It’s August, which in Minnesota means the leaves are turning color in the northernmost part of the state, my petunias are going to seed (Although I am pretending not to notice), and it’s all you can eat cucumbers from the garden. But most importantly, August is the month we go to Michigan.
My Gram, who passed away last December, was born and lived in Michigan until she came to Minnesota for bible college and was wooed into staying by my Grandpa, whom she once referred to as “the best looking one of all his brothers”. Gram was from Kalamazoo, and she definitely told us to “spit in our shoe and send it to Kalamazoo” if we gave her the opportunity.
The Michigan Trip started one year when Gram, on her way to Michigan to see her six siblings and spouses for their annual get-together, suggested that my sister and I meet them on their way home, in the UP (Upper Peninsula), at a favorite hotel of theirs right on Lake Superior. We are familiar with Lake Superior, being from Minnesota and claiming the “North Shore” as one of the most wonderful natural attractions ever, but it’s not the same Lake in Michigan. Where Minnesota is all rocky beaches, coniferous forests and spectacular waterfalls, Michigan is white sandy beaches for miles. We fell in love with it the same as Gram had.
My daughter at the time of the first trip was four, and my sister’s daughter was less than a year. What started as a trip my one sister and I made each year, turned into a bigger trip once my younger sisters started to come along. And then everyone had a bajillion kids and the next thing you know we are up to the four sisters and the seven kids and two dogs. With the exception of the oldest kid, who started the trip when she was four, the rest of the kids have been going to Michigan every year of their whole entire lives.
Kids make for some memories, let me tell you. Like this year, we had to shove my niece into the van after she made a giant scene on the beach, and then refused to leave. I am fully convinced had she not been yelling, “NO MOM, I DON’T WANT TO TAKE A NAP!” the authorities would have been called by one of those nice families trying to enjoy the beach despite the screeching.
One year we had to leave the beach early because my five year old niece was convinced the wind was going to blow us all away and could not be calmed.
One year we had to make an emergency exit in the heavy traffic of road construction because my daughter had managed to wrap the seatbelt multiple times around her neck and was about to be strangled by the handy lock function.
Another year we had to pull the whole caravan over because my nephew, overly tired and very angry about not getting his way, started to throw things at my sister (Who was the van driver), aiming for the back of her head.
One year my baby niece screamed so loud and so long in the middle of the night that the front desk clerk woke up Gram in her room, and brought her to our room to knock on the door. To quote Gram, “Much to her chagrin, there was no crying when the door was opened.” Inexplicably, the baby had quit crying because we handed her a pack of fruit snacks, unopened, that she clutched to her chest with all her might. (It turned out she had an ear infection, and so it was off to the emergency clinic the next day.)
Those are some of the bad times, that become some of the funny times in retrospect. But there are also lots of times that start out funny. Like the time my nephew thought he was going to push my sister on the swings, and stepped behind her only to be bowled over the second she swung back.
Or the time the same nephew buried his ball in the sand because he didn’t want to lose it and then could never find it again (so Gram went and bought him a new one because, you know, she’s the grandma).
Or the time I thought I accidentally dropped my sister’s special earring (that her now dead friend had given her) down the drain and took the whole entire hotel sink apart to find it, only for her to realize that she had forgotten one earring in her ear.
Or the time my niece said she couldn’t swim alone because water gets in her mouth so I said, “well shut your mouth then!” and it was like magic that all of a sudden she was swimming (lips pressed tightly closed) all over the place.
Or the time my four year old nephew was just going to hold the giant Nestle bar (“I hode it,” he said.), but later ended up with it all over his face and hands and mouth and much of the back of the van.
This year, before we set off on the 5 hour drive that usually takes us 12-15 hours depending on where we stop along the way, we stopped at the cemetery. Gram hasn’t been able to go to Michigan for five years now, and I miss her every single year we go, but this year it’s different because we can’t come home and tell her about it. Thanks to her, we have a solid sister tradition, and sixteen years (so far) of memories our kids will always have.
You see, those first trips to Michigan would never have been possible without Gram. She handed me a wad of cash and said, “Grandpa says you can’t travel without any money” and she paid for our hotel rooms for years. As my sister Tasha and I got older, we began to try to make up the expense by bringing all the food (which started the year two things happened- 1. At dinner in a restaurant at the end of a long day, my niece and daughter were chasing each other around the salad bar, despite our best efforts to act like we had everything under control and 2. We discovered my niece Rudy was allergic to everything under the sun), and sneaking down to pay part of the hotel bill before Gram got there, which ticked her off but by then it was too late.
We were young mothers, with not enough to our name to think about a nice vacation in a hotel on a beach, and Gram not only made it possible, but she spent every minute we were there with us or our kids. She sat on the beach and she swam in Lake Superior and she taught the kids to float and she laid in the sun and she picnicked all over the place, and she played dominos for hours when the kids showed up at her door. I am so grateful that our kids got to know Gram, and make all those special memories with her.
It happens the place where Gram’s ashes are buried is along the route to Michigan, and so, without meaning to, Gram has started another family tradition that our kids will remember. We gathered round and we sang her favorite hymn and we told her we were going, and we set off to Michigan with our hearts full of family, love and tradition.
As the trip always goes- we laughed, we cried, we set off on new adventures and tried new things and we did it all because it’s The Michigan Trip, and that’s what we do.