Commentary: A Missouri girl’s take on Michigan summers


The author with her siblings and mother on the beach. Image: Elaine Mallon

By Elaine Mallon

Ever since I can remember, I’ve spent a few weeks of the summer with my grandparents in their small town of Ithaca, Michigan.

Ithaca is a small city where the high school quarterback commands the same level of respect as the mayor.

It’s a place with three barber shops on the main street. It’s a place where everybody knows everyone and everyone’s business — quite a different pace than in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.

My siblings and I spent our days riding our bikes around town, and we played ball tag outside till the sunset. In between games, we rushed inside for water.

Summer days were always longer in Michigan than in Missouri.

The clock on my grandma’s microwave would read 9 p.m. and there still would be light in the sky. It may have been the middle of July, but we always had to grab a light jacket to keep warm.

Even after sunset, my siblings and I weren’t in the dark. Using our grandma’s mason jars, we captured the lightning bugs that emerged into the sky. At the end of our day of play, we were tucked into bed with our makeshift nightlights on the bedside table.

When our parents joined us at the end of our visit, we spent a few days in a cabin along Lake Huron on Tawas Bay.

Miles before arriving at the cabin, we glimpsed the lake peeking out between the trees along the road.

Once we arrived, my siblings and I ran out of the minivan toward the sandy beach.

Seagulls hovered in the air and waves crashed into the dock and shoreline.

For the first 15 years of my life, Lake Huron bore the closest resemblance to an ocean that I’d ever been to.

For dinner, we grilled hamburgers and boiled hotdogs.

We went into town for pizza on at least one night during our visit, and every night we went into town for ice cream.

Life couldn’t get any better than wearing an extra large fleece sweatshirt over sun-kissed skin while enjoying chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone on a picnic bench outside of Tawas’s busiest ice cream parlor.

We spent our entire day on the beach without a phone in sight. My mom sat in her folding chair — taking candids with her Nikon camera of us splashing in the water.

Meanwhile, my father was determined to build the largest sand castle on the beach.

If only every day could be this peaceful for the two of them.

As my parents sat on the beach, my three siblings and I surfed the waves with our kickboards. We tested each other and our parents to see who would get the farthest out, but no one would dare swim past the buoy.

Although we were in Lake Huron, there was always a lingering fear that a shark’s fin would pop to the surface.

Those days on Lake Huron were the happiest times we had as a family.

Sure, in Missouri we have Lake of the Ozarks, but the water is polluted with Budweiser cans from reckless Hoosier boaters. It’s a place for partiers, and everyone knows better than to eat the fish they catch.

Lake Huron is the exact opposite, for when I think of my childhood, I think of pure happiness in pure Michigan.

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