Imagine living in a small town, where the closest mall is a two-hour drive away. Think of a place where you never have to lock your doors or worry about crime. A place remote and rural, housing many wild animals especially white-tailed deer, wolves and bears; many that walk our property. As long as you leave them alone, they won’t bother you. If you ever visit, just enjoy their beauty from a distance. Be more concerned with getting sprayed by a skunk than being attacked by a wolf. This place is my hometown, Ironwood, in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan. This tiny town is where the Yoopers welcome everyone, the air is clean, the summers are short, the falls bring beautifully colored trees, the winters are treacherous and the Springs remind us that warmer weather is upon us. If you enjoy fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, tobogganing, snowshoeing, water skiing, 4-wheeling, hiking, camping, skating, boating, or just want a break from the fast pace of city life, consider a visit to the Northwoods.
Growing up, I still remember and feel the chill of the air during the cold winter months. I survived many blizzards which each left a couple feet of snow overnight. School seldom was cancelled due to snow accumulations as the storms were so regular. However, the thirty below wind chills were a reason to stay home. Even with the storms and cold weather, I and my siblings, along with neighborhood kids, would bundle up and head outside to make snow angels and tunnels, toboggan the big hill (it really isn’t as big as I remember), have snowball fights, snowshoe or just lie on the ground enjoying the fresh taste of the snow. Yes, I enjoyed eating snow. Don’t knock it, if you haven’t tried it. After a day of fresh air, evenings were spent cuddled with a warm blanket and hot cocoa.
The winter months brought many tourists to our small town, as it is located near several big ski resorts: Powderhorn, Blackjack, Whitecap, and Indianhead Mountains and also a smaller county ski hill, Mt. Zion. As it turned out, that hill wasn’t far from our school and so during the winter months, we would get on a bus on Friday afternoons, and head over to Mt. Zion to take ski lessons, as part of our gym requirements. There was also a public skating rink nearby, where I and friends enjoyed hanging out.
I have fond memories of our 100-year-old, family home. My parents, my four siblings and I, lived in this tiny, three-bedroom home on approximately 15 acres. It needed many repairs, and Dad had no problem putting us all to work. We didn’t sleep in on weekends, because he had us up and working outdoors; climbing ladders to fix the roof, or collecting rocks by the beach and mixing cement to build a sidewalk, shoveling snow, and helping to build a garage, were just a few of our projects. There was always work to be done and very little time for play. So when we had the opportunity, like a snow day, to frolic, we took it. I am so happy I was raised in this environment, because I know I have a work ethic stronger than most, due to my upbringing.
The Upper Peninsula is also a great place to enjoy the water. There are many lakes to visit for swimming and fishing. I enjoyed fishing for perch, walleye, whitefish, and bass; however, I never learned to swim as water and the idea of drowning, is my biggest fear. So, while others fished from boats, I fished from docks. Sitting on the beach, watching others frolic in the water, was how I spent much of my free time. Many of the lake areas included parks where we could enjoy family cookouts and games- making sandcastles with our little plastic buckets, playing catch, throwing frisbees, flying kites, playing tag or socializing.
After mom and dad passed, my eldest brother and I decided to hang on to that old house. I now live approximately ten hours from that little white house in the U.P. I, “go back home,” each summer; this past summer spending a month at the homestead. I am proud of my roots and I was excited to explore Ironwood with some dear friends during my last stay. This time included a trip to the top of Copper Peak Ski Flying Jump (the most beautiful view is in the fall when the leaves have changed color) and a visit to Rigoni’s Bakery, where we enjoyed a traditional U.P. pasty, and great local hospitality. We toured the Kromer hat factory, where you can see, first hand, the craft of making each of these special winter hats. I needed to include a visit to one of the many parks, where I spent much time playing softball and swinging on the swings, as my grandmother lived across the street from it. This park included a 52 foot, nine ton statue of Hiawatha, known as the world’s largest Indian. I remember sitting on Hiawatha’s feet for hours, talking and laughing with friends.
It is the memories, people, food, quiet, nature, and beautiful country that bring me back to my small hometown, every year. As I walk through the house or sit out in the yard, I laugh and cry as I think back to all the fun times we had as a family. My father worked in the mines and my mother stayed at home. My siblings and I, may not have been raised financially rich, but our parents raised us to never use the word can’t, to stand up for what is right, to treat everyone with respect, to not judge, to always lend a helping hand, to work hard, and to never ever give up on our dreams. What is worth more, monetary items or a creative mind which offers priceless memories? I truly lived a rich and happy childhood!
“Be brave enough to make a change.“