When my dad finished his 2nd tour of duty in the Marine Corp., he went into business with my grandpa in his Auto shop/filling station on the corner of Sweet and Diamond in Grand Rapids.

Dad, Ken Brooks, pumping gas for a customer.

Sometime during this partnership they won a 30-06 rifle in a promotion. This was the gun my dad used for hunting from that point on. He hand-checkered the stock with tools that have since passed to my brother Carl, along with the rest of his hunting gear. Dad and grandpa seemed to have similar dispositions and past-times. Dad said he didn’t come from a very demonstrative family. He knew he was loved because he and grandpa did things together. They cut wood. They fished. They hunted. During family get-togethers at grandpa and grandma’s house they sat across from each other in the living room barely saying a word, but my dad knew. He could see it in my grandpa’s eyes. They didn’t vocally say ‘I love you,’ or hug. When I came home from Summer Camp staff as a 17 year old I was a hugger. I said ‘I love you’. My dad would just nod; and it took a couple years for him to hug back. That changed after a while but at the time I didn’t care. I knew.
One hunting season not long after he returned from service Dad was up at the cabin. This was in a time when deer were plentiful and bucks hung from tree branch and poles. Between grandpa’s cabin and Uncle Herb’s the deer hung like rows of corn after the first week of the season. One day Dad, Uncle Bill Masters, and Grandpa were heading back out into the woods after lunch. As they drove down the county road they saw old man Bullock and his boys firing their rifles across Mr. Pike’s field toward my grandpa’s woods.

My dad pulled over and asked them what they were shooting at. Mr. Bullock, standing a little ways off the road told my dad that there was a big buck standing at the tree-line of my grandpa’s woods just below the big hill. The distance to the deer from the road was probably about the length of three football fields. Mr. Bullock’s sons were laying atop a rise about a third of the way through the field firing round after round. The buck just stood there looking. Grandpa said “ Nobody’s even coming close Kenny; he’s not even flinching. My dad got out his 30-06 and rested it on a fence post along the road. Sighting in with his scope he could see that it was a big buck. The rack was spread wide but he couldn’t tell how many tines it had from that distance. The deer could hear the shots but was apparently unconcerned. It was just noise. He continued to browse and occasionally lift his head to the rifle shots. Mr. Bullock said: “ C’mon Kenny, at least go up by the boys. You’ll never hit him from back there.” “Nope, I’m good.” Said my dad. He loaded a clip into his gun and chambered a round. The Bullock boys kept plinking away, and the deer just stood there.
When my dad settled himself and looked through the scope, my Uncle Bill said that he and my grandpa just held their breath. KRACK! My dad quickly worked the bolt and chambered another round. He missed, but he was close enough that the buck bolted along the tree-line. Dad never looked up. Sighting again, he led the deer and KRACK! The buck went down with grasses and dirt flying as the rack plowed into the ground. Dad dropped him on the run! The Bullock boys just stared back from the rise while Mr. Bullock whooped and hollered, laughing and running up to my dad. ‘Kenny, that was the most amazing shot I’ve ever seen! You did it! You really did it!” Uncle Bill was dumbstruck. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.” Grandpa just beamed. Nobody went out into the woods that afternoon. This is the story as I heard it from my dad and my Uncle Bill. There was probably a bit of luck in the shot, but my dad spent his time in the Marine corp. as a Drill Instructor and Range Instructor. I’m guessing that played a part.

Twig and leaf

How does one encapsulate a place and time into a few short sentences? How does one light a fire within another with memories and words? Springdale Farm, Uncle Frank & Aunt Louise’ home was the birthplace of memories for me. Only a couple miles from the Dune Climb and the Glen Lakes it carried the flair of an exotic, (to an eight year old)vacation place. The Welch homestead on Welch road had field, wood, and hill to run, climb, and crawl through until bedraggled and scratched, hair blown and tangled with twig and leaf a boy would come through the back screen door with a twang of spring and slap of door on jamb, flushed with a day of sun and woodland adventure to a half hearted scolding for being out so long and looking like something that a woodchuck carried to a brush pile.
Earth. Soil, and Nature. An article recently read that children would be better off and more healthy if they just got a bit dirty now and then. There is something in the earth that connects us and heals us. It makes us whole, both physically and spiritually. Christian tradition tells us that God formed Adam from earth. Take it for what it is, the connection bears it out. Perhaps this is why I needed to share this experience with my own children; why my grandchildren have been to Springdale Farm, and climbed the dunes and walked the same fields, and climbed the same hills that captured the heart of their grandfather fifty-odd years ago.
We need to come back to the earth. We need to come in at dusk with twig and leaf caught in the hair, cheeks flush and pink with the sun and sky.


There hadn’t been much need to go into the old shed at the cabin. It seemed like the only things in there were an old rusted truck and a bunch of lumber, but grandma needed something. I can’t even remember what but she asked dad to see if he could find it. “I’m sure it’s in there Kenny, see if you can find it.” Dad rolled open the long door of the shed sending light into a space that rarely ever got it. He found what grandma wanted. I wanted to take a look into a shed that hardly ever saw the light of day.
There was all sorts of stuff in there! Hanging against the wall was a rusted old two-handled cross cut saw. I remember seeing movies with lumberjacks using them. “Did you ever use that, dad?” “Oh yes,” he said. “grandpa and I used that all the time before we had chainsaws.” I stared in wonder at the old saw as the door slid closed and darkness hid it from sight again.

