Is there a place from your past that when you visit it, you have a physical clenching of your heart?
Do you feel a shortness of breath and an acceleration of adrenalin when you hear someone else mention its name?
When you lie awake in bed at night, trying to go to sleep, do you remember the view in your mind to try to calm yourself?
My answer to all of the above is yes. And for me, that place is Mackinac Island.
For those of you who don’t know, Mackinac is an island located between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. The Island is surrounded by the Straits of Mackinac, which is where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet.
The view of the Great Lakes is stunning; beautiful, vast, freezing cold, and at times tumultuous.
The Island has a fascinating history, with its original population being Native American. During the European exploration in the 17th century, Mackinac became very popular with the French who set up missions for the natives and also ran a booming fur trade.
The Island was taken by the British in the French and Indian War, became U.S. territory through the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and was taken back by the British in the very first battle of the War of 1812.
Eventually, Mackinac Island was returned to the United States in 1815 through the Treaty of Ghent.
In 1875, Mackinac National Park was designated, being the second national park (behind Yellowstone). It quickly became a tourist attraction and many wealthy Midwesterners built beautiful Victorian houses on the two bluffs, overlooking the Straits. In 1895, the federal government left Mackinac, deeding the property to the State of Michigan and the park land became the first state park in Michigan.
Throughout time, Mackinac has maintained its Victorian feeling as the houses have been lovingly preserved and, other than emergency vehicles, no motorized vehicles are allowed on the Island. The modes of transportation are bicycles, horses, and horse and buggies. A number of movies have been filmed on the Island, with one of the most popular being Somewhere in Time.
My grandparents started summering on the Island when my father was a teenager, and eventually bought a house on the West Bluff.
When I was a child, my family lived in Ann Arbor and we spent our summers on the Island. I can vividly remember the excitement, each time, as we boarded the ferry and headed to the Island.
In retrospect, I realize that the house was spectacular. As a kid, it scared me a little. It was big and dark and there were always rumors of ghosts.
But I loved it as it was usually filled with the people whom I loved the most. I wish I had more pictures of the house. I took it for granted; I expected that it would always be in the family. Understandably, though, this huge house located on a remote island with harsh winter weather became a burden to maintain. My grandparents sold the house when I was in high school. The below are a few of the pictures that I could find.
As a child, the Island to me became almost intertwined with my grandparents, whom I adored. It was there that I saw them the most happy and the most relaxed. It was there that I had the one on one time with them that I will always remember. At the end of their lives, my grandparents returned to the Island and are buried there.
Because of this, Mackinac has a permanent place in my soul … or maybe it’s that part of my soul will always be on the Island.
I have been back once in the last twenty years. My husband and I visited the Island about ten years ago. It wasn’t the same. Rather than being full of the people whom I loved, it instead was full of ghosts. My grandparents did not meet us at the dock. Lucille was not there to tell me stories and sing to me. There were strangers in the house. It felt odd to be a tourist on the Island.
Mackinac has especially been on my mind lately.
About three months ago, I happened across a blog written by a woman who winters in south Georgia and summers on Mackinac Island. Given our similar graphical ties, I was intrigued and quickly fell in love with Bree’s Mackinac Island Blog. I commented on one of her posts and we struck up an email conversation. Brenda’s updates are now a highlight of my week.
Last week, my father’s efforts to get my grandmother’s date of death carved in the tombstone were finally realized, six years after her death. The difficulties in getting this accomplished were due, in part, to the heavy equipment needed by the stone cutter, the Island’s prohibition on motorized vehicles and the inaccessibility of the Island during the winter months. When my dad received the email from the stone cutter that it had finally been done, we all breathed a sigh of relief.
My family reminisced about Mackinac a bit, and lamented that we could not see the completed tombstone.
Two days later, completely unsolicited, I received an email from Brenda with this picture:
And my heart physically clenched.