Sometimes we remember things like a certain food that our mothers used to make or a special place that we used to visit and we long to go back. The problem is that when we make that food or visit that place, it isn't as sweet as the memory. The mind tends to embellish these things.
But, every once in a while, we are pleasantly surprised and we can go back. That is exactly what happened this past weekend and the best part is that it was just as good as the first time.
I guess I better start at the beginning. More than 20 years ago now, my Aunt Sharlene and Uncle Don started camping at Wieland's Whistling Pines campground in Michigan's northwest corner of the mitten near Ellsworth which is just south of Charlevoix. That first time they stayed there they had actually started out with another camping destination in mind but, when they got up there, the campground was full. Their daughter Cathy Jo and her husband Ron who was with them found this other campground.
Wieland's actually is an old farm on Wilson Lake that has been converted into a small campground with just a few sites. The old toolshed has been converted into the only rustic cabin on the property.
Well, my aunt and uncle fell in love with the campground, the owners and the area. They returned every year for the next 17 years and introduced us to it the last three years they were up there. It didn't take long for us to also fall in love with it.
The Petoskey/Charlevoix/Central Lake area is amazing. It literally has everything that a person could want. Lake Michigan is never far away and offers smaller beaches that are just as charming as the larger ones but not as crowded. There are orchards, farmland, vineyards, rolling hills and flat land. Did I leave anything out? This area really has something for everyone.
This charming area is one of Michigan's better kept secrets. Upper Michigan gets a lot of publicity for its remoteness, crystal-clear waters and open spaces. Well, northwest Michigan can certainly boast about some of the same attributes. However, the locals like it just that way; they say that they have enough tourists already.
There was a time that I thought the grass was always greener on the other side and I couldn't see the treasures that were always around me. I have come to appreciate being a Michigander and I have come to realize that here in southwest Michigan we do have quite a few places to brag about. However, nothing can compare to northwest Michigan.
My aunt had not been back in seven years, not since my uncle had passed. So, we made the trip this past weekend and were definitely not disappointed. It was great to see the campground, to see everyone that we knew up there and to visit some of the places that we had always held dear.
The Jordan River valley is spectacular in any season but late summer and fall is when it shows its best colors. Lake Charlevoix and the surrounding area offers spectacular views and is home to many antique and pottery shops. Of course, Petoskey has its Petoskey stones that folks come hoping to find.
All of this is true for the area but, the best part is the people and the feeling or personality of the area. Maybe it is because Aunt Sharlene and I both remember the campfires, the fishing, and the laughs that we shared just hanging out. That is what coming back is all about. And, isn't this what memories are all about?
We both stayed in that small cabin and talked late into the night. We shared a lot of laughs, a few tears and a sense of belonging to something good. I have come to realize that this is what families do. When it comes right down to it, it is not about the where, but rather about the why, the who-with and the little things that get stuck way down inside us and make us smile every time they creep to the surface.
I feel the same when I go back to Jim's home in Pennsylvania. It also is a beautiful area but the real beauty lies in the warm and fuzzy feeling that stirs deep inside every time I visit, also that feeling of going home. More recently, I get the same feeling every time I spend time at Ron's home in Indiana.
It's a feeling of belonging to somewhere, where we leave pieces of our hearts. The people in these places make the difference. I don't mind these pieces that I leave behind because I know they are what will grow into sweet memories that I will always cherish.
I may sound a little melodramatic, but I just feel so fortunate to have so many of these places to go back to. I know some people are so busy that they forget to make memories along the way. Too many make the mistake of thinking that these places have to be some extravagant, expensive adventures. So not true. They can be as close as your neighbor's house down the road.
Another misconception is that the "where" makes the difference. Wade and Wyatt and I go to the Shipshewana Flea Market every year. We go, sometimes we buy and sometimes we don't, but we always have fun. It's not really the flea market that makes the memory, it's just the reason for the being together.
Yes, I love Ellsworth in northwest Michigan. I love the Union City area in southwest Michigan. I love Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. And now I love Economy, Indiana. In all these places there are sweet memories with some very special people in each place. I have brought back the best souvenirs from these places, memories and pictures. Because of these, I can go back and part of me will always live in all of these places.
Photo by Getty Images/Ken Wiedemann.