Sawdust and woodchips flew out onto the forest floor back and forth, bouncing off the grubby oil-spotted overalls and boots of the man and boy. Clarence kept his blades sharp- He had to; the old cabin had to be heated and wood was cheaper than propane. Originally owned by a lumber company the woods were intersected by a railroad grade that ended just shy of the western border of the property. Another spur cut in from the east at the north end of the 160 acres. Both lines had been pulled up leaving only a long sloping grade, a large clearing at the north end and a few, now rusty, line spikes that are still being found today. All the wood that was fit to be logged was harvested long ago.

The woods had grown up since then. The clearing was still there and the grade still ran rail straight from the east to the west right down the center of the property. It was along the old grade that the man had parked his pick-up. As Clarence, fit and trim at thirty-eight years used the two man cross-cut saw to cut through the branches and trunk of the tree his fourteen year old son Kenny worked the other end of the saw. Once the cutting was done the boy cleared the small branches and stacked the wood in face-cord sections four foot high, eight long with precise sixteen inch pieces. Clarence pulls out his maul and wedges, splitting the larger pieces of trunk while Kenny stacks and clears the brush. The boy and man work silently, the natural sounds of wind and bird punctuated by the dull ‘thock’ of wood striking wood and the high pitched ‘ping’ of maul striking wedge. Clarence straightens up and wiping the sweat from his brow he adjusts his glasses and runs his tongue along his bottom lip. He watches his son stacking the wood with pride. The boy takes the time to stack the pieces tight and straight. Kenny notices the stillness and, looking up at his dad, wipes his face with a leather glove. No words are exchanged but Clarence reaches into the back of the truck and pulls out a couple cold sodas and points one at the boy. Kenny straightens with a smile and nods. The two sit on the tailgate of the truck and listen to the sounds of the woods and feel the hot sun on their cheeks.
The trees are taller. A different pick up sits on the railroad grade. Chainsaws and a plastic milk crate with oil and rags sits on the ground. Kenny, now forty-four years old stands next to the cut trunk of a tree. A chainsaw sits on the flat surface about waist high while he works a rattail file against the curved blade tips of the chain. “Give me four hours to cut down a tree and I’ll spend the first two sharpening my axe.” Is a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln though no one knows for sure who said it; but in this case it applies. Cutting up a tree is much easier and quicker with a sharp saw. His three sons, Mike and Kevin now teenagers, and even the five year old, Carl, engage in various tasks of hauling brush, stacking wood, and prepping logs for the blade. Clarence, now sixty-eight, lets Kenny do the cutting. Bent and aged by the life he led he is more of a consultant now. He still drives his old truck up into the woods. The boys, sitting on the tailgate for the short trip up the county road, watch the road roll underneath their feet and snicker as the yellow and white center lines slowly snake back and forth from one side of the tailgate to the other. Kenny asks his dad where they are cutting today and the old man says: “Plenty of standing dead on the grade.” Clarence points out trees and his son gets to cutting. He directs the boys on clearing brush and stacking, and he helps Kenny with measuring. He carries a stick, just an ordinary stick with notches on it. Standing to the side while his son starts the saw he bends down and lays the stick against the branch or trunk to give Kenny the measure that, after years in the woods, he doesn’t really need. And he steps away as the saw blade sends sawdust flying. The wood is stacked, saws and boxes stowed in the truck, and the boys are called back from whatever forest adventure took them away from the grade. The woods need to be checked, and the boys watch the two-track path roll beneath their feet while weeds and twigs flick at the older boys’ shoes and pantlegs as they travel from one end of the woods to the other. Driving through the open field at the north end made the boys pick up their feet. The field was full of blackberry brambles which bite and scrape even through blue jeans. Once back at the cabin the three boys carry on with various pursuits while the two men go inside. Grandma Adeline stands at the kitchen window looking out at the boys. “Get some cutting done?” Clarence responds with a “Yeh,” As he walks through to the next room. Kenny just winks at his mother. The two men sit at the dining room table with a beer and a shot of whiskey. No words are spoken. They stare into each other’s eyes and take a sip while a slow cool summer breeze catches a wind chime hanging in one of the maple trees and comes, with the music, through the window to slowly dry the sweat on their brows.

