June 8-17 - Muskegon MI etc
Muskegon, MI is Al's home town, and the area where most of his relatives still live. We'd allowed two days to get from Springfield to Muskegon, half-way up the east coast of Lake Michigan. We had no fixed agenda, and no fixed route - just a desire to avoid going through (or even near) the Chicago traffic.
Thu 6/8 - About 9:30, we headed in a general easterly direction from Springfield on a course that would take us across Illinois and into Indiana, where we'd turn north toward Michigan. Lunch happened in a roadside picnic area, and then we happened upon Rantoul, IL. From about 1917 to 1993, it was home to Chanute Air Force Base, one of the major training facilities for US military flyers and support folks. At its peak, it had 15,000 trainees plus the training staff. Today, most of the base has been "civilianized", and part of it is an aerospace museum working to get up to speed. They have about 40 airplanes in varying states of (dis)repair, and some wonderful exhibits of some of what life was like on the base "back when". Lindbergh trained here, as did as all of the support folks for the Tuskeegee Airmen. We spent some time with the lone guy restoring a B25 - he's about 18 months into a project that will probably take all the spare time he'll ever have. For a legendary bomber, it sure was a little plane. Judy was able to get inside, but Al didn't really try to get more than half way up the ladder. Onward into Indiana, where we started looking for places to spend the night. We finally wound up in the parking lot of the Michigan Welcome Center at New Buffalo, where the price was very good and the noise levels were very high. By morning, all 36 big-rig parking spots were filled, and there were seven more semis parked around the perimeter
Fri 6/9 - With less than 150 miles to go, and a couple-dozen trucks to awaken us, we had an early start, so we dawdled over a breakfast at a Cracker Barrel, stopped for fuel, toured a wooden shoe and delft factory in Holland, MI, and then called to see if Al's Sister Sue would join us for lunch in Grand Haven. She did, at Applebees. We then drove the last few miles to the Muskegon KOA. Brother Dave and wife Debbie came to the RV park to tour our mobile apartment, and we then went to dinner. It was good to see for ourselves how Debbie's recovered from her nearly fatal fall in March. She's got some ways yet to go, but her spirit and determination are fully restored.
Sat 6/10 - One of Judy's favorite breakfast places is a regional chain named Russ's. So we did breakfast there, and then ran errands and did some minor shopping until after lunch, when we headed to the Feast of the Strawberry Moon at Grand Haven. Apparently, the first full moon in June is the "Strawberry Moon", and this "feast" was actually a re-enactment camp depicting life in the Great Lakes area in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the only industry was the fur trade. Sue and her two youngest, Sara and Chris, caught up with us mid-feast. After making the rounds, we headed back home. A little later, Sue and other sister Vicki came to visit the RV. Around 9, we headed back to Grand Haven for the "world famous" Grand Haven Dancing Waters, where we were rejoined by Sue and Chris. Nice show, followed by exceptional Turtle Sundaes. It was 11:30 by the time we sneaked into the RV park, where you're supposed to be quiet after 10pm.
Sun 6/11 - We met Sue and Chris at 9AM for church at Grand Haven's First Presbyterian Church, where Sue works. Pipe organ, choir, the works. Post church to brunch at a popular bakery-restaurant, then a lazy afternoon (Judy did laundry, Al updated our website) before a late dinner at Dave and Deb's, where we helped Beth, their daughter, celebrate her birthday. On the way home, we were captivated by a spectacular sunset, which we chased all over town for an hour or so. Sunset's late here - it doesn't really get dark until around 10:30.
Mon 6/12 - In the Pacific Northwest, one of our major grocery-department store chains is Fred Meyer, which we call "Freddies", founded by Fred G. Meyer. In the midwest, an almost identical chain of almost identical stores is named "Meijer's" (pronounced Meyer's), founded by Frederik Meijer. Anyway, as we were driving north, Judy ran across a listing for the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids. We headed in that direction (about an hour away) and spent the day amongst a most wonderful, whimsical collection of sculpture and landscaping spread over 125+ acres. The original plan was to do the gardens in the morning, and the Gerald Ford Library in the afternoon, but the garden was way too captivating to leave, so poor Gerald got dropped by the wayside. We took way too many pictures, of course. We've included some of the best ones in our slideshow of this leg of the trip. Home for dinner and a lazy evening.
