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Magnetic North - September 5, 2018

Vicki's Chanterelles
Vicki's Chanterelles

Magnetic North 9/4/18
Time traveling around Mother Superior

 
Welcome back to Magnetic North, where even we who live in heaven on earth take to the road with bags packed and baskets of junk food and tourist trinkets and found treasure stashed front seat to back. And sometimes, we take and make memories that can surprise us.

It takes either a health emergency or unavoidable family gathering to tempt me away from the farm and lakeshore in midsummer, but the latter of the two did just that in late July.

My dear friend, Cilla’s son was getting married on the opposite side of the big lake in Houghton, Michigan. Cilla, aka The Lady and the Scamp, introduced me to her son, Arthur a few years ago and won my heart by bonding with my favorite goat, Bosco; so much so that Arthur actually ended up nuzzling the big goat. Nose to nose. Quite the reaction to a creature with curling 20-inch horns I’d say. 

So when the invite to Arthur’s wedding came, even though the date was late July, I RSVP’d right off and made plans to go with Cilla.  She, of course, hitched up her beloved Scamp trailer and booked herself into a state park for five nights. I took the easier, softer option - a posh hotel overlooking the Keewanaw Waterway bridge that was smack up against a little marina I had sailed into during the summer of ’76 on my sailboat, Amazing Grace. 

The waterway is a part natural lake and part dredged canal that severs the landmass of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from the rest of the state. Moving copper ore and supplies was the motive for such a drastic and expensive amputation when it was done in the late 1860’s. A lift bridge was added for travel by land between the two cities, Houghton and Hancock. Nowadays, tourism and Michigan Tech feeds the two cities and the waterway is a route, not for copper and miner supplies, but for pleasure craft and family camps. This I learned when I first sailed under that bridge on a blistering hot summer day 42 years ago and blithely hopped off her bow to tie up on the Hancock side of the waterway. Yes, there was a time when I could hop off the prow of a boat and land on my feet without so much as an “Uffda!” or “Call 11!”

That all came flooding back into my memory when I looked out the hotel restaurant window the morning after our arrival and saw the bridge and marina across the waterway. It was as if a movie was running in my head, superimposed on the sunny scene across the waterway. There I was, wearing a yellow madras blouse, jeans and Docksiders, rope in hand and leaping just in time to land on the break wall and turn to prevent a collision with Grace’s bow. Then the film ended as abruptly as it started and perceived, with amazement and some embarrassment that fat tears were plopping into my coffee. 

Apparently, I thought, as I scolded myself for putting on a public display, there was more packed in my bags than finery for Arthur’s wedding. Those dang memories had somehow burrowed in beneath the frilly scarves and support pantyhose and were demanding my attention. They didn’t care that I was alone at a table with strangers peering nervously at me, wondering perhaps if I was about to be sick. No, they’d caught me out, without the trappings of chores and hobbies and endless distractions to remind me of certain truths; to wit, that I missed terribly my little seven-year-old girl, Gretchen, now a mom herself living half a continent away, and that the couple on that boat that summer still loved each other, probably always did in the end, even though being married to each other proved to be impossible. How I wished at that moment I had savored those days more when they were mine to savor.

t was just one of those flashback moments that lie in wait, springing to life when I am as unaware as a stone monkey 
Thankfully, the bittersweet blast from the past faded by the time my coffee was downed.  But it left me resolved to pay attention to whatever joys the coming days and festivities might bring.

And so, when I picked Chanterelle mushrooms at Cilla’s campground, I also made sure to gather pinecones for a Christmas gift wreath for the newlyweds. And when I tagged along to gramma’s house where the elegantly casual ceremony took place on the lawn sloping to the water’s edge, I tucked my introvert’s ego in my purse and took dozens of pictures for my friend and her son and new daughter-in-law

At the reception, my friend chose a quote, from C.S. Lewis, in framing her toast to the bride and groom. “When the most important things in life are happening, we almost never know exactly what is going on.”

As I packed my bags to head back to the North Shore, I tucked in some new memories of the Keewanaw, I decided that one of the great things about aging is that, like C.S. Lewis, most of us eventually wake up to the fact that even the most ordinary day might put us on the path of extraordinary joy. “So pay attention,” I told myself.

As Cilla and I drove back down the south shore of the lake, we talked over the past five days for a bit, then shifted into a topic that only those of us of a certain age would understand, having just been to one of the two most propitious occasions in one’s time on earth.

I’ve decided that I definitely do not want to be cremated,” I declared, as we escaped the blazing sun under the canopy of the Scamp at Brighton Beach just outside of Duluth. “Oh?” Cilla murmured as she poured out two cups of tea. You might have thought I’d said that I preferred half-and-half in my tea rather than milk.

“Yes,” I went on.” You KNOW how much I hate hot weather.  Hate is really too puny a word. Loathe, despise, detest, abominate, abhor hot weather - it’s why I live where I do!  So why on earth would I choose to be immolated after I die? Plus, I have the perfect dress, the one I wore when Paul and I got married. Who burns their wedding dress?”

That tea-time declaration and the giggling that followed is a funky memory of the wedding weekend that came home in my bags, along with the pine cones and pictures. And, who knows what else hitchhiked in memory when to paraphrase Lewis, I had no idea what was happening.

For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North
 

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