Clarence and Ken Brooks

*Comes with Instructions

Driving through Grand Rapids I realized I was anxious to get to my destination because the rush hour traffic was slowing me down. “This is why I stay outta town at five o’clock.” That thought rolled slowly in my brain like the GVSU buildings rolled slowly past my view as I came out of the S-curve. Traffic opened up once I passed the downtown interchange. It wasn’t long and I pulled onto Plainfield Avenue and everything changed.
We are creatures of habit and routine. We feel most comfortable when our day to day lives follow a path. Home to work, home to work, church, home to work. We get so comfortable in the routine that we laugh at Facebook posts about ‘life’ involving clothes for work and pajamas. Pajamas are like the black hole of social interactions. Once we get within their proximity they pull us in and escape becomes futile. Light itself cannot escape the pajama black hole because we draw the blinds, turn on the boob-tube and ignore the girlscout knocking at the door. We’ve holed-up and ‘checked out.’
Tonight I narrowly escaped the pull of the pajama pants and leaving the Starship Comfy Couch docked I drove down Plainfield Avenue at the invitation of my old buddy Mike Foster and his wife Josie. They were going to Cheers to hear the Band Reflections play on the Deck. The summer band consists of a high school classmate Kevin Bouwkamp on vocals and keyboard, Rick Devon on vocals and drums, and West Michigan legend Max Colley jr. on sax. Max was the music/ band teacher at Northview High School. Many of my classmates had him for music throughout school as he started in the grade schools and went to the high school the same year we did.

Max Colley Jr. And Kevin Bouwkamp

So much had changed along Plainfield, yet still seemed startlingly familiar. Strip malls lined the Avenue but with different names on the storefronts. The Lazy T Motel looks unchanged, Taco Boy is a mainstay while the world turns and the shops around it flip their signs like an old rolodex.

Grandma’s house on Carleton.

For a couple years in the late sixties we lived with my grandma on Carleton, off four mile right behind Taco Boy. I remember one summer in ’69 or ’70, when an intense storm flooded Plainfield Avenue in front of T.B. and the Small Town Mall. (At this time it was Arlans) Two of my aunts along with every other teenager in the area were swimming on the Avenue, and pushing stalled cars out of the way while my brother and sister and I crowded around the upstairs window watching the rain storm and listening to the older kids having fun!
Fred Pizza is still there though the house is long gone. Plainfield Lumber is gone but the building remains. Meijer is still there though transformed and shifted on the lot. I remember going to the barber shop in the front upper gallery in the old meijer. First my dad, then my brother mike, then me. ‘High and tight’ my dad, the ex-marine, would say.

Sitting on the Deck chatting with Mike & Josie about more than just the old days. We always came back to the old days, but we’d lived quite a full life since then. We raised children and entertain and help raise grandchildren. We carried on with life with varying degrees of success. The trick is, I think, in embracing the failures with the successes and plodding on, learning as we go. ‘Life is like a box of chocolates…’ or maybe an entertainment center from IKEA. it comes with instructions but they’re hard to follow and come in multiple languages, so we set them aside and find out five steps in that there was something we should’ve done in step two!

It’s good to see old classmates laughing and having fun. Sometimes I think to myself that there’s no way they’ve gone through some of the crap that I have. But they have; we all have. It is said there are only two certainties in life: Death and Taxes. There is another: Mistakes. Call it the human condition, or the fall of Adam, but mistakes will always be made. How we deal with them can and hopefully will change. We are Human Kintsugi, fractured and broken pottery that is repaired with gold and silver enamel.

As we learn we hopefully grow and become a more valuable and valued person. People like Kevin Bouwkamp, Max Colley, Linda Frey, Mike &Josie Foster all remind me who I am and where I fit when I’m not wearing Pajama pants. I look around at all the people on the deck enjoying the music, smiling and laughing, and I remember growing up here. I remember riding my bike to 7-11 and sitting outside the McDonald’s on the half-wall ledge eating a burger, fries and a coke with change in my pocket from a $1 bill! From my chair on the deck I can almost see Kevin Whitaker’s old house behind the trees and the Volkswagen dealership. Kevin, Craig Conklin and I skipped out on our eighth grade field day at the high school track. We got off the bus and walked down to Kevin’s house to smoke a bowl or two…we came back in time to take the bus back to Highlands. “Great Brooks,” said Mr. Overbeek when I got on the bus. “Where were ya when we needed ya?”
Hmmm. Where did I put those IKEA Instructions?

Of Bacon and Wood Fires

There are times in our lives that have so impacted our psyche that we attach something external to the memory; a song, a noise, a smell. An ’80’s tune comes on the radio or is played at a wedding reception, (because, what else are you going to dance to), and I get a peculiar sensation that I’ve come to associate with my early twenties. A mixture of independence and the axiety that being on your own can bring, and the thrill of all things new including the birth of MTV and music videos. For as long as I can remember there are two things that will instantaneously transport me Up North: The aroma of Bacon sizzling in the pan, and the smell of a wood fire.
The smell of breakfast cooking was like a natural alarm clock. We couldn’t sleep through it! Grandma’s breakfast was legendary! There were two stoves in the little kitchen. One, an old Franklin woodstove that I cannot ever remember being used except to hold pots, pans, utinsels, and cookbooks on an upper shelf. The other was a modern gas stove fed by a tall propane tank standing just outside the door.

Grandma kept a can of ‘leavings’ ; bacon and sausage grease on the stove-top and would spoon a dab into the deep cast iron skillets she used for everything that didn’t require baking. We woke to the sound of a wooden spoon being banged on a pot. Bleary eyed we’d stumble to the dining room where the table would be set with a platter full of eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, ham, sausage, pancakes, rhubarb sauce (in season) applesauce, toast, made with an old fashioned two slice toaster that you had to open and flip the bread to toast the other side, peanut butter and jam (homemade), coffee and juice (orange and grapefruit).