Tue 6/13 - After a relatively low energy morning, Brother John and his wife Marcia came out for the obligatory RV tour, and afterward we enjoyed a guided tour of some interesting places. Al called it the "What's new in the last 40 years tour", as he moved away from here in about 1960. John's on the city planning commission, so he had a ton of great information not only on what was new, but the whole (not necessarily objective - you gotta know John) history of how it happened. Our next-to-last stop was a gourmet candy store, where we bought about 400,000 calories. We ended up at a restaurant owned by one of my many cousins, where we all enjoyed some exceptional pizza. Our evening was spent rolling around the RV, overstuffed as we now were.
Wed 6/14 - Another easy day - around 11, we went in search of a quick-lube place and had the oil changed in the Cruiser. We then spent about a half-hour driving around ostensibly in search of a post office to mail some things, but really just sight-seeing. After finding a mailbox (close enough), we went to lunch and then back home, intending to see a matinee performance of the Prairie Home Companion movie. But we forgot to watch the clock, and around 4:30 we left for sister Vicki's house, where we had a family gathering - all the sibs, a few nephews and nieces, and even a grand-niece. Good food, a successful ice cream consumption effort, and many family-type pictures were taken and marginally true and sometimes embarrassing stories told.
Al's family has a number of redundant names, which may make some of the relationships and captions confusing. If establishing relationships in those family pictures is important, some info: Al has a brother John, married to Marcia. Their kids are Jack and Chandra, but they weren't at the gathering. Both of Al's sisters (Sue and Vicki) married men named John. Sister Sue has a son named John, in addition to Joe, Vicki, Sara and Chris. Sue's son Joe has a girlfriend named Sara. Sue's daughter Vicki was named after Al's Sister Vicki. Vicki has a son named Mike (in addition to sons Mark and Ben) who is married to Jo, and their daughter is Ella. Al's brother Dave is married to Debbie, and their kids are Beth and Adam (but they weren't at the gathering). So now when you look at the pictures, it'll all make more sense. Maybe.
Thur 6/15 - We visited the Hackley and Hume houses, two marvelously restored Victorian gems in Muskegon. Hackley and Hume were business partners who built side-by-side mansions here in the late 1800s. Hackley loved all that Victorian gingerbread, and loved some of the Eastern details, like the onion domes. Hume liked a simpler style - Victorian was just about out of fashion by then - and he liked the cone-shaped turret style. So the barn which served both families had an onion dome on one side, and a pointy turret on the other! After the historic tour and a visit to an old firehouse museum nearby, we saw "The Prairie Home Companion" movie - for Prairie Home Companion fans, it is a must. The movie has all the slow-moving charm of the radio show, plus a plot of sorts. Lots of big-name actors, and lots of laughs. We met Dave and Debbie at Brann's, a local BBQ place, for a yummy meal. Full day, VERY full tummies.
Fri 6/16 - Every Friday, the surviving aunts and uncles on Al's mom's side gather at a local pub-&-pizza place for lunch. It is fun to join them when we get back here, as it is usually the only chance to see them on our short visits. Two aunts and one uncle, and a couple of grandkids attended, and we had a nice visit, leaving with bulging tummies, once again. There are no scales in the RV, and that's a very good thing! Back to the RV, where Al put all of our Muskegon pictures on CDs for the siblings, and we delivered them in the evening to John and Marcia for subsequent distribution. John and Marcia have a new dog since our last visit, a delightful, and almost perfectly square, Schnauser-Schipperke mix with oodles of personality. The RV park owners let us hook up the car in the evening, since nobody had booked the spot behind us, and we got all ready to take off early (before 7) in the morning. We had a relatively long drive ahead.
Sat 6/17 - It helped to get the hooking (car) and unhooking (utilities) done the last night. Unplug the electricity, put in the slide, pack up the satellite dish, and we're off at 6:45 am for Indiana.Al's Highlight - So many wonderful things in the Muskegon visit - family being at the top of the list. We caught up on all the latest surgeries (we're all doing them, it seems), especially with Debbie, who's recovering so well from her nearly fatal fall last March. It's harder to do the "tourist" thing in your home town, there being all that growing up baggage to lug around, but having moved away almost 50 years ago makes it more possible. That and fading memory. :-) The weather was a nice bonus - nightime lows in the 40s most of the week.
Judy's Highlight - This highlight stuff is hard - the whole Muskegon visit was a highlight! But it was especially nice to get back here and see first-hand the progress Debbie has made since her catastrophic fall in March. Debbie and Dave both remain enormously grateful for all of the prayers from our congregation (and numerous other prayer groups). They are sure that those prayers are largely responsible for her miraculous recovery.
Click here to see a slideshow of some of our pictures from this leg of the trip.
Stay tuned . . .