”

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It was easy to see why Curwood built his castle here by the river.  It is a beautiful, peaceful place.  After visiting the castle, we enjoyed the walk by the river and shared the view with some friendly ducks.

This writer who was ranked among the top-ten best sellers in the United States during the early 1920’s was born in Oswosso Michigan.  His novels and short stories and the movie scripts based on his writings made him a millionaire.

Curwood loved the wilds of Canada and was an enthusiastic hunter for many years collecting trophies which he hung in his castle.   Spared by a bear he had shot and wounded, but not killed, he became an advocate of environmental conservation and education.  Shortly before his death in 1927 he was appointed to the Michigan Conservation Commission.

His books were based on his experiences in Canada.  Hundreds of movies have been based on or inspired by Curwood’s stories, including the 1934 movie “The Trail Beyond,” which starred John Wayne.

Only four years after he finished building his castle, he died of blood poisoning.  At the time of his death, he was the highest paid writer in the world according to the Curwood Castle’s curator.

The City of Owosso celebrates Curwood’s birth each year with a festival.  The event is a weekend long celebration centered around Curwood Castle.   They also hold a writing contest for young authors.

All summer we have traveled 50 to 200 miles to see the sights of western Michigan while totally ignoring this beautiful spot and this bit of history right in our own back yard.

I wonder, do you also travel far from home to visit historical and/or beautiful places while driving right by treasures in your own back yard?

 

 

Anyone Remember that Frosted Mug of Root Beer?

Before McDonalds, before Taco Bell, before Subway there was A&W.

Growing up my family did not eat out too often.  For one thing, our budget did not allow for such expenses but also there were not many fast-food chains like we have now.

When we had the occasional treat, it was fun to go to the local A&W drive in.  There was no drive through lane to order the food and go and no inside seating.  My dad just drove up to the restaurant, a young girl would come to the car, take our order and return with everything on a tray which was attached to the car window.

Dad would then pass the food back to me and my siblings and we would sit in the car with the windows all down and enjoy our treat.

I always ordered the coney hot dog.  But the best thing about the meal was the root beer served in the big frosted glass mugs.

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It has been years since I saw an A&W drive in.  Yesterday we were driving through the country when we spotted the A&W sign and quickly pulled in for a meal.

Sitting in the car eating a coney cheese dog with lots of mustard and cheese and trying not to get the food all over me, what great memories I had.

And the root beer was wonderful!  You can buy A&W root beer in the stores now but it is not the same as the root beer from the tap in the big frosted mugs.

Oh what a treat!

The store had a sign announcing that A&W is now 100 years old.  Checking it out I discovered the founder Roy Allen set up a stand to sell mugs of his root beer for a nickel  during a homecoming parade for World War I veterans in 1919.  A few years later, in 1922, he formed a partnership with one of his employees, Frank Wright, and thus they came up with the name A&W.

From Lodi, California it quickly spread across the country.  At its peak it had over 2000 stores.  Today it is down to just 600 stores, but the owners of the franchisee have plans to begin expanding again.

The CEO of the franchisee, Kevin Bazner says:

“It really amazes me when I travel—and I am always wearing a logo pin or gear—at every airport, hotel, and restaurant, when I meet people, there are so many stories out there that include fond memories of an A&W restaurant,” he says. Whether it’s stopping at one during a visit to grandparents’ or as a toddler with their parents, “the memories are very strong.”

Yes, I agree.  What memories I had yesterday sitting in my car with a coney cheese dog and a mug of root beer!

Gotta find another A&W closer to home so I can enjoy that root beer again!

Smart Phones and Southern Twang

I was born in southern Illinois but much of my adult life has been spent in northern Illinois.  Everywhere I have gone people ask me where in the South I was born.  Most guess Tennessee, Kentucky or even Mississippi.  Often I have been told that I have a “southern twang” – whatever that means.

