25 December 2012

2012 MICHIGAN Upper Peninsula 2 - Birthday Surprise for Chuck

Alright the reason we stayed in Sault Ste. Marie instead of Brimley MI (about 30 miles west and our final destination) is because it was a surprise birthday party and we did not want anyone in the family to see us prior to the party. This meant we also had all day to kill until 8pm that night. Soooo after a wonderful breakfast at the hotel and took one more walk along the locks.

Mike has special memories of this area. His dad was a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY (where his parents were married) and became a sailor on the ore carrier Ralph H. Watson. Mike remembers his mom taking him lock-side and walking along the lock waving up to his dad as the ship passed through. His dad could not get off the boat as it was on a work mission, but they could wave and shout to each other. As it turns out we met a gal who was doing exactly the same thing with her boyfriend. For security reasons you cannot walk lock-side, but you can wave from a viewing stand and that is what she was doing.

Next we tried to find the house Mike's paternal grandmother had lived in in SSM and where Mike often visited as a child. No luck, but saw a lot of beautiful homes and interesting places along the St. Mary's River.

Then we took the shore drive west along Lake Superior, traveling right past the Bay Mills Indian Casino (our hotel for the night and location of the party). The shore was beautiful and we were really excited to see "big" water. It was not like the Pacific Ocean, steps from our home for over 20 years, but big enough. It was a rainy, sleety day so we took our time driving, but weren't prepared to hike too much. Waves were crashing, stormy beach, loved it.

First stop was the Point Iroquois Lighthouse and Museum. Everything was closed, but we had been there before, so we were not totally disappointed. It was, however, a reminder of the many ships in the past which had sailed these treacherous winter waters, including the Edmund Fitzgerald. This shipwreck was memorialized by the folksinger Gordon Lightfoot in 1976. The ore carrier traveling with Duluth to Detroit sunk with her whole crew of 29 on this very date in 1975 in this very area. An eerie feeling for us to be so near on the anniversary of this sad event.

We meandered further west with a final destination of Paradise MI in mind. The last time we had been there was two summers earlier when we shared a cottage on the Tahquamenon River for two nights with our friends the Bruces. The cottage was 10 miles down a dirt road, but we would go into Paradise each day for groceries, meals or drinks.
One of Mike's favorite authors, Steve Hamilton, loosely bases his "Up North" mysteries on this town. The names and places are changed to protect the guilty, but it is obvious that the bar in the books is the Yukon Inn. When we had visited two years ago, it was closed for renovation. Ah huh... and a big disappointment. But, yay, now it was open. It is a rustic old log cabin, inside and out, with animal heads decorating the walls and log furniture. The bar counter only holds six people and we were lucky enough to belly up. We were delighted by the cool and colorful gunshot shell lights decorating the rafters.
I love blackberry brandy when it's cold, but they had none on hand. They did have cherry brandy, however, so I tried a shot. It tasted exactly like hopped up Luden's wild cherry cough drops and that is one of my favorite flavors. Mike had ginger brandy (no Grand Marnier at this joint). We had a another, loosened up, and started conversation with our bar-mates.

The young guy next to us knew the U of M (M as in MICHIGAN) game was on, but the bartenderess with much difficulty just could not find it. After a while she went in the back kitchen, he grabbed the remote, instantly changed to the game, and the party was on. Lots of talk about deer hunting, as the bar filled up. We had a long-ish drive back and did not want to do it sloshed, so we soon headed out. We also were scoping out a motel for a future stay. Curley's, across from the Yukon Inn, might be the spot. If nothing else, it was handy to the best drinking hole in these parts and a great view of the lake from most rooms.

Meandering back eastward now, a little more inland to catch a different scenic view. Drove past the Bear Butt Bar. Have to try that one another time. We arrived back at the casino hotel about 3pm. We checked in and had lunch. Good food and huge portions. We roamed the casino a bit and signed up for the frequent gambler's card. Because it was Veteran's Day weekend, Mike got a free spin and won $5. Then it was snooze time, in prep for the next round of partying.

At precisely 8pm, we sauntered down to the Sacy's Cafe and the party was in full swing right off the bat. Chuck, the party honoree, was shocked and way happy to see us (the effect we were hoping for). We renewed relationships with C, his family, and others we had not seen in a long time. The party-ers were a real mixed crowd--from folks way older than C's 70 to many relatives from several generations to towns folks and a lot of ex-students who had been guided by C as their high school principle and his wife as the school librarian.

The entertainment was VERY lively. C's daughter lead the DJ scene with a lot of beat-ful music and dancing and flashing lights. No one is inhibited up here!! Later in the evening both his daughters and wife sang some soulful songs live. C was really touched by that. There was a great spread of various kinds of pizza, BBQ wings, and about a 1,000 (oh, well, I'm exaggerating...but at least 300) homemade cupcakes of great variety.

Little known fact TO US. We did not realize that C was a true legend in these parts. He coached high school girls volleyball and brought the little town of Brimley to fame with many local and state Championships. The green and white signs at the town line list them all. When we realized these feats were lead by Mike's cousin Chuck, we were very proud of his leadership and accomplishments. Many past volleyball team members were at the party and it was obvious that he was idolized by them and so many others of the area.

We also renewed acquaintances with another of Mike's cousins and his wife. Don is just three days older than Mike, so they were very close as kids. Real visiting was a little tough with all the fun and raucous-ness, so we made a date with them for the next day. At 1am the party was still going strong with no signs of letting up, but we headed to the rack for a good nights sleep. 

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