My Mom’s family, The Arados, used to congregate annually in the little town of St. Joseph, Michigan for a week each summer. It was a big family reunion where all my aunts, uncles and cousins would gather for adventures at my Great Grandfather’s old farm on lake Michigan. I don’t know when he got the house, but it had been a gathering place for the Arado clan for a long time. Our Adventures in the 70s and 80s included activities such as playing golf-cart hide and seek, scaling the treacherous bluff to get to the beach, and avoiding getting yelled at by my Uncle John. We did this every year until around 1990 (the summer I was in Italy) when the farm was tragically sold off by some relative I have never met to a real estate developer. The farm has now been divided up a broken into individual lots, however the farmhouse still stands. My mom covets it still and I don’t put it past her, or my aunts and uncle, to figure out a way to buy it back, even though the land around the old farmhouse is lost to new homes.
I got this email from my Aunt Jan today:
Subject: Remember Michigan?
Recently, your parents–the Arado siblings–had an e-mail discussion about our memories of Michigan. I mentioned this to Todd, who immediately asked why he wasn’t included in these e-mails. (After all, he pointed out, he gets plenty of forwards that are far less interesting.) So let’s open up this discussion to everyone… So here’s the deal–share with us your fondest (and no-so-fondest) memories of Michigan…
She wrote more, but I didn’t need to read further before starting to jot down a few memories. So, for all non Arado blodded folks, this is the most boring blog entry of all time. Well, lets face it, it might be boring for some of the Arado kin as well. I am not as gifted a writer as some of my cousins.
For me, Michigan (that’s what we called it, it was never “the farm” “Grampa’s House” or “St. Joe”, we all always just called it simply, “Michigan”) is synonymous with summer vacations, childhood and laughter. Man we laughed A LOT there.
La Gram in the Old Days at Michigan
First, I have such strong memories of that old house itself. She had her own creaky personality. The house wasn’t all that big, all the kids were split mostly into two rooms: the Boys Room (site of Adam’s legendary biting episodes) and the Girls Room. Also upstairs was the kids bathroom with the huge clawfood tub, My aunt Ginny & Uncle Barry’s Room (where I used to help put Jess to sleep) and Uncle John’s room which was OFF LIMITS. Why do I remember reading the book Little Black Sambo in that dimly lit hallway? From the Girls room at night you could hear the trains pass by, I remember the exact pitch of the train’s whistle. In the daytime we used to bet what color the caboose would be.
Gram and Todd
Downstairs my Mom and Gram shared a room, which smelled distinctly of Gram’s “White Shoulders” perfume; I don’t remember my dad being there before my parents were divorced, though surely he was. My Aunt Jan and Uncle Paul had a room across the hallway which, if memory serves, had a staircase to the basement. Todd and Tim generally slept down there (in Aunt Jan’s room, not the basement), they didn’t sleep in the rowdy Boys room, maybe out of fear of being bitten by Adam. The basement itself was scary. I only remember being down there once to tie-dye a shirt back in my crafty days.
The living room was rather small, and we weren’t inside all that much out of fear of being yelled at to GO OUTSIDE ITS A BEAUTIFUL DAY. When we were inside, i.e. when it was raining, we watched the Family Feud, Days of Our Lives and baseball on the big TV encased in fake wood. Or, we played games. Lots of games: solitaire, yahtzee, trivial pursuit, gin rummy, Sorry!, Monopoly… the list goes on and on. Gram would tell us not to pick grapes off the bunch one by one, but to take the entire stem. The adults had cocktails.
Some of the best times at Michigan were at mealtimes:
Eatin’ Corn on the Porch
The kids at at one table on the porch and the grownups at in the dining room area with the huge picture window (with the terrible curtains) facing the driveway. We always had the freshest of fresh produce on the table, and Gram’s salad every night. To this day, Gram’s salads are the best I ever had; I’ll have to see if she remembers her secret ingredients. There would always be Lamb night served with mint jelly, and to this day the smell of lamb reminds me of Michigan (oh, it also reminds me of the time I got food poisoning on the French Riviera, but that’s another story). Frank would cook in the kitchen and always had a smile for you. He had his own rooms on a separate cottage on the property, but not in the main house. Famous lines from dinners still resonate, such as Todd’s, “I stuck my hands in the butter” which we all thought was hilarious.