She was used to cooking for a big crew; her own kids, then as time passed, spouses, then add some grandkids. There were times when it was just us; my brothers and sisters and I sitting bleary-eyed with my mom, dad, grandpa and grandma in attendance. Other times The Cabin took on a circus atmosphere when uncles, aunts, and cousins came up as well!
Lots of laughter and chatter as kids talked and giggled through eggs and potatoes, bacon and sausage; puckering at the sour unsweetened grapefruit juice and rhubarb sauce. Then we were sent packing to run pell-mell through the day. Our plates were cleared and clean plates and coffee cups were set for the adults and deeper voices laughed and chatted, adult mouths puckered at juice and sauce, all the while grandma refilled bowl and platter and called my dad Kenny as she had since his youth.
Even later when it was just my cousin and I as teenagers coming up for the weekend the offering was as varied, just smaller in volume! The Cabin was made up of three main rooms: the kitchen, dining, and living rooms. There were rooms off the front and side of the living room for sleeping. There were also a couple army cots that served the dual purpose of sleeping and sitting. Even at the peak of summer there were days the woodstoves in the living and dining rooms would need to be stoked against the chill of morning or evening. In the Spring and Fall they were tended non-stop. Though our vacations were mostly fun and games, we still had to help sweep, carry water buckets, bring in wood for the stoves, and help dad or Grandpa bring a truck full of wood out of the Woods and stack it.

Sometimes, maybe a week after we get home from vacation, I’d reach into my dresser for a t-shirt and pull out one that had been unpacked, unused, but still permeated with woodsmoke. Pulling it over my head I’d be magically transported into far fields and deep woods. As I grew older and I’d return from spending time Up North my friends would say: ‘You smell like campfire.’ I would just smile and accept the unintended compliment. Even now we ‘glamp’ at a campground with our granddaughters and the woodsmoke and bacon transport me to the cabin where grandma is waking us all to breakfast with a pot and wooden spoon.

The Woods

Going up north to The Woods these days is always bittersweet. The whole trip up US131 and across M115 is like taking a trip through time. I remember similar trips when I was a young boy. The expressway actually stopped at Cedar Rock, (M57) and continued north of Reed City. We would take Northland drive through small towns, passed fruit stands and yard sales that sometimes dad would stop at for mom to take a look. We always, Always stopped at Paris park for dad to ‘stretch his legs’, though I think it was more for rambunctious kids to expel energy in and around the cedar swamp that the park backed up upon. That was a magical place for me. The shallow clear water stream twisted and turned among the trees turning the mossy ground into islands. Little light seeped through the dense dark green foliage so the brown twisted trunks disappeared into darkness. This was the image I had in my mind when I later read of Merry and Pippin peering into Fangorn forest. Getting my mom’s signature call to come back we arrived at the picnic table for a little snack of crackers and cheese whiz, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and kool-aid. Sometimes we went across the street to the fish hatchery to put a nickel into the vending machine, twist the handle and scoop out a handful of fish food to toss into the ‘pond’ and watch the fish swarm!
We had our own road markers that we used to mark our journey; Paris park, a long straight stretch of highway north of Reed City that, at the end of the stretch, curved north past a rest area and told us that the exit onto M115 was just over the hill, and the Narrows at Cadillac. Yesterday’s trip up for mushrooms brought something new and old. My friend Howard came along for the ride and to see The Woods. We talked of camping trips he’d taken and even camping trips stolen to Higgins Lake as a boy. He remembered stopping for breakfast at the Narrows of Cadillac in the early to mid ’70s, and as we crossed the causeway he pointed to Burke’s Waterfront Restaurant. ‘That’s the place.’

We turned in. Friendly staff got us seated in the back room and poured coffee. We looked around at the wood paneled interior and through the wall of picture windows that looked out on Lake Cadillac and enjoyed breakfast.

Our waitress told us that Burke’s had been here for 40-50 years and Howard mentioned that one reason this restaurant stuck in his mind was that when he was here as a boy a particular song was playing from a jukebox: Green-eyed Lady by Sugarloaf, and he thought at the time ‘what an awesome song!’ As we ate and enjoyed the view we laughed because the music that was being played was almost exclusively ’70’s.

We continued on to our destination, taking the same route we always took cutting north off M115 onto a dirt road that shot straight North, then East on another county road until coming over that familiar hill Grandpa and Grandma’s cabin sat as it always had on the corner where two old roads met. The Cabin used to be an old schoolhouse when Grandpa and his brother bought it in the early ’30s. Ancient Maple trees still line the road, the small apple tree my grandma planted in the early eighties sits out front, and the White Indian Trail Marker stands at the corner by the roadside. The bittersweet hit as I turned onto the gravel road and pulled off to the right instead of pulling into that familiar drive to the cabin. The cabin belongs to someone else now and I can only view from a distance. It is a crushing feeling to know that this is no longer a destination place. Howard and I walked over to the Indian Trail Marker.