My husband and son-in-law tease me about many words that I pronounce wrong – at least according to them.  My husband has tried to get me to said the word as he says it.  When I listen to others I can tell the difference, but try as I do, I cannot pronounce it as they do.

While we were missionaries in the Philippines several asked us why my husband and I “talk different.”  They recognized my speech pattern was not the same as his.

With my recent purchase of a smart phone I now can just speak my test messages instead of typing them out.  The result has been so funny.   Alexis – or whoever she is – does not understand my speech.  Some of the texts she has sent have made me laugh.

Some words she doesn’t get

  • I say “said” – she hears “set”
  • I say “wash” – she hears “warsh”
  • I say wrestling – she hears “rassling”
  • I don’t dare say “oil” or any word with “oi” in it because who knows what she will think I am saying.

Not really being from the south (although southern Illinois is very close to Kentucky and if you look on a map it is as far south as Virginia), I just assumed living that close to the south my ancestors may have been southerners and that speech pattern was passed on to my parents and now to me.  There must have been some southerners in our background because the first secular song I remember singing was “I Wish I Was in Dixie.”

Recently doing more research into my ancestry I found most of our ancestors were from Scotland and Ireland.

Further research into my speech pattern gave me some interesting facts.  The linguist Barbara Johnstone at Carnegie Mellon University has determined that many of the words I mispronounce can be found in the regions of the country that were settled by Scots-Irish Protestants who came to America from Ireland and Scotland for greater religious freedom in the 1700’s.

Since most of those immigrants settled in the Tennessee /Kentucky area and the Appalachian mountains that would explain the “southern twang” people hear.

Anyway, it is going to make for some fun texts as I speak and Alexis tries to understand my dialect.

So – if you get a text from me that does not make sense, try to imagine how a Scots-Irish southerner transplanted to the north would say it.

 

From Flip Phone to Smart Phone

This week my husband and I traded in our flip phones for a smart phone.  I have resisted doing this for some time.  It’s not that I am not computer savvy – but I must confess as I age and as the technology keeps making leaps and bounds, I fear that I will never keep up with it all

I learned to type on a Remington manual typewriter.  The only place you will see one of those now is in an antique shop.

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Excitement ran high when we found out we would get electric typewriters to use in our senior year of school.

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During my senior year they also offered a course on computers.  That class consisted of reading about the history and concept of computers.  We heard about the mathematics professor Charles Babbage who designed the Analytical Engine.  This became the basis of today’s computers.  But there were no computers for us to use.  At that time the only ones with computers were banks and large commercial firms.  The idea that someone might have a personal computer at home sounded like science fiction to the average American.

The last week of the class we visited a local bank to see their computer.  It was a huge machine in a room that had to be kept at a certain temperature.

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Data was fed into the computer inserting punch cards into the machine.

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Every time I remember that big computer and realize the smart phone my daughter holds in her hand can do so much more than that huge machine could do, I am still amazed at the progress in technology made in my lifetime.

After graduating my first job was as a bookkeeper at a local bank.  Checking accounts were divided between three bookkeepers.  I was responsible for all customers whose last names started J to P.  Every check and every deposit these customers made was posted by me using the Burroughs data processor.  Each customer had a statement that we posted debits and credits on throughout the month.  At the end of the month we printed out the statements, gathered all the checks and deposit slips and mailed them to the customers.   We had to memorize the signature of our customers and before posting any check we examined it to make sure it was signed by our customer.  If we had any doubt we would pull out their signature card and make a comparison.  If still in doubt we would give the customer a call to confirm they had written the check.

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Finally, at age 36 I used my first computer.  Starting a job as a legal secretary for a junior partner in a law firm, I was told the firm had just switched out their electric typewriters to word processors about six months before.  Having no experience with word processors I came in on a Saturday morning and spent about 30 minutes with the secretary I was replacing to learn how to use the processor.  Monday morning I was off – secretary to a very busy upcoming lawyer using a word processor with no experience as either a legal secretary or with a word processor.  Needless to say, it was a BIG learning experience.  Thankfully I am a fast learner and the job became my favorite in my work career.

