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Getting Away From It All

Recovering today from possibly one of the best and least productive Memorial Day weekends in history. God bless our veterans, and God bless God for the amazing weather.

A little bit about where I was: Port Austin, Mich. My father was born and raised in Bad Axe. My mom was a little more country, living on a working farm in Verona. (Yes, these are all real names. Don't even ask me about Pigeon, Ubly or Grindstone.) So when they retired, they wanted to be back in Huron County.

Small towns are dear to me as a lifelong Michigan resident. Sure, Detroit and other metropolises have the sexy nightlife, rushing highways and endless sprawl. I am enamored with the community spirit – and humility – of a small town. And that is especially true on major holidays like Memorial Day, which gives you time to remember everything you should.

Some background: If you're not from Michigan, get out your Michigan map – you know…your hand. Port Austin is at the tip of the thumb. If you're driving north on M-53, you better turn right or left at that last traffic light or you're going into the Lake. Which wouldn't be all bad given the right circumstances.

There is this lovely park near downtown Port Austin where they typically celebrate Memorial Day. (This year, there was a huge thunderstorm, so the old school gym had to do.) It overlooks the Lake, a playground and the beach. Besides a full display of flags (national, local and more), there are seating areas devoted to each branch of the military. There also is a commemorative bell, meant for ringing if you are remembering a veteran or casualty of war. And there are brick pavers, which families could purchase and have the names of their veterans included in the memorial/park.

My dad is a veteran; he served shortly after high school and in between wars. So we always ring the bell for him and my other uncles who served, including one in Vietnam. My son, the soldier-to-be, patrols the Air Force bench, thinking of his future (at least, that is what he is planning and I would be proud to see him do). It is an awesome place to be; it is an even better place to take a moment and think of the sacrifices of others.

Port Austin is small now, but growing larger. They're redoing the park soon, giving people more public access to the water. The village recently added a Welcome Center and there are plans for a big old campground just outside of the main downtown. Until all those happy campers come flooding in, Port Austin will remain my favorite secret getaway, full of smiling families, beachcombers, Harley riders, local farmers selling produce at the weekend market, retirees and rugrats. There is miniature golf, eateries where they make every thing from scratch and even two candy stores, where you can find "Candy Sticks" (or what used to be known as candy cigarettes). It's my version of Kennebunkport or the Hamptons. Only fewer accents and loud Pulitzer prints.

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  • 1

    Bad Axe must be a wonderful place.

    My favorite professor, Professor O'Dell, who studied Architecture at Penn, and I had in his last year was absolutely the picture of perfection. Herring bone, 3piece suit with a vest, pipe upside down and a beautiful fedora with the brim turned up all the way around.

    You couldn't help but love him and I earned all A's in his courses and he taught a lot about rendering and presentation... traditional style... French Beaux Arts.

    He had a son who became a physician. Fought in the First World War and behaved an awful lot like the actor who also had a degree in Architecture from Penn... James Stewart. Civil, kind, decent, loving.

    And the detective who almost caught Kwame about the party but was thwarted by the legal notion... "urban myth" also came from Bad Axe.

    So Bad Axe people are great in my book.


  • 2

    Nice that your parents can return to their old places. Sadly, those of us who were born & raised in Detroit cannot return to our old neighborhoods as many of these are totally non-existant today. Unlike other large cities that go through demographic changes, neighborhoods usually remain with some old landmarks, church buildings,public schools, houses,etc.. In Detroit, many(not all, but perhaps most) old neighborhoods have disappreared into total & complete oblivion. I grew up in the Van Dyke north of Harper area. Most of the schools, houses, churches, parks,stores(and there were many , everything & anything in walking distance including Ahee Jewelrs now in GP,Sanders, Fortuna Music Studio,innumerable others) are gone amidst acres of vacant fields, much which was announced as the new I-94 Industrial Park development more than a decade ago that has yet to start. You can view a pictorial album of the destruction of this once vibrant area at Lots of interesting albums on that website about old Detroit.

  • 3

    Say thanks to your Father for serving and a heartfelt thanks to all who served...very much appreciated.

    I was watching America's Got Talent tonight and a group of previously homeless veterans got together to form a choir. After their great performance one bold female yelled from the audience "we love you veterans". My previous struggle for composure just lost the battle right there...yeah, we love you veterans!

    Love and respect from our Blissfield Village to yours.

  • 4

    Loved the column. We were in the same area including Port Sanilac and Lexington. The small towns of Michigan are like nothing else. May they never change too much. God bless the veterans.

  • 5

    Interestingly, my dad grew up in Bad Axe as well and I certainly know Pigeon. He used to go to Port Austin as a kid, but when we were young, we went to Caseville.

    I agree, Michigan has some of the nicest small towns ever.

    Carol, from Toronto

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