It needs some care. I’ll have to contact Woody Unruh when I get home. I adopted this particular marker last year and pledged to restore it when the Michigan weather roughs it up.

The oak trees and electric fence are gone from around Mr. Pike’s fields but the farmhouse and yard look the same. Traveling up the county road the short distance to the front entrance of The Woods we turn in the shared drive with my Great Uncle Herb’s cabin. I still call it that even though my cousin Denny’s kids own it. There were no cars there and we slowly drove passed the cabin and the ancient Maple we used to climb as kids. This was our own ‘Party Tree’ to reference the Lord of the Rings again. For years the Brooks family reunion took place under and around this tree. Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins we might only see but once a year gathered for a single day to celebrate ‘family’. Food was eaten, games were played by kids, I remember digging through a pile of sawdust for trinkets and coins, and there was always the vast 160 acres of Wood to explore! Now, today, we could only drive in about 50 yards.

Downed trees crossed the two-track so we walked in. The Woods were the same and different. The two-tracks were overgrown with forest undergrowth and brambles yet still clear enough to recognize what they were.

I knew exactly where this road less traveled led, and where it branched into the railroad grade, and the big hill, and the back roads to the big field where Uncle Rich’s cabin sits and we used to grow sick eating blackberries while our metal Shedd’s peanut butter pail remained empty.

I remember thinking that Grandpa would never have allowed these paths and tracks to become overrun and blocked. But Grandpa has been gone since ’81, and Grandma since ’95. My dad used to come up and cut wood and drive the many pathways but he passed in ’93. Uncle Sonny is in his ’90s now, still hale but that energy is expended now in hunting, fishing, and flirting with widows.

The Woods and its pathways are now untended. The shepherds of the Woods are gone except for the brief trips we younger (58 year old!) family can carve out of our busy lives, and that only to walk the paths as we can. Howard and I enjoyed our few hours in The Woods, and though we left empty handed, (at least of Morels) I know that I personally left with more memories of the early times when the same sounds of bird and buzzing insects, smells of plants and trees, new growth and vegetation going to mulch, followed behind me like a cape or sail as I careened through the summer Woods in dark and dappled sunlight bending beech trees to my will and exploring the paths worn to dirt and deer paths that led into new discoveries.

As we walked out of The Woods we saw a couple vehicles up by Uncle Herb’s place. I walked up to say hello to my cousin Denny’s wife and kids. He had just passed last year and they had come up to the cabin. I remember Denny when we were much younger. He was 11 years older than I and that difference is more marked in youth.
It was nice to reconnect with family, and though distanced by busy lives we discovered that we are mostly living in or near Grand Rapids, they also told me where Denny and other family were buried including Great Grandpa and Grandma Brooks who’s farm had been on the other side of Uncle Herb’s cabin, so we stopped at the little cemetary before we left the area.

While we didn’t find any mushrooms, it was a day trip well spent sharing a special place with a friend, and reconnecting with family. Perhaps it isn’t The Woods that have changed. Time marches on, as they say. Events and people mark our lives and alter our lists of priorities. Perhaps it’s us that have changed. Time spent in carefree youth is swallowed up in weightier matters that legitimately occupy our minds and lives to the exclusion of frivolous pursuits like walking pathways that, once remembered, can’t be forgotten again. Bittersweet or not, I need to drive up North more often, step over some downed trees and breathe deep of the Woods and, for now, more anticipated memories.

The Ladle

Although it has been a trial getting my mother-in-law’s house emptied and ready for the buyers, this has been her house since it was built in 1960 and so there has been decades of accumulated ‘stuff’. My father-in-law, having passed away in ’89, was your typical man and the house still had items that told me a bit about him. He had an old gun cabinet (not an industrial -need a 10 digit pass code to access cabinet but a lightweight 1950’s freestanding utility cabinet that you could easily punch your fist through the laminate sidewall.) that at this point only held a few odds and ends of hunting and fishing gear; pieces of an old gun cleaning kit, a couple fishing lures and sinkers, broken bobbers, a couple of those huge metal safety pins for affixing the plastic hunting tag holder to the back of a jacket, empty cans of gun oil, and a metal straining ladle.

