My parents were pastors who loved to take small struggling churches and nurture them to wholeness. We learned to live creatively on very little income, yet because mother was an artist, a designer seamstress and a decorator, and Daddy was a fine carpenter, our parsonages were always beautiful and comfortable when they finished their renovations.
Mother was always up on current styles, too, and made my sister’s and my clothes so that we always felt well-dressed and never self-conscious. Mother had been a model in Battle Creek, Michigan, before they became ministers, so she thought it was important to teach us girls good posture, good manners, and ways to make others feel at ease.
Daddy always planted a huge garden and out of its yield, mother created beautiful meals. Our house was full of guests (ministers, missionaries, evangelists, and families in our church) and lots of teen-agers from the youth group. Now I wonder how we fed so many so often on so little.
But one thing my parents always prioritized, no matter how careful we had to be with our money, was the family vacation.
Every summer we loaded up the car with produce from the garden, and groceries to last two weeks, plenty of bait for fishing, our tackle boxes and fishing poles, and off we’d go to some beautiful Michigan lake or a cabin in the northern virgin pine and white birch forests.
Daddy hauled many a soggy rowboat in and out of marrow-bottomed lakes because mother loved to fish. Often, we’d clean our catch after dark by the light of battery-operated lanterns, then fry fish and sliced potatoes and onions for an almost-midnight feast which we’d enjoy to the symphony of crickets and cicadas that filled the woods and then lulled us to sleep through the screened windows of our open-raftered cabin. What contentment!
One of my favorite memories is a vacation we spent on Little Manistique Lake in the Upper Peninsula where we stayed in a wonderful log cabin with a fireplace. I remember, too, a huge four poster bed in the room where my parents slept. The side trips from this vacation spot were great adventures. We visited a place called Big Spring where from a glass-bottom boat one could see the lake being fed from a deep dark hole that seemed to go to the center of the earth, a huge fresh water spring gushing from a depth we could only imagine.
At dusk, we would drive (after dinner and ice cream cones) to the edge of the small town where the city dump was like a wildlife exhibit. We’d turn off the lights of the car and wait, and soon we’d see the great bulk of brown bears lumbering out of the woods with their cubs to search for discarded food.
As the week went on, we learned that the solid log house in which we were staying was the first home of a German immigrant who had come to upper Michigan more that fifty years before with his young bride. The immense hand hewn bed we had so admired they had brought from Germany – their only piece of furniture from “home.”
The man still lived on the property, and all of the cabins and the resort were now owned by his son and his wife. He had been, all his life, a teacher of English literature, but had for many years been retired. His wife was gone by then, and he had moved into a two-room cottage near his log library. Mother, a lover of great literature, struck up a friendship with him, having long discussions about their favorite authors. One night she invited him to come over for dinner and treat us to an evening of reading around the fire. He selected Shakespeare and Browning for the evening’s readings, and we all sat mesmerized as this learned man with the voice like a great Shakespearean actor, interpreted passages from the plays and sonnets of Shakespeare and the poetry of Browning.
To this day, I love those two important writers and can still hear the booming voice of an old German schoolmaster, wrapping me in the music of words one cool Michigan summer night.