Times they are a changing, in fact they already have and I suspect the process will continue as long as there are people; we continue to evolve. Seems at a certain age we look back on the ‘good old days’, time has often softened our memories, which is why they are now good!
When I look back at my childhood growing up in Munising Michigan, a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula it’s always with fondness, even the snow is not so overwhelming; most likely because I no longer have any need to contend with it; even the snow had magical moments.
Munising Bay (Lake Superior) has an extremely beautiful island called Grand Island. This island for me and for many others holds many special memories. Families lived on the island, I’m certain they felt it was their own personal piece of heaven and the burial markers that stay in the small cemetery remind us they were there, spent their life, pioneering a heavily wooded, harsh, sometimes icebound island and at that time it was theirs.
Like most islands in large bodies of navigable water this one does have lighthouses to protect ships with their light in the darkest of night. When I was a child the East Channel Lighthouse felt like it was my own personal structure, it’s light had long gone out. I knew little of its history, just that my neighbor lady’s father had at one time manned the lighthouse; it hadn’t been used in many years. It was in terrible condition in the early 1950’s and there were no plans to save or restore it, it was there in my case as a baby sitter.
Ah, a baby sitter? How can a lighthouse be a baby sitter? I am here to tell you how that happened to take place. My mother and her friend Irene VanLandschoot worked during the summer and they had children that needed caring for, we weren’t little girls but we still needed to be occupied during the time of the day our mother’s were working.
When you grow up in Munising you learn to do many things, I don’t even remember how I learned some of my skills, seems they came naturally and many skills did come by trial and error seeing we had much more freedom to explore, and as I’ve mentioned, those times have changed. One of our abilities was rowing a boat, doesn’t every 10 or 12 year old know how to row a boat on Lake Superior (having learned on smaller lakes I hope).
The VanLandschoot family in Munising, to this day are fisherman, and fisherman set nets way out in Lake Superior (at least they did back then), I believe those laws have changed along with the many other changes that were to come. Irene, mother’s friend was part of the VanLandschoot fishing family and her daughter Paula Rae was two years younger than me. Paula had a little brother (his name is Paul but he was called ‘Brother’ at that time) I assume he went with the men on the boat. It must have seemed a great idea to get these two little girls together for the day and they would be out of trouble and our parents would know exactly where we were! Problem solved and adventures for Paula and me. Soon we would be teenagers and most likely wouldn’t have been a way they could have even tempted us to spend the day on the island alone, boring! I don’t remember how many of these trips we took, but enough to give me fond memories and amazement how free we actually were.
On a day that nets were to be set or maybe lifted, I’m not certain, it was a long time ago, it wasn’t one of the fisherman’s longer days, Paula and I would be on the fishing boat, dropped off with a boat to row ourselves onto the beach of Grand Island, pull up our boat and make it safe so the waves wouldn’t blow it away (a real problem) and we settled in right in front of the old lighthouse. I’m amazed that we even knew how to beach our boat well enough and then to know when we would see the fishing boat returning to get back in our rowboat and meet the boat! Amazing! No wonder I won’t leave home without a watch!
We were armed with a bag lunch, some ‘pop’, chips, and cookies or something tasty, our mothers were excellent bakers. My sandwich was most likely liver sausage and mustard on good old white Bunny Bread. A great meal for growing girls and as I remember it tasted pretty darn good. There is something delicious about eating outside!
The freedom to explore an island, walk along the shores of icy Lake Superior, inspect the caves, stand under water dripping from above and to go inside the very ‘spooky’ old East Lighthouse took a lot of time and occupied for the hours we were there. Surrounding the lighthouse the field was filled with Sweet Williams, still one of my favorite flowers. My grandmother had them in her garden and at one time someone must have had a flower garden around the old lighthouse. Have you ever had the pleasure to enjoy the scent of an old-fashioned Sweet William? I was born a gardener; if there were flowers I would be sure to find them.
I do remember a thunderstorm coming up one day, if you’ve ever seen a storm whip it’s self up on Lake Superior you would know why Paula and I were a little nervous. We simple got ready and waited watching for the fishing boat and knowing we had to row to meet it. We always knew that Paula’s father knew where we were and he’d make sure we were safe. I doubt anyone told us that we were safe, it was unsaid but understood that Mr.VanLandschoot would let nothing happen to us.
These are wonderful memories; the lighthouse has remained with me always, as special to me today as it is to so many others. Caring citizens seeing it was going to slowly erode into Lake Superior and of course there are vandals’ even at such pristine and peaceful places have restored it. It was not long after this time that all Pictured Rocks, which had been free for us to roam, was taken under the protection and preservation of the parks system. Some of the residents didn’t like this, some did, it is progress and times really do change.
As I write and think about this time in my life all the possible worrisome things that Paula and I could have met left to spend the day on Grand Island with our babysitter the East Lighthouse it’s not with any thought why we were allowed to do such things, It’s how wonderful it was that we could. Do any of you think that a child today would be allowed to take this venture? Would parents be considered neglecting their child’s safety?