Now, all of these items bring back my own hunting and fishing memories but for some reason when I picked up that ladle I felt like I’d walked through a wardrobe into another realm. I saw my dad’s hand ladling out chunks of ice from a freshly augered hole getting ready to set the Tip-up some distance from the others set and ready around the south end of Murray Lake. “Is that a flag?” All of our heads swing around looking across the lake at the other Tip-ups. My feet encased in two pair of socks and red ball jets wrapped in plastic bread bags fit snug in my black galoshes as they crunched on the ice and snow, the metal buckles encased in ice locked in place, and the fabric of my red one-piece snowmobile suit swish-swish-swished to my running across ice. The flag on the Tip-up waved and vibrated on the wood frame as we approached. Dad and Uncle Sonny, calm and composed compared to our heart-pounding eagerness, knelt down beside the hole in the ice. The line angled off under the foot thick ice but didn’t seem to move.
Uncle Sonny lifted the Tip-up clear of the hole with one hand while the other lightly held the line, testing for movement. Looking up at my dad he nodded and smiled. He looked at us kids and said: “Set those mouths or this fish ain’t coming home.” Mike, Shannon and I clenched our teeth in a side grimace that made our left eyes squint because that was the only way to catch fish, and Uncle Sonny yanked on the line and started pulling it in. Twisting this way and that the line moved all around the hole to the frantic motions of an unseen fish. Every so often Uncle Sonny would make an announcement: “Oh yeah, this one’s a keeper!” or, “We’re having fish for dinner!”
The line moved faster. The fish was getting closer to the hole. Having spent my summers dropping the line from my cane- pole into lakes and ponds I usually caught bluegill or the odd bass. Tip-up fishing with minnows as bait usually lands something a bit heftier. I still remember how our eyes bugged out when that massive pike swam into view! By now it had lost some fight and once it’s head came up the hole my dad hooked his hand under the gills and hauled him up onto the ice! It was huge! And I swim in this lake!?! What a great way to start the day! Mike, Shannon and I stood there grinning, still holding our mouths just right, Dad and Uncle Sonny reset the tip-up for another run while checking the others. Every now and then dad would use the ladle to break through the reformed ice around the line and hole.and scoop it out onto the surface leaving the hole clear again.
Us kids were set to the task of gathering wood for a fire while Dad and Uncle Sonny watched the Tip-ups and talked of adult stuff. Lunch consisted of hotdogs roasted over the fire right out on the ice, pop and chips. Hot chocolate was kept for after the fire was out. Dad and Uncle Sonny had some liquid warmth otherwise known as BlackBerry Brandy. We’d stay out on the ice until we couldn’t see the flags because of the dimming day and, gathering everything, we’d head home to show off our catch and crawl into warm beds after a hot bath.

I held that ladle in my mother-in-law’s basement. I haven’t ice-fished since I was a boy and chances are I won’t ever again; nevertheless I went upstairs and dropped it into a box of miscellaneous items marked “Keep” and put it in my trunk.

A Reunion. #40 Is The New 78

The pavilion is alive with light, music, and laughter all wrapped around a cascade of conversations. The last class reunion we had was the 30th so many of us tried to condense at least 10 years into bullet points. Outside of facebook many of us hadn’t seen each other let alone been in the same building since, well, 40 years ago!

I look around the room and see smiles and laughter; I see brows furrowed in concentration, memories stretching back through the years until the event flashes into the present, the brow smooths and laughter begins. I see my classmates in ways I never did at seventeen. I think back to grade school and see us at D.W. Richardson and being King for a Day in Kindergarten. 2nd and 3rd grade at East Oakview, and 4th grade at Main.

I remember listening to Cheech and Chong’s Big Bamboo in Mrs. Driscoll’s art class in the 8th grade at Highlands Middle School. I remember Mr. Wilson, Mr. Overbeek and Mr. Melpolder. I remember the North Kent Mall as the place to go and many of us hovered there.

We dropped quarters into Alladin’s Castle and dropped dollars at Spencer’s Gifts for Black Light posters and glow in the dark mobiles. We also dropped giggles and titters at the adult games and toys in the back rack. Many of us became entrepreneurs when a store opened up and they had individually wrapped candies in baskets on the wall, each with a name like: Martini, Screwdriver, Highball, Gin & Tonic, (you get the picture). I think they sold for like twenty for a buck. We sold them at school for ten cents apiece. Some of the hard to get flavors went for a quarter. When we weren’t slathering mustard on a Hot Sam or sipping on an Orange Julius we could be found at the Bullock Cart checking out Homespun clothes, pipes, and sometimes weird looking sterling silver jewelry; an eye looking out from a ring was quite popular. My preference was for a silver belt buckle showing Alice and a Hookah smoking caterpillar. I remember going to football games just to socialize, and by that I mean stand at the back fence and smoke. Sports had no allure for me but socializing did because I was painfully shy. It took everything within me to go to those games but it was a start. For myself, being a late bloomer, I never did fully escape my shyness until graduation and all the grad parties once school was over. I remember those fondly because I actually started talking to my classmates. I remember Bob Cunningham’s and Jeff Yaste’s ( I lived next door to him from ‘68-’70.) I think of opportunities taken and opportunities missed. Most of all I think of those days as golden.

I look at my classmates and I see the boy or girl they were; eyes bright and faces flushed with excitement at life being lived full-tilt and unafraid. Northview was in its infancy when we were in ours. It grew with us and Plainfield Twp grew with us. The wide open spaces we ran in and explored gave way to industry and progress that gave us opportunity as we matured. Our successes and failures in high school prepared us for more of the same in marriage, work, parenthood and grandparenthood.

I look at my classmates as we celebrate our class reunion and I see the men and women they are; eyes bright and faces flushed with excitement at life being lived, maybe not full-tilt but with wisdom and experience that still faces life unafraid; mostly because we know who we are, and we know what we can do. We are strong. We are Northview.

