Mints and Jerky and New Buffalo

When we were traveling to Michigan, as soon as we crossed the state line Dad would always go in to the gas station and come out with a bag of Michigan Mints for us kids.  It is interesting to note that both I and my eldest sister Vicki remember the mints to be the same.  Shiny transparent pale blue hard candies wrapped in clear cellophane.  And yet today everyone I speak to thinks of chocolate covered mints in foil wrappers.  And an internet search turns up only those foil wrapped treats.  I wonder what became of the mints we remember as children?

For me, crossing the border and going to our first gas station meant an opportunity to go in and buy a long beef jerky to savor over the rest of the trip.  Yanking tiny bites of the jerky with my teeth I would suck on it and chew it until it finally dissolved in my mouth and it was time for another bite.

Also crossing the border meant a stop at New Buffalo State Park to run off my pent up energy under the white pines and then sit at a picnic table devouring the sandwiches and drinking the Tang Mom packed before we left….

Even today, when I cross the border into Michigan, I remember these treats that marked the crossing in my youth.  Sometimes I still stop at the first gas station and grab a bag of jerky for the road, salty goodness for the road ahead!

An Ode to Michigan

Michigan is green, greener, blue, flashes of white and silver
it is home, vacationland, place of dreams and sighs
brookwood is happiness, safety, security and peace
it is childhood and family and love

it dwells in my memory, my heart, my soul, my songs
my writings, my photos, my paintings and thoughts
it is etched on my life and breathed in my breath
it is with me always and ever

so an ode to the place of my happiest days
to the carefree pleasures of youth
to the place I grew up but
will never outgrow
The place dreams are made of
Michigan.

A View of the World from the Cabin

I have mentioned previously that when we were not outside roaming and enjoying the freedom of the woods we found truvue1some other pursuits to occupy us in the cabin.
Today while cleaning and organizing my bedroom I ran across one of those pursuits…..my grandfather’s Tru-Vue viewer nestled in the wooden box that kept it safe for many years at Brookwood.

When I was a child I traveled to far distant lands through the stereo lens of that viewer.  It gave me a view of the workd from the cabin.  An old, art deco era bakelite viewer allowed the viewing of small film strips.  The films. of course were black and white, containe din tiny cardboard boxes.  How they managed to last so many years in good condition I don’t know.  I do know that I enjoyed them so immensely that when we left the cabin for the last time I requested and was given these little treasures.

As an adult I collected more of the film strips and at times when I am bored or lusting after a bit of my childhood I will take them out and once again view the world- a world much changed from those days!

Photos At Last!

At last I have found some photos of Brookwood! I knew they were around here somewhere! In this first 1959 photo you find a pj clad chubby little Dawn seated at the kitchen booth enjoying some green grapes. On the wall above her is a photo identification guide to mushrooms. That was there as long as I can remember!bwooddk591
The second photo shows a 1959 version of the kitchen at Brookwood. Not much changed there. There was still the old refrigerator and old white kitchen cabinet, the kitchen sink setup was the same (although in this photo you can’t see the red pump from which water was drawn). There was a yellow painted Hoosier cabinet next to the stove. The little white cabinet that you see next to the range had an open front. We stored kindling in there which we fed to the burners.bwoodkitchen
There is also a photo of the view as seen from just outside the front door of the cabin looking out toward the creek. You can see the roof of the generator house in the foreground on the right, and then the wooden surface of the bridge where Dad had built his water wheel. There is a wide expanse, almost pond-like of the creek surrounded by split rail fence and you can almost see the bridge over the creek that leads to Wash-Out Trail in the back of the photo. The hilly dune that contained the Smoke Jump and the Fox Hole would be to the left of that bridge as you are facing it.bwoodcreek

My favorite photo of the bunch is probably that of the cozy living room/dining room combination.  I always loved the colorful Indian rugs that covered the floors and the day bed along the right wall.  You can see the chintz covered couch of which I was so fond (although positioned differently so that the photo could show off more of the room).  The two stools were made by family members.  The one with the sloped seat is called a saddle stool and was to mimic the saddle used by camel riders.  It was a Victorian piece.  It the left corner you can see two lamps fashioned from natural wood, also family made pieces.  I think Dad made the small one in the corner.  In the right corner next to the cheval mirror you can somewhat see the beloved oak wall phone hanging against the exterior bedroom wall.  Of course you can also see part of the large oak dining table used daily when we visited.   Family castoffs and hand me downs fill the space making it feel warm, cozy and well loved.  Of course all these items are antiques.  Most went missing when the cabin was burgled by snowmobiliers one winter.  The piece my father mourned the most I think was the scale model of the logging “big wheel” that sat atop the fireplace mantel.

