One of my favorite memories of Claire is when she would yell, “Look it’s Meme’s favorite road!” This would happen when we turned left onto a narrow dirt pathway lined with trees in Harrison, MI. This would happen every weekend throughout the summer during her childhood.
Let’s back up a little for those of you who have never heard the story.
When Claire was just a few days away from turning a year old, we hopped into the car and took a drive north. I was in a weird transformative place, married two months before, a huge reception a month prior celebrating us where all of our family met, and barely a year into a new home. Paul recognized this and said, “Let’s get away and spend time with your parents.” He knew they would help anchor me down a little bit and he knew we would both get a full night’s sleep if Meme was there to help. My parents had just bought a little place in Harrison, Michigan. This was close to a two hour’s drive from home. Keep in mind, 15 years ago, technology was not at our fingertips like it is today and we only knew what they shared with us a few weeks prior about the location and the area. We knew it was in a campground, but did not remember the name. We knew it was in Harrison, but were not sure if it was in town or on the outskirts. We knew it was a trailer on the water, but we were not sure what body of water. Looking back, we knew very little.
Thankfully, my husband was a logistics specialist in the military and knew how to use maps well, and in fact, loved mapping, so much so that he creates and uses maps daily in his work today.
Back to our journey north. We were enjoying the drive, pacifying a wakening baby when we realized once we got to Harrison, MI, we really did not know where to look. I was starting to get nervous and think, what a waste of a trip, but Paul pushed on. “It has to be away from town, away from the state park because it was a private campground,” he remembered. So we drove through town then decided to turn west onto Dodge Lake rd. There were so many dirt roads leading off this main road, and we tried a few, but no luck. Lots of different bodies of water nearby, but no private camping.
We began looking for Campground signs to see if that might help. We drove through a few neighborhoods and discussed asking someone, but what do you say? Hello. My parents have a trailer on a lake somewhere up here and yeah, that is about all the info we have. We rehashed what we remembered. It was a campground, but they were on the water away from the busy area and there was camping above them, so it was a two level area. After a half hour or so we finally found a sign and knew it had to be the one: Cedar Shores Campground.
Turning down another dirt road I was excited but also trying to soothe a waking Claire, likely hungry and wet from her extended time in the car. I remember singing a lot of the “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” She loved that I would turn around and tickle her feet as the spider climbed up the water spout. We drove into the campground and completely missed what would become Meme’s Favorite road. As we made our way into the park, Paul said, “This is it. It has to be. Look down there Carrie!” Down there was a small lake with a few trailers lining the lakefront. “I bet that’s where your parents are,” he said excitedly. Yet we had no idea how to get down there. We found an area that resembled a grassy parking lot and decided to park our car there. There was a restroom nearby so I cleaned Claire up a little while Paul looked around.
After we got out of the restroom, I heard, “Come here!” Paul was pointing to a stairwell down to the lower level of the campground. This is it, I thought, this really is it. He found them! So the three of us walked down a little path that led to a stairway. We took the stairs two at a time and looked for their car, then their trailer-one we recalled at the far end of the lake with no one on the west side. And what would you believe, Meme and Papa were outside mowing the lawn. They looked up as we were coming down the stairs, awestruck and smiling. “How in the world did you find us?” Mom cried through her smile. “This guy,” I said, thanking Paul with my eyes. We hugged and Claire toddled around the yard, her first visit of many up north.
There wasn’t a boat yet, or kayaks, no makeshift stand up paddle boards or the real deal, no tubes to pull kids through the water, or knee boards and wakeboards to give us stitches and laughter, no bikes or a toy box full of sand toys and balls, not yet, but there was meme and papa.
And there was Meme’s Favorite Road that we had missed, one that seemed so obvious looking back but one we completely bypassed due to our excitement. We would never miss this road again, and fifteen years later, we would still hear, “It’s Meme’s favorite road!” from a much smaller voice, reminiscent of Claire’s but known as Isla, as we revisit what our kids recognize as love, but what most Michiganders call Up North.
Claire, I know up north will always have a special place in your heart. Happy 16th Birthday to our sweet snarky sarcastic empathetic first born beauty. We love you. All photos courtesy of @clairemattern