Growing Up Northview


(Brother Mike on the left. Me at the end of the bench. 2yrs.)
While making notes on growing up on 5 mile road I happened upon some aerial photographs of Plainfield Twp from 1960.

I’m guessing the maps are from a bit earlier since construction began on Northview High School in ’59 yet the map shows none. My aunt Nora lived with us from the time she was 15 until almost graduated. She bussed to Rockford High School until Northview H.S. was completed then she became the first 10th grade class to graduate from the new school. I am still amazed, though, at how much was not here around 1960! Much of our little township was still undeveloped. Northeast of Dean Lake was field and woods with the exception of the Plainfield Avenue corridor. 5 mile road just shows the few small houses along that road and none of the neighborhoods that came up soon after; Northville drive, Bonanza & Bonneville, Chandy, Crisfield & Hackley, (which incidentally was called the Plainfield Highlands Plat).

My earliest memories of home have me sledding down Mike DeYoung’s hill on Bonanza; and Bonneville only going back to where the two roads reconnect. Highlands Middle School was a vacant field and Chandy, if it existed, didn’t go back very far past the Feist’s house. Looking down 5 mile from Plainfield Avenue we lived at the highest point one could see of the road. All along both sides massive oak trees lined the road and spread a canopy of branches and leaves that almost touched. Behind us, to the north, lay a stretch of woods that, in later years would contain my neighbor Mr, VanStee’s (Uncle Dale’s) narrow gauge hobby train track, but now, the woods being relatively young, we could watch the movie at the Drive-In through the upstairs window of our house. Much of 5 mile and the connecting neighborhoods was surrounded by large tracts of land that lay undisturbed by car or plow, but houses kept going up and businesses kept expanding out from Grand Rapids proper along Plainfield and down where the beltline crossed the Grand River and became Northland drive, so there was an exciting mixture of rural and suburban life that coexisted for a while until suburbia enveloped the area as commercial and residential growth always does. This is probably why I have always enjoyed open spaces, trails and woods. 5 mile was still very open. Large tracts of land were still owned by individuals and families with ties to farming and fruit growing like the Robinettes. East of the Beltline 5mile was a dirt road that went back some way until it became a two-track through the woods down to Grand River drive. My folks bought their little house (25×25) around ’58. With no basement and only an attic space for sleeping it didn’t take long for us to grow out of this tiny home. Mike, Shannon and I slept on narrow wooden beds squeezed into the north end of the attic while, around the tight staircase that twisted down to the main floor, my folks found room for a queen, two cribs for Kelly and Denise, and dressers for everybody on the south end. The driveway of our little house was just a two-track path that ran diagonal across our front yard.

I remember we had two wagon wheels half sunk in the ground on either side of the drive. At times my dad would repaint the flat steel tire and axle band black and the wood wheel and spokes white. Across the street the Dempsey’s had a large family garden with massive rhubarb plants that begged for me to break off a stalk to chew on as I made my way through Mr. Hansen’s plot next door. Mr. Hansen was mysterious and unfriendly (to a seven year old). His plot was a two-track meandering back into the brush with some plantings and fruit trees. He had chickens and coops but there was no house. He also brought all sorts of interesting things to store in rows; old appliances, boxes of car parts and other brick-a-brack. Apparently nothing of interest to kids because I never felt induced to take anything. A little further down the road lived my friend Sandren Schollaart. Sandy’s folks had a small barn with a few animals and Mr. Schollaart worked a job as well. Looking back this seemed typical to the area. There was a blending of old world and new; rural and suburb. I remember Sandy and I getting switched, (at least I got switched) for taking money from our homes and walking up to Plainfield where we loaded up on snacks from the vending machine of the gas station on the corner opposite the fire barn. The gas station is long gone and a succession of convenience stores have come and gone as well. The library used to be housed in a strip of offices Just beyond the fire barn where Jayne Dykema’s law offices now reside. My love for books began there with The Black Stallion series. Summers would find me down by the ponds at the bottom of the hill (where the library now stands) where sometimes my mom would pack a picnic lunch for us and we’d pick the indian paint brushes as a bouquet and separate the snake grass into small piles.

Polliwogs would be caught in jars so we could watch them turn into frogs, and blue and purple bodied dragonflies would light on toes, shoulders, and fingers. Forts were built, fruit trees ravaged, feet froze in shoes wrapped in bread bags inside black rubber galoshes with metal buckles. Mike Foster, Mike DeYoung, Dennis Wilson, Joe Mark, Sandy Schollaart, all within shouting distance or a quick walk. Buck Barry lived just down the road, his horse Thunder waiting in his corral for young hands to stroke his mane or offer sugar. There must have been furious residential growth in the early sixties as the neighborhoods sprung up quickly through field and wood. By ’67 we had to move to my grandma’s house on Carleton off 4 mile for a couple years while my folks figured out whether to buy or build. During this time 5 mile was widened to make way for increased traffic to the new North Kent Mall and our new house was built on the existing lot we owned. Business sprung up everywhere and open spaces closed in. Even now 5 mile is changed…and yet has stayed the same. Most of the old neighborhood is still there along with some new. Familiar houses and lots still unchanged next to new houses and complexes. I think of myself as a boy here, running through woods, building treehouses and camps complete with smoky fireplaces, Fields and ponds to explore, and friends to find adventure with. Northview started with us. We are Northview.