I loved that room so much.  I wish it could be transported through time and space to my home today, for then I would truly feel at home once more!scan0005

The Bear in the Woods

bearUncle Carl used to tell us there were black bear in the woods around Brookwood.  As kids we all thought that was a silly scare tactic- after we got over being scared that is!  Today, it is my understanding that it is true, there ARE bear in the Irons area.

As kids one of our least favorite things to do was to use the smelly old wooden outhouse.  We had been spoiled with indoor plumbing!  For me it wasn’t as much the smell as it was the critters you might find inside.  There had been racoons, skunk and other small woodland creatures seen leaving the fenced area surrounding the outhouse.  I was afraid I would surprise one of these animals, or worse that one might get trapped inside the outhouse and I would walk in on it.  (The outhouse door was a push door with a spring similar to a screen door.)  Worse, I feared that I would find wasps, spiders or other bugs inside.  My biggest fear was a typical girl thing……I was afraid while sitting on the wooden seat a spider would crawl up from underneath and crawl onto me…….eeeew!

Then Uncle Carl added to our trepidations.  He claimed that one weekend while at the cabin by himself he wandered to the outhouse with a newspaper…..and pushing open the door surprised a rather good sized black bear sitting on the seat!  He said his trip away from the outhouse was much quicker than his trip to it…..and that he had to waitand watch for the bear to leave before going back.

We all have real or fictional tales of the bear in the woods, but for me this one takes the cake!

Imagine Being There

Many of the Michigan folk I know warn me that I would probably not enjoy an Irons.   MI winter.  Heavy snowfall.  tracksCold weather.  Getting snowed in unless you snowshoe, ski or snowmobile.  Well, to be honest I don’t mind snow or cold weather.  We don’t get that much snow here in the Chicago area, but we used to get a fair amount and with my 4 wheel drive it doesn’t bother me.  If I didn’t have to worry about getting in and out  of the house to get to work it probably wouldn’t be too bad.  They do make snow blowers and plows.  And I don’t mind hefting a snow shovel.

I love the soft, clean beauty of the woods clad in snow.  The blanket of peace it covers me with is a warmth I truly savor.  The way every thing seems so quiet and serene; and yet the way the sound travels better, more crisply without the interference of stereos and horns and televisions, without the hustle and bustle of urban life.  The eerie and yet hauntingly beautiful hoot of an owl or the call of a coyote become things of audible joy.

I imagine being at Brookwood in the winter, with a mantle of snow and the dizzying spectacle of sun or moon reflecting from icicle.  In my minds eye I am looking out on the clearing to see the ice crystals in the snow reflecting the light of the sun like so many jewels on a bed of white sable.  Enjoying the deep prints of wildlife tracking here and there….the slender hoof of the deer that pierce the crust and cluster around the salt lick and the corn I have put out for them, and the tiny scratching on the surface of squirrel and birds, the large pads of a coyote with claw tips apparent, and the other miscellany footprints in the snow.

creekI look out to the creek and there I can see the spots along the bank where the rushing of the creek has undercut the snow bridges at the edge.

I feel the chill in the air on sleeping porch as I gather kindling from the wood bin to stoke the wood stove and percolate my morning coffee.  Then I take my Kindle and travel to Grandmother’s chintz couch in front of the fireplace with mug, Kindle and a piece of homemade Johnny cake fresh from the oven slathered with jam.  Tucking my feet beneath me I curl up in the cozy warmth and thank Heaven for another day enjoying the beauty of nature and life.

With a start I realize this was a trip in my imagination, a dream of what might have been, what could be;  with a sigh I turn back to my day’s work in the suburbs tucking away my vivid dreams for another time I seek solace, peace and beauty.winter

Evening Tide

In the evening at Brookwood we would gather together as a family- or an extended family if my aunt and her gang were present; and we would enjoy pursuits that many today might think odd. But they were warm, cozy, family entertainments.  No television, computers or cell phones.  Dad might make up a batch of popcorn over the fire in the long-handled basket.  We would sit around as a family and listen to tales of Dad’s interesting adventures.  Or we might listen to songs he played on the crank operated Victrola.  The kids might play checkers or read a book.  There were a few games and toys to occupy us.  I could literally sit for hours and watch the fire flicker.  We would listen to the cozy drone of our parents in conversation, and it felt like home.