Frank was THE MAN
The golfcart gets its own special mention. I am sure it was meant to be purely functional, but the kids made it recreational. At a certain age (11? 12?) you pased a test and were allowed to drive the golf cart. We could fit 8 or 9 of us in it, if we packed it in and sat on laps. Before being allowed to drive, we would beg the nearest adult to take us on a golfcart ride PLEASE! The ride would typically go up the paved path that lead to the bluff, around and through several of the bumpy grapevines, including of course THE WIDE VINE, by the scary chicken coop, passed the white barn (scene of my boxing match with Adam), around the birch trees “look out for that pOllllllllle!”, across the shuffle board court, and by the spot where my sister Erin clocked cousin Matt over the eye with a golf club resulting in the only emergency room visit I can remember there.
I’d Kill for that hair today
Personally, I remember feeling very awkward at Michigan, particularly as I got older…13, 14, 15. I was smack dab in the middle of the age range of the cousins, too young to hang with Erin, Jeff, Matt, Liz and Trish and too old for Todd, Tim, Jess, and Peter (Maggie wasn’t born yet). Adam was closest to me in age, but we were hot and cold to each other, alternately buddies and enemies. I am sure the older kids found me annoying, but I wanted them to like and approve of me desperately.
Exhibit A: Terra’s Awkward Stage Begins at Michigan
We rarely left the farm during those stays. I remember once, in one of the later years, going to a dance at one of the towns nearby, the one song I remember from that is Billy Idol’s remake of “Mony Mony”. I think Erin almost picked up a hitchhiker that night, or maybe she just threatened to. The adults would sometimes take the kids out to a movie. Oh, and there was some deer park not too far where I bought Jess a monchichi. The summer that ET was popular my Uncles John and Barry took all the kids to see the movie but I was so darn excited to see ET that I threw up while waiting in line. Uncle John had to take me back to the house, but made me keep my head out the window for the whole ride in case I puked again. I think he had a new car. Adam and Uncle Barry didn’t go see ET, they saw Stripes instead.
Height of 80s Fashion
My Aunt Jan asked about our recollections of visitors, of which I don’t remember too many, other than the Bruns’ from Indiana who seemed scary. I think it must have been hard for the non-Arado blooded people to fit in to the group–even the spouses of my Aunts and Uncle. We must be an intimidating bunch.
Look how Intimidating
The lake was eating the land, and every summer the bluff would be more and more ragged and more land would be gone off the edge. Nearby houses were falling down the cliff, having no land left to support them. We had campfires on the beach in early years, but towards the end the beach was very eroded and it was hard to get down from the bluff. I was scared that the lake would eventually get to our house, even though it was quite a ways from the edge.
There is so much more I could write… about Tina and the caretaker, bottle rockets and sparklers, the swing set, one scary night by the chicken coop, the card shuffler, Tab Soda, bikes from the 50s, antlers, reading Helter Skelter, and playing softball in the yard… it goes on and more things keep popping into my head the longer I sit and think and write.
I miss that house. I miss those summers. I miss the chance to see all my aunts and uncles and cousins all at once, all together. Now we just have weddings which bring some together, but never everyone together. You could say, “Well, it’s too hard to get everyone together. We live far away. Everyone has their own stuff going on”. Yes, well, that’s true. But it was true back then too. My mom was recently divorced, probably close to broke and still she loaded her kids in her small Datsun hatchback to drive from DC to Michigan one summer. She wasn’t going to miss it, or maybe wouldn’t have been allowed to. The main difference between now and then was the house, the farm, that meeting point, which we had to bring us together.
It’s a damn shame we lost it.
I don’t think this parting shot was taken at Michigan, but Dino was SO Michgan it felt wrong to exclude him.