Thursday, August 16, 2007

Where Were You When Elvis Died?

Location: Breckenridge, MI

30 Years Ago Today: I remember it vividly. I was vacationing in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP), and was having lunch in a wharfside bar just north of the Mackinaw Bridge when the news came across the radio. We were playing some pool and drinking some beers before setting off for Kitch-iti-kipi, a forty foot deep spring with a self-propelled glass bottomed raft, and Tahquamenon Falls. I had one full year, exactly, under my belt with Social Security. Retirement was so far off the radar that it was essentially non-existent.

Did you know that people from the UP are sometimes called "Yoopers"? And that Michigan people weekend or vacation "Up North," which is not a specific place so much as a state of mind -- anywhere from the middle of the lower peninsula on up can be "Up North." It often involves a cabin and some fishing or ATV/snow-mobiling. Going "Up North" is sort of like going "Down the Ocean" but it covers more acreage, there is no boardwalk on which to buy fries and starving-artist paintings, and you don't have to wear a bathing suit.

30 years later, I am back in Michigan, about 8 miles north of a small town named Breckenridge in the Lower Peninsula. This is the land where people talk just like me, and most of them won't be able to pronounce "Hon" in Baltimorion either. They don't ask me if I'm from Canada. They say "pop," not "soda," and I feel oddly like a traitor because I switched to the Soda Side. This is where the phrase "anterless deer" is a normal thing to hear, as is "smelt dipping." Where trucks filled with logs or sugar beets are a common sight and where Canadian coins hold the same value as American when given or received in change. Where the rivers have sandy bottoms instead of rocks, and the hills are man-made, usually for skiing, but the lakes are natural (in direct contrast to Maryland, where there are no natural lakes but the hills are abundant). And where the television call letters are oddly familiar to me, like an alphabetic ghost floating in from my past. Imagine how you would feel if you turned on the radio in a motel room in Somewhere, USA, and heard the call letters WKRP? It feels sort of like that.

Next week I am visiting some friends from my Claims Representative days, but this week I am going back even further. I got the genealogy bug after buying some software and getting 3 months free on The more I learn about my ancestors and relatives, the more they become real people who once had ambitions, failures, successes, and, in some cases, a ridiculous number of children. There are still many questions whose answers will probably never be known, but some of the answers may be out there if I just go looking.

I have discovered several cemetery locations in this area that are home to some of the Gregg line, so I'm going on a grave site hunt. I'm also going to visit my Alma Mater, Central Michigan University. It was there that, in addition to learning enough to obtain a B.S. in Psychology and Sociology, I learned how to flirt, play pool and pinball, smoke cigarettes, sit on a rooftop and just watch the world go by, be a good "freak" (and all that that entails), and to tap a keg. I used to be a regular at a bar called "The Bird," and I just might drop in for a drink.

I think I'm in for an emotional time. I know "you can't go home," and that the Michigan I knew then is not the Michigan of today. The kids who are in The Bird now will look at me as "that old lady" and I can't -- and won't -- tell them how fast times goes by and how closely we are tied in reality. They wouldn't believe me, just like I wouldn't have believed an old lady who wandered in The Bird back in 1974.

You can't go home, but sometimes you have to see the remains for yourself.


Craig of CAPAF said...

OK, so, I need to know where Breckenridge is, and I am too lazy to pull out the map. Would you please hold up the back of your left hand like a mitten, point with your right index finger to its location, take a picture (using time delay of course, since your hands are both busy) and post it? Thanks. ;-)

And, if you go to Mt. Pleasant, there's a bike shop there called Assenmacher's. If there's a red bike frame hanging in the window, that's the one he built for me in 1979, but I never showed up to buy. I've always felt guilty.

I hear they are denying disability claims left and right again, just like they did when I worked the Detroit DDS. Now I am really getting nostalgic. Thanks for the ride.

O. B. Sirius said...

Just for Craig--
Think of a big rectangle. Upper right is Mt. Pleasant, upper left is Bay City, lower left is Saginaw, and lower right is Alma. Breckenridge is on the line between Alma and Saginaw, but because I am north of there I am more to the center of the rectangle.

FYI, Google Maps is "Good Thing!"

If Assenmachers is there, I'll check for your bike. Won't you be shocked if it's still there!

Anonymous said...

Welcome home!
We will give you a hard time on the soda thing you know. Nothing like coming back to your roots to get picked on once again.

As a fellow researcher into family records, I can tell you that you are in for some amazingly curious finds, lots of surprises and hours and hours of research! But boy, it can be fun! See you in a few days!!!
You could also have told them that Breckenridge is sort of your old back yard....