I miss those evening now.  I walk in my house after a long nights work and hear the television blaring in the living room, see my husband bent over the kboard and find my daughter blasting her iPod or her own television in her room with the door open.  They can’t seem to live without the noise and the electronic stimulation.  I hide in my room, reading a book on my Kindle (yep, there’s those electronics again) and try to block out the cacophony of noises.  And remember so fondly the days of peace we had at the cabin when I was young!

The Dogs of Summer

dogsI’m a dog person.  Always have been.  I love my dogs.  When I was young we always had a dog.  I most remember 2 dogs in our family, Mini Ha Ha- a mutt who had been purchased as a miniature manchester terrier (we called her Minnie) and Bonnie Lass, a collie.  I don’t remember taking Bonnie to Michigan, perhaps we acquired her after the land had left the family.  But Minnie was a family fixture for most of my childhood.

The dogs of summer would have been Minnie and my uncle Carl’s black lab Yenta.  They both travelled to Michigan to Brookwood with our families and they became pals.  In the morning we kids would set out for a walk and one or both of the pups might choose to walk with us a while.  But invariably they left the road or trail and headed out into the woods on their own, often together. 

It was useless to try to call them back.  In allowing them free rein, we depended on the fact that our land was a large area and we could reasonably expect they would not be taken by other people.  But of course they easily might have mixed it up with wildlife.

I also don’t remember either of them bringing home game such as squirrels or rabbits, which others have told me their dogs have done.   Uncle Carl would sometimes take Yenta hunting with him but otherwise they seem to have left game alone.

When it was time for the dogs to come home, Dad would walk out to the car and honk the horn a few times.  Sound carried well in the woods and within perhaps at the most  twenty minutes they would both trot up to the house, ready for dinner, or to come in, or go for a ride, smiles on their earnest little faces and wags in their tails.

It is a lovely memory to see in my mind’s eye the two of them running side by side, limbs outstretched joyfully and ears flapping in the breeze as they too took advantage of the freedoms and joys of Broowood.  I will always remember them as the dogs of summer.

Squirrel Stew

Recipes for a Hungry Michigan Woodsman!

This would be very similar to my Aunt Martha’s stew we ate at Brookwood.

Ingredients:stew1
2 squirrels cleaned and cut into pieces
1/4 cup flour  
1 teaspoon salt  
1/2 teaspoon pepper  
2 tablespoons oil  
3 cloves garlic, minced 
2 large onions, chopped  
4 cups water  
1 large potato cubed  
2 large carrots, diced  
2 ribs celery, diced  
2 cups coral mushrooms, torn  
2 – 14 1/2 ounce cans diced tomatoes    
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce  
3 tablespoons flour  

Directions:
Dredge squirrel in flour, salt and pepper
Heat oil and garlic in large Dutch oven and brown squirrel
Add onions and cook until soft
Add water, potato, carrots and celery
Cover and simmer for 1 hour
Add tomatoes, mushrooms and Worcestershire
Cover and simmer for 30 minutes
Mix 3 tablespoons flour with 1/2 cup cold water, stirring until smooth
Add to stew and simmer until slightly thickened
Season to taste with salt and pepper

VERY GOOD TOPPED WITH BAKING SODA BISCUIT DUMPLINGS!

Morning Routines At Brookwood

You awoke in the morn at Brookwood to the smell of coffee and the sound of preparations for the day.  On tang1weekdays, the kids would have a breakfast of cold cereal, in those little boxes lined with wax paper that Dad had cut open and poured frigid milk into that had cooled overnight in the creek.  Tang was the accompanying beverage.  I always preferred it to be on the weak side.

toothpowderAfter breakfast came time to do dishes.  Using a dish pan in the big old porcelain country sink, we would add boiling water to, you would fill it with a mixture of hot water from the kettle on the big black would burning stove and freezing water from the old red pump at the sink to get a temperature that you could bear.  With this you took a spongebath, and perhaps washed your hair.  Then out would come the toothbrush and the tin of Colgate tooth powder (or if we ran out we used baking soda).

Tidied up and ready for the day it was time for chores.  Emptying the chamber pot and slop jar from the night before (the job we ALL tried to avoid!)  Making the bed, cleaning up our mess and sometimes slopjarsweeping the floor.  Then out to the woods to gather kindling for the woodburning stove.  We would fight over the right to feed that to the hungry mouth of the big old fire-eater.  The older kids might go with Dad to the dump (on the property) to bury our garbage.  The stoveyounger kids went out to dig earthworms for the days fishing, if that was to be on the agenda.

All simple, familiar parts of a childhood routine that I remember so well……

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