August 18, 2019

Growing up in the U.P.

Taken from articles I gleaned from relatives
sharing stories about Marquette, Michigan

Written by (my aunt) Janice Olsen Summersett around 2013

As far as living in the U.P. of Michigan – I can’t imagine being anywhere else. The special beauty and peacefulness around us – and we always felt safe. We could go outside and play from dawn to dark and no one worried about us. We just needed to check in at mealtime and then we could go out again.

Thank God I grew up being able to enjoy active sports and also be able to take off and ride my bike all day long, wherever I wanted to go – just so I was home for bedtime. I made my own fun and had lots of great friends. Actually, I was more or less solitary and at times enjoyed the peacefulness of the woods West of our house. I would take a lunch, sometimes cooking hot dogs over a fire (mom would have had a fit if she had known) and especially one time I wrapped a raw egg in foil and put it into the fire. Don’t ever do that!  It exploded and I wore most of it. It sounded like a shotgun going off. Scared the devil out of me.

As a pre-teen we made our own fun – baseball, kick the can, red rover and best of all climbing the corner tree at the corner of 7th street and scaring people who passed under the tree. We also spent countless hours swimming at the quarry in South Marquette and also at Picnic Rocks bordering Lake Superior. BEAUTIFUL!

Living hyperactively 

I sure managed to get into a lot of trouble just being too active. I really couldn’t help it, but no one understood that in those days – I didn’t do really bad things – just stuff a super hyper kid does. I sure gave Mom and Dad a hard time being so hyper and I suffered BIG time for it – I think I wore out Dad’s razor strap. I usually got a good whipping at least once a week. I always blamed myself for being bad, but I loved Mom and Dad very much. Poor things just didn’t know how to handle me.

Fruit and Pies

It was so great growing up in Marquette and even though we were very poor we did okay. Mom managed nicely because she was an amazing cook. She could stretch food and sure made some wonderful meals.

We all spent lots of time at our camp out on Big Creek Road. It was very solitary and beautiful and we picked lots of wild strawberries, blueberries and raspberries which were turned into the most wonderful pies and jams you ever tasted. We also had a Wolf River apple tree on family land across the road. I would climb the tree and pick the huge apples and bring them back for Mom. She could make a pie out of one apple they were so big. It was so incredibly beautiful at camp – and so peaceful. Eric, I hope you have forgiven me for burying your stuffed animal on the hillside by that tree. I was probably four at the time.

A special “bubble gum”

When we were kids during the summer the tar on the road by the house would melt and bubble up at the edges. We all chewed it like bubble gum – it was very gritty and tasted weird – but we were poor and I guess couldn’t afford gum. We found out later that this type of tar was chewed by lots of people and didn’t hurt you. DON’T TRY IT TODAY – you’d probably die!

Well that’s my life story of life in the U.P. I could have written a book – I have left a lot out.


(first published in The Olsen Chronicles, Fall 2013)

August 4, 2019

Bound for the Upper Peninsula

Squished with three to four siblings in the back "box" of our 1960s era white station wagon, the middle seat carrying the younger ones, and parents leading us in the front, trips to our other home in Marquette, commenced. The cherished seating was in the car's "box" - no bench, only a nice square floor space in which to arrange our pillows and blankets, books and toys. Elbows flew in our face or sides, grumblings of "he touched me" "she's looking at me" - just a part of the road trips with nine people.

The morning of our trip the excitement was palpable as we would wiggle with anticipation of a trip over The Bridge. "A quarter to who sees The Bridge first" my dad would shout out … causing us to jockey for the best position to see the farthest and win this treasured coin. 

Mom made bologna, mayonnaise and butter sandwiches to eat at a picnic table on the west side of the Cutwater Bridge on U.S. 2.  I Spy games made the time slowly fly. 

A sibling prone to car sickness broke the monotony with her occasional venture outside of the car to deposit remnants of meals. This sibling wrote:
One time after I threw up in a paper bag, dad stopped the car and put it on the porch of a house on the way somewhere north. Must be he was feeling a little devilish that time. We used to take the ferry and I only remember the railing with mom holding my hair out of the way while I puked over the side. Also, we got to eat cold beans out of a can and sometimes got some cherry Nehi pop.

Mom and dad would be unsympathetic with our constant outbursts as we jockeyed to get the best spot in which to view Lake Michigan's waves. They eagerly continued driving the slow 55 miles per hour speed limit, occasionally pushing the vehicle to 60 in the eagerness to reach our U.P. family, or to pass a truck around a curve causing mom to shout "Donald" as we all grabbed hold of the back of the seat and scream. Once "in a blue moon" our father would pull the car to the side of the beach sand covered road along U.S. 2 allowing us to run out and put our toes in the sand and water of Lake Michigan. Most time though, we flew past these beaches as dad was missile-propelled to reach our destination.

The l-o-n-g Seney Stretch was interminably straight for 25 horrifically l-o-n-g miles. We all shouted with joy when we saw the curve in the road indicating the end of the stretch. Shingleton, Munising, Christmas, Au Train, were next, bringing us closer to Marquette, where we would eat a supper of pasties piled high with ketchup and blueberry pie, made fresh by our dad's sister, Janice. 

Eight hours of driving had to be hard on my parents, more so with seven vocal kids, but we were all bewitched into quiet when our station wagon finally rounded a curve on Highway 28 and we saw the peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior with Marquette's sparkling lights reaching out as if to welcome us back. 

Family, comfort, routines, familiar smells, cowboy coffee, acceptance, laughter with our cousins, and talking were all special joys of this homecoming. Click your heels together … truly, there IS no place like home!

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