Michigan Musings: Lake Huron Adventures of the Past

Nearly every summer in the 90’s was spent on the shores of Lake Huron.

They were all adventures.

My dad’s sister had a cottage on the lake in Port Austin in Broken Rocks – it was more of a house than cottage. I spent my days with my cousins, climbing on the giant boulders that jutted out from the land into the vast lake.  My one cousin and I would dig for clay at The Cove and then we fired the pots we made in that night’s beach campfire. I hunted crayfish in the shoals and attempted to net hundreds of fish that ultimately got away.

Swimming was by far my favorite. My feet adjusted quickly to Huron’s unfriendly rocky bottom and choppy waters. I couldn’t wait to get in the water.

My first brush with death happened in the lake when I was 9: the small sailboat my dad and I were on capsized when the wind changed directions and my dad wasn’t quick enough with the sail: I got trapped under the boat momentarily. My dad was freaked out, but I thought this was a great adventure. We had life jackets on, Dad was here, what could have possibly gone wrong? Ah, to view the world as a child.

I learned how to ride horses at the local riding stable. It was western trail riding on old nags, but that didn’t register to me. This was another adventure, quite different from my normal life. The trail leader said I was a natural on horseback and I began taking English riding lessons back home. The only problem was barnstorming: the horses knew the trail and once they realized they were heading back to the barn, where food was, they took off like they were wild mustangs. I had one horse take off into a gallop on me – mind you, I’m not wearing a helmet – and grabbed fist fulls of mane to stay on! I made it back okay, but ever since that time, I’ve been spooked with speed on horses.

We usually stopped for dinner at one of the restaurants in the small downtown – Chuck and Jane’s was our top spot. Evenings were spent eating ice cream and walking along the breakwater at the marina.  I loved the gift shops – Finan’s and the Dime Store – they had everything a preteen girl would want. I especially loved the cedar boxes – I have 2 of them with a horse on it – and Port Austin, MI was stamped in the lower right corner of the lid. My grandma couldn’t come downtown without stopping for bread and other delicious items from Murphy’s Bakery. For a special treat, we’d drive to Grindstone City’s General Store: they had the best ice cream in this hemisphere. This is not a hyperbole, this is fact.

Once I was a teenager, we began to stay at Ray’s (my mom’s cousin) quintessential cottage a few miles down the road in Caseville – its musty cottage smell is forever etched in my memory. The beach there had a sandy bottom, a welcomed relief from my aunt’s beach. This cottage is special to me because 2 things happened here that still ring true in my adult life: I officially became a Christian and began mapping out my family tree. I still walk daily with the Lord and am now writing down 20 years of genealogical research into a book.

As the years went on, it became me, my sister, mother, and grandmother in Port Austin trips. We’d stop at the IGA (a grocery store) in Bad Axe and get all the supplies we’d need for the week. Shopping with my mother and grandmother, this was a 2 hour excursion, which I always dreaded.  I wanted to get up to the cottage as soon as possible and see my lake! The foodstuff could wait.

Ray was there with his wife when we arrived. There were 2 cottages on the property – they would stay in one, we’d stay in the other. Ray was old enough to be my grandfather. My sister and I went fishing with him on his boat and caught so many lake perch our live wells were filled to the gills! Ray’s navigational systems weren’t working, so we had to stay within sight of land – but Ray started chasing schools of perch, as fishermen tend to do, and the next thing we know, we’re surrounded by water. It was I who got us safely back to shore after I found Sebewaing’s lone water tower in the distance.

There was no TV here. This was long before the internet was ubiquitous (I would go a whole week without checking my email!). I truly unhooked from the world I knew, the craziness of my household. And I loved every minute of it.

Watching the storms roll in on the lake was better than TV. I collected zebra mussel shells as if they were conch shells. The waterslide in Caseville proved I could get over my fear of heights. My 82 year old grandmother beat me in mini golf at Sandy Dunes. I would run the fitness trail at Port Crescent State Park, usually with my Dad when he showed up for a couple of days. Countless walks on the beach, watching the sunset, campfires every night – I never got bored and planned to move here alone after college.

These summers moulded my heart to love the beach life, which is part of the reason I live in the coastal Carolinas. Like so many others, I can sum up my childhood summers in 2 words: Port Austin.

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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.