In May, 2009, Ted’s cousin Cathie and her husband, Charlie (a.k.a. Frog) came to visit us during the second summer we owned our condo on Mackinac Island. Ted and Cathie consider each other brother/sister because Cathie lived with Ted and his parents for several years when they were children. While here, we all rode over to Cedarville in the Les Cheneaux Islands and visited the site of the cottage owned by Ted and Cathie’s grandparents, where so many of their childhood summers were spent. It was the first time Cathie had returned in decades, and it was a wonderful, nostalgic day for both of them and one Charlie and I so enjoyed witnessing.
On Tuesday of last week, we made that same trip to Cedarville – only this time we had with us Ted’s daughter Julie and our grandchildren, Jordan and Matthew. It was a trip years in the making because, although Julie and the children had visited us before here in Michigan, we never seemed to have time to get all the things done we wanted to do. This time, with a 10-day stay, we felt one day away from Mackinac would be kind of a vacation from the vacation. Everyone was excited, although the kids didn’t really understand just what the significance was of the trip.
They soon found out.
The trip from the ferry dock in Mackinaw City to the old home site takes around 30 minutes. With Julie, Jordan and Matthew in the backseat of the truck, Ted had a captive audience. For the entire trip, he spun stories of his boyhood – his excitement as his family waited in Mackinaw City for the car ferry for the trip across the Straits to the Upper Peninsula (this was before the Mackinac Bridge was built), the anticipation that built as they passed Hessel and entered the outskirts of Cedarville, and then – as they would turn down what is now “Fox Lane” and the wooded drive to the cottage came into sight – he told of how he could barely sit still long enough for his mom to stop the car so he could jump out and begin another summer of freedom in the north woods and on Lake Huron.
When Ted came here as a child, none of the houses that occupy the space now were built. His grandparents owned the cottage and quite a bit of the surrounding land (a peninsula), so Ted’s summer childhood was filled with uninhabited woods leading in all directions down to the waters of Lake Huron. It was my third trip here, and we parked and walked down the same shaded path that had once led to the Zimmerman’a land. The cottage is no longer there, and new owners have built a beautiful home that fits naturally into the setting. No one was home on Tuesday to give permission, but they’d allowed us to explore the land twice before, so we assumed it would be ok this time also.
We walked into the wooded area to the right of the house, stopping to show the kids the day lily garden Ted’s mom had once planted and which has now multiplied into two huge areas of yellow beauty. Then we found the huge rock that G-Daddy and Cathy had played on as children. Of course, they all climbed it to the top.
We soon came out of the woods at the shoreline and walked through the rocky soil to the original boathouse and cribdock that still stands at the edge of the property.
On the dock.
While Julie and I waited on the dock, Matthew, Ted and Jordan crossed on slippery rocks to a small reef. Ted shared with the kids he would sometimes lay a wooden plank across the rocks, if the water level was high, so he could still cross, even when the rocks were underwater. I watched them, having no trouble at all imagining Matthew as a nine-year-old Ted.
While on the reef, Ted taught Matthew the fine art of stone skipping, something he had practiced for hours as a boy.
Jordan and Matthew heard the story of how Ted would build live traps for rabbits. When he caught one, he would play with it until it would almost become tame and eat out of his hand. They laughed when he told of how one day one of his “pet” rabbits bit his finger instead of an offered carrot, and that ended the rabbit catching.
He told of the night when friends of his family came by boat for dinner from another nearby island. They left as a storm was brewing, and before they could reach home the storm broke, and they could no longer see the shoreline. Eventually they ran aground and spent the night on the boat in the storm. When the sun rose the next morning, they found themselves on a small reef only a few yards from Ted’s grandparents’ property, not knowing in the storm they were within sight of the home they had just left.
To the left of the big dock was a smaller dock where Ted would leave his little fishing boat. He told of getting up early each morning and taking the boat out, returning an hour later with a mess of yellow perch for his mom to fry up from breakfast.
Before we left everyone climbed atop another huge rock that was a favorite of Ted’s many years ago. It sits at the edge of the water, and depending on the year and the water level, was sometimes almost covered and sometimes completely out of the water – as it was on this day. Ted said he spent many hours of his childhood sitting on that rock – thinking, dreaming little boy dreams, and playing make-up games with friends in the area.
The turtle that sits atop the rock today was not there in the 1950′s.
We rode back into Hessel to try and find someone who could make a “Jersey Mud”, an ice cream concoction Ted has mentioned a million times since we married. They were a favorite of his as a boy, and during the winter we read a story about a store in Hessel which still served them. The likeliest looking place was the Hessel General Store, so we stuck out heads in the front door and asked the first employee we saw, “Can you make a Jersey Mud?”
“Sure I can!” she said.
We ate lunch there, then ordered Jersey Muds all around. Oh my goodness! A layer of chocolate syrup on the bottom of a plastic cup, then a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Next a glob of marshmallow fluff, then a scoop of chocolate ice cream, followed by another glob of marshmallow fluff – then sprinkle with malt powder. Finish it off with whipped cream and one cherry on top. Delicious and decadent! Wish I could show you a photo, but they were all eaten before I remembered to pull out the camera.
Ted and I outside the Hessel General Store.
Ted and I will probably never know if Jordan and Matthew ever return to this place so important to their grandfather. Jordan listened to his words thoughtfully, and Matthew listened with the ears of a nine-year-old boy, probably trying hard to imagine his G-Daddy at that same age.
If they do return, I hope they bring their children or grandchildren. These stories passed down to them through Ted are important parts of their heritage, and they are stories Ted felt so important he was determined to tell them in the place they happened almost 55 years ago.
I hope they remember every word, and many years from now – even if they don’t return – I hope they tell of going to visit where their grandfather spent such a happy childhood. And in the telling, I hope they remember that they walked in G-Daddy’s footprints.