Empire Beach

While the Glen lakes were within sight of the farm we usually went to the public beach in Empire for the day. Aunt Mary and Uncle Norm Welch lived in Empire as well as Aunt Bea Payment, (yes, I really had an Aunt Bea). More often than not we would visit before we made our way to the beach. I’m sure There was moaning and groaning from us kids but I don’t remember it. Empire beach had picnic tables and grills, Swings and teeter-totters. This was the time before sun screen and a sunburn was a badge of honor. I’ve seen the Empire beach recently and it has changed. It’s all sand. Either the stones were washed off the beach or were buried. When I was young there were stones all along the beach at the water line. We had learned early on that there was a particular stone that could only be found on the northern beaches and it was different from all the other stones. (I later found out that that wasn’t exactly accurate but they were easiest found on the beaches.) Hexagonaria Percarinata, or the Petoskey Stone, is a fossilized coral that usually takes the pebble shape after a millennia of tumbling in the surf. I can still feel the pebbles against my hands and knees as I crawl along the shoreline moving stones this way and that checking for that buried treasure that might not have been seen by less sharp eyes. Especially when I was young I picked up more than petoskeys. There were other stones like quartz and bits of broken glass that had been worn smooth and rounded by the sand and surf, But there was something alluring about the Petoskey stone. The hexagonal pattern set it apart from all the other stones. I think, for myself, the stones were a part of ‘up north’ to me. Later in life I could find them in the gravel pits around Grand Rapids but very few and far different than the stones that have been rolled, shaped and smoothed by sand and wave. Crawling along the beach, back hunched and burned, finding a Petoskey the size of a quarter, all smooth and rounded was like finding a diamond ready for mounting. It was just another piece of the ‘northern experience.’ Bringing home a few stones made me feel like I was bringing home a part of Springdale Farm.

Combing the beaches, then, became one of the required activities on any trip up north. ‘Suffering’ through sunshine, beaches, and lake water was the cross I had to bear. If my back got too warm I’d just crawl into the waves and duck under the water to bring cool relief. I don’t know why but my swim trunks always had pockets. What are they for? What could you possibly be carrying that could suffer getting wet? Mine usually ended up getting filled with stones and beach glass. If I didn’t have them tied right, two pockets bulging with rocks and other flotsam would sag my shorts down past decency allowed and I’d need to grab them up tight. I must’ve looked quite the sight walking back down the beach to my towel where I deposited my ‘finds,’ and slog back for more. Other things would end up in the pile, things that kids find fascinating; small pieces of driftwood worn smooth, shells, gull feathers, plunder from a day spent in the sun. Mom would call us back for lunch. Sandwiches, chips and some treat picked up from Deering’s Market in Empire. I remember when I was five and six a nap was required after lunch. Our towels were spread on the grass under the shade trees above the beach. “We’re at the beach!” we complained. “It’s impossible to sleep at the beach!”

She was adamant. Even if we didn’t sleep we had to lay quiet for a while. We could hear and see other kids playing, other parents scolding or chatting. The midday sun flickered through the leaves overhead. A breeze off the lake kissed my cheek and dried my sun blonde hair. I wiped sand off my forearm as an ant crawled across the corner of my towel.
I woke some time later. Mom was sitting in her beach chair reading a book, Little Kelly Jo was lying on a blanket asleep next to her, a bottle mostly empty on the blanket by her head. Mike was already up and off down the beach and Shannon was still asleep on her towel. I grabbed a handful of chips and took off after Mike. Some days come back to mind so clear; others not at all or in short bursts of images. Spending time at the Farm was that way; we spent so much time there that, I think, the time and events became ‘normal’ almost like home. Days blend into weeks into months where certain days or events attach themselves to memory. I’m sure there were days that we did not much of anything special at the Farm. Those days were probably just as filled with woods and fields, apples and plums, rainy day stories and inside games. At a certain point the importance of certain places have less to do with the events that happened there and more to do with the overall feelings we get when we think about them. There are places in our lives, good and bad, that bring up feelings of joy or sadness; sometimes even both. We determine the emphasis and proportion. There is sadness associated with the Farm, how can there not be given the circle of life and the uncertainty of each day. Not too long after this event at the beach we got a call from the Farm. My cousin Bill, already a young man, had come home from the service. He was exhausted. There was a tree. Decades later, another call from Aunt Louise; Uncle Frank had passed; again, from my cousin Betty. These are events that could crush the human spirit if it were not for the myriad experiences that surround these people that produced such joy in the hearts of those they touched. I remember Aunt Louise’s gentle hugs and remember the twinkling laughter in Uncle Franks eyes as he made us ‘berry pie.’

Flashes of memory flicker through my mind infused with the feeling i get when my heart is full to bursting in remembered pleasure. The Farm and the places around it are a place of joy for me. It is a place I have shared with my own children and with my grandchildren. If they come away from the experience with a fraction of my own I am truly blessed.