The other night sitting at the PC listening to Iris DeMet’s song Our Town from the Infamous Angel album (which closed out the final episode of the popular television show Northern Exposure) and when “…now I sat on the porch and watched the lightning bugs fly but I can’t see too good I’ve tears in my eyes, I’m leaving tomorrow but I don’t want to go I love you my town you’ll always live in my soul…” played the old hometown, Saint Clair Shores, Michigan popped in mind. I was last in Saint Clair Shores, on Lake St Clair, in May 1998 staying 12 months completing a circle opened in 1980 when a planned two month stay in Eugene, Oregon to visit my Brother David stretched into 17 years. Perhaps because of the sudden departure, St Clair Shores and Michigan where never far from mind during this time on the west coast but as long time partner Alfred and I began going in opposite directions the urge to move back home blossomed and so in the winter of 1995 I drew up plans but set no date. A couple of coincidences occurred at this time one a quote I know not where I found it or whom it is by but the text referred to one can home not to pick up where one left off but rather to “sanctify memory” and the other “When you are lost, the most sensible strategy is to go back to the point of departure…” from the essay, New West, True West in the book Under Western Skies by Donald Worster. Both quotes gave me chills of a good nature as if finding them at this particular time was a push forward so, in May 1997 with a packed to the ceiling Volvo DL car I navigated eastward and headed home. Initially, I planned to stay in Michigan but with Alfred and me resolving our differences I agreed, in one year’s time, I would move and meet him in Portland, Oregon as time was needed to reconnect with the family and home I so abruptly left, Dad, Sister Linda, Brother Tad, nieces Cindy and Heather, brother in-law Doug, and Michigan. Unbeknownst when I arrived in 1997 that my stay would prove a boon to Dad’s moral which suffered a major blow when he started having seizures of the unknown kind, doctors thought these linked to smoking and drinking and possibly the unexpectant passing of Mom from a heart attack just as the two were planning to retire. Timing Mr. Jim, Timing.
The sabbatical was great! Some may connect with many friends for old-time sake but I only chose one to represent all my friends in St. Clair Shores as I had changed so much in 17 years and felt trying to catch with everyone not worth the effort. I phoned good friend Ed whom I’ve known since the 1970’s and arranged to meet him at his son’s birthday party, his current and former spouses where there and for the two hours there it felt like old times; I walked home that night with one chapter in my life closed and I sensed the opening of a new one”…this old town ain’t the same now nobody knows his name, times have changed, still he rides…” Journey, Still He Rides. During the few times away from family I rode my bicycle to two local beaches one Metro Beach and rode along the wooden boardwalk, past shuffleboard courts, an inside pavilion, and nature trails, all frequented so much in days of yore and the occasional elementary school field trip. The other, Memorial Park being much smaller is more for the Sunday stroll, family picnic, or occasional dunk in the waters both on Lake St. Clair which from time to time close due to E. coli contaminated waters. While home both were closed to swimmers for just this, sad.
I took up a job with Linda and Doug in their upholstery shop in New Baltimore, Michigan north of town doing the grunt work and some minor upholstery which I loved! This was fantastic doing something I’d never done before nor knew how but managed. I revisited the St. Clair Shores Public Library (libraries are my church) where I spent many hours of youth researching this countries space program, in The Michigan Room reading up on this Great Lake State and of the Copper Country on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Alfred flew in for the 4th of July holiday, his first and only trip to the state; there was so much I wanted to show him but being that he was in town for just a few days we settled on a partly with a mutual friend who had flown in during this time as well. The friend, Donna, resides in Phoenix, Arizona where her family moved from St Clair Shores in the early 70’s when her father’s construction business moved.
In the fall, the upholstery business dropped so to keep the cash coming in I took a job at a local bookstore and loved that just as much but, before my first day Dad and I drove 12 hours north to his hometown of Atlantic Mine, Michigan which was the icing on this cake of recollection as the village, surrounded by pristine woodland and sparsely populated, is in the heart of the Copper Country which was this country’s first mineral boom starting in 1844 my “Shangri-La.” Last but not lease I made contact with Brother Tad and his wife Carol. I experienced the joy of a humid Midwest summer, the spectacular fall, bone chilling winter with some snow thrown in, and the rebirth that is spring with which my journey ended and I repacked the Volvo DL, again to the ceiling with belongings, and back to the west coast where Alfred moved to in 1996.
Today, the want to visit St. Clair Shores and Michigan is not as intense; I do use the internet to check in from time to time keeping the hometown and state at my fingertips and perhaps this is way the urgency is not there however, the journey I took in 1997/98 was that of rediscovery, rebirth and of securing a place that will, “…always live in my soul…”
copyright 2013, jim pykonen