Since that time there has continued to be new and exciting milestones for me in this rapidly changing technology world.

  • The day the law firm got email on their computers.  We could only email one another within the firm.
  • The day we got email that could go beyond our own personal system and we could communicate with other law firms and businesses.
  • The day I got my own personal computer at home.  It was just a word processing machine.
  • The day I got a computer that could handle all kinds of programs like Publisher, Excel and I could go on the internet.

While I struggle to stay on top of all these changes – and I think I do pretty good for a woman in her 70’s – I fear the day it all gets more than I can do.

But, if and when that happens, I have my own little computer expert, my granddaughter Zoe.  When she was only four years old she sat by her Papa as he opened up children’s songs on YouTube and showed her the videos.  She kept trying to reach over and touch the keyboard and he kept telling her to stop.  Finally, she managed to get around his hands and reach the keyboard.  To his surprise she touched a key that opened up the tiny window showing the song to a full screen picture!  Then and there he realized this four-year-old was probably much more computer savvy than he was.

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Still Chasing Lighthouses

The forests in Michigan in the latter half of the nineteenth century helped build the expansion in cities like Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.  Along with the abundant supply of trees in Michigan, the Great Lakes provided the means to transport the lumber to these cities.  But lighthouses were necessary for ships to navigate safely in the unpredictable waters of the Great lakes.

Two of these lighthouses were Big Sable Point Lighthouse and Little Sable Point Lighthouse.  In our recent road trip to the west side of the mitten we explored from Frankfort to Ludington and on our list of “must sees” were these two lighthouses.

Unfortunately we discovered a visit to Big Sable Point Lighthouse required a walk of  1.8 miles there – and then back.  My husband could probably have made the walk, but for me it was impossible.  So the only thing we have of Big Sable Point Lighthouse is the pictures we got from post cards.

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They do offer a bus ride to the lighthouse twice a year so I am hoping next spring we can go back and ride out to the point.

The French explorers called this area Grande Pointe au Sable.  The stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline between Big Sable Point and present-day Ludington was a dangerous area.  Twelve ships wrecked in 1855 leading the state to ask the federal government for a light station here.

In 1867 Big Sable was built.  Its tower is 112 feet high, only one of a few Michigan lighthouse reaching 100 feet.

Shortly after its construction was completed the brick began to crumble.  Steel plates were installed around the light tower.  Cement was then poured between the bricks.  Mariners complained that they could not see the tower during the day because the bricks, which were cream colored, looked too much like the sand.  Thus the black and white colors.

This lighthouse was the last of the Great lakes to become electrified.  That paved the way for automation and the lighthouse was closed in 1968.  However, the light still comes on automatically at dusk until dawn and can be seen approximately 18 miles out in Lake Michigan.

Disappointed that we did not make it to the lighthouse – but that gives us something to plan for our summer trips in 2020.

Thankfully we were able to reach Little Sable Point Lighthouse.  Named by the French Petite Pointe au Sable is translated into Little Sand Point.

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Constructed in 1874 it is one of the tallest in Michigan at over 100 feet.  There are 130 steps to climb to the top.  A few years ago I would have attempted it.  Sadly, today my arthritic knees did not permit that.

Still, it was great to see the lighthouse and the beach there was beautiful.

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Funds for the lighthouse were approved by Congress in 1872 but the point was inaccessible by roads so construction was delayed until 1874.  Even today getting there by road was a little scary.  Very narrow and winding with little room for two cars to pass.  When I was beginning to think we were driving to the middle of nowhere, we turned a corner and there it was.

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Like Big Sable Point Lighthouse, this lighthouse was also painted white so the mariners could see it better.  Since it was the lighthouse keeper’s responsibility to paint the tower each year, I am sure this was not a decision they welcomed.  In 1977 the tower paint was removed and the lighthouse was restored to its original brick.

Little Sable Point Lighthouse has the special distinction of having a woman lighthouse keeper.  She only served for one month but my research showed me there were many women who manned lighthouses throughout the Great Lakes region.

As I shared in an earlier post, Michigan with 3,288 miles of shoreline, is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the USA.  We have spent this summer exploring many of them – and my husband has been busy painting some of them.

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Summer is going by so fast, I am not sure how many more lighthouses we can tour this year – but that will give us something to look forward to when the winter snows comes.  If we ever run out of lighthouses to explore in Michigan, our neighboring state, Wisconsin will provide more lighthouses for our adventures.

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A Village Time Forgot

In our road trip today we visited one of only two covered bridges open to traffic in Michigan.

The bridge leads to a village that time has forgotten.  John Wesley Fallas and his brother, Silas, came to the area in 1837.  Built alongside the Flat River they used the power from the river to construct a sawmill and a chair factory.  In 1839 they built the first bridge across Flat River at this site.  Today, this is the fourth bridge built here and was completed in 1871.

 

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I loved the sign that indicated there was a fine of $5.00 if you drove across the bridge at a speed greater than walking.

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Today all that is left standing of the village is a school house, a cemetery, the Fallas and Misner House museums and the Orlin Douglass/Tower Farm.   The old school house was built in 1867 and was actually used as a school until 1961.

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School house was built in 1867 and actually used as a school until 1961.

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The Fallas home – for its time it was quite an elegant house. 

At one time the state road from Detroit to Grand Rapids passed through Fallasburgh and the village was a thriving area.  The village had a stone-mason, blacksmiths, general stores, mills, a post office and even a hotel and tavern.

Then the railroad came.  In 1858 the D&M Railroad came to a nearby town, Lowell.  Slowly, the village declined.  Most of the area’s hardwoods which supported the mills and the chair factory were depleted by late 1800’s.  The founder died in 1896 and by 1905 the post office had closed.

The village continued as a sleepy summer community until today it is only a reminder of the past.

A historical society has been founded and events are held throughout the year to keep the memory of the community alive.

The village is surrounded by a beautiful park.   Close to 300 acres of picnic areas, beautiful trees and  the Flat River.

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We drove along the road near the Flat River on our way home.  A beautiful drive.  Lots of curves and hills.  A perfect end to our visit to Fallasburgh.

 

 

Gerald Ford Presidential Museum

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In the continued exploring of our new state, Michigan, this week my husband and I headed to Grand Rapids to check out the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.  It was quite an impressive place.  Beautiful grounds and building.

Along with a reflecting pond with fountain there were beautiful flowers around the area where President Ford and his wife, Betty Ford, are buried.

I am an American history nut and have a large collection of biographies of our presidents, their wives and family members.  To be honest, I was never a fan of President Ford.  Perhaps it was because he was the only president never actually elected to office.  Perhaps it was because he began the process of allowing draft dodgers and those who fled to Canada to escape the Vietnam War back into the country.  My first husband had served in Vietnam and that was a painful time for us all.

Today I feel he did the right thing but at the moment he was not on my list of favorite people.

So – the only reason I went to his museum was because Grand Rapids is very close to where I live.  It seemed I should add this presidential museum to the list of those presidents whose libraries I have already visited.  But I said I would never drive a long way to see his burial place.

Was I ever wrong?  After taking the time to review all the history of his time in office I came away realizing I had let personal feelings from that difficult time in our history color my views.

Another reason why it is so important that we study and know our history.  After spending over two hours taking in all the events of his time in office, I approached his grave site with much more respect for the man than I had when I first came to the museum.

 

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Gerald and Betty Ford’s graves

There was so much to take in.   It was a step back through memory lane as his time in office was the time of my young adult life when I was a young mother just beginning my family.  Many of the politicians and famous people shown in the exhibits were people that were on the daily news every evening.  Many are now dead – or extremely old.

It was interesting to see a young Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfield, George H. W. Bush and a Dick Cheney with hair!

Funny how time passes and as look back on times past, we often see things in a totally different light.