Here is the "essay" I mentioned on the Bois Blanc bulletin board the other day. I wrote it awhile back, with no real purpose in mind except to reminisce about the happiness the Island has brought me. If you decide you would like to add it to the Web site, I would be honored - perhaps it would interest more folks in sharing short stories about what they remember too. I can also try to dig up some photos to annotate my story if that would be appropriate.
Thanks & take care,
I am not an “old-time” Islander and don’t have roots on Bois Blanc. I am 31 years old and have been coming to the Island for 30 years – longer than I can remember, but not really all that long. And, although I’m not as integrated into Island culture as some, it is home to my fondest memories and is still an important place in my life. After reading Janet Weber’s informative article about ferry transportation to and from Bob-Lo in a recent issue of Bunker Clark’s Bob-Lo Tatler, I began to reflect on my own perceptions of the Island’s last three decades.
My Dad, Bob Reynolds, first set foot on the Island in 1972. One of the Detroit papers was advertising 10-acre lots for sale on Bob-Lo, and he had recently sold his ’47 Beechcraft Bonanza airplane with the notion of buying some recreational property. He traveled to Cheboygan with my oldest sister Lori, then 12 years old, and rode the Plaunt ferry across. As he explained it, they were met at the dock by Mr. Collins, the realtor selling the property. They climbed into Collins’ truck and drove deep into the heart of the Island wilderness, down the Fire Tower Road to the Lake Mary Road, finally ending up in a maze of trails that had been freshly cut for access to the newly subdivided 10-acre lots. Dad liked what he saw, and finally settled on one of about a dozen narrow lots with frontage on the north shore of Thompson Lake.
The rest of the family – my mother, another sister and I – did not see the new property until the following year. We lived in the Detroit suburbs and Bois Blanc probably seemed half a world away at the time. Daddy bought a beat-up red 1964 Ford pickup to use on the Island, loaded it with camping supplies and drove it north, ahead of the rest of us. We met him at the ferry, not really knowing what to expect.
Of course, since I was less than two years old at the time, I don’t remember that first trip across, or our first night on the island. However, the earliest actual memory of my entire life is a terrible thunderstorm that blew in off the lake the following day. We had gone swimming along the east end, in an area that is now private property, on a beautiful Bob-Lo afternoon. My folks had left the campsite open, tent windows and all. It didn’t take long for the clouds to gather and, before we knew it, torrential rain sent us running for the shelter of the old red truck. All five of us piled into the cab, which was an amazing feat considering my Dad’s size. He hastily drove us back to the campsite, only to find that the tent and most of the supplies were flooded. I was left sitting in the truck while the rest of the family tried in vain to dry out the camp.
I don’t know how we first met Glenn Gibbons and his family, but the Gibbons place was our next stop. They had a small “guest” cabin on their property, which they were kind enough to let us use for the night. I clearly recall waking up the following morning to bright sunshine, chasing rabbits off the front porch of that cabin. We returned to our own lot that day and finished drying out the accommodations.
And so it was, for the next several years. After the Bicentennial, I remember riding across from Cheboygan on the North Star with Kevin (“Keevin”) Gibbons at the helm, passing the Cheboygan Crib light when it was still at the mouth of the river, sharing Keevin’s doughnuts, eager to see Bob-Lo again. North Star customers were allowed free parking of Island vehicles on the Gibbons’ property, between their house and the old Texaco station (now Hawk’s Landing). We stored our old Ford truck there, and I enjoyed walking with my Dad from the dock to where the truck was parked. He’d always comment about how it “must’ve been a wet spring” or something like that, based on the standing water or deep potholes in the main road.
That old truck was also special to me, and will always be intrinsically linked to the Island in my mind. We’d come walking up and find it with three flat tires, covered in leaves and fallen branches, but otherwise just as it had been parked the previous fall. Dad would fiddle with the door until it finally opened with a loud groan. He’d clear away the cobwebs, pull the choke and turn the key. It started right up, every time, and he’d let it idle while Mr. Gibbons kindly brought over his air compressor to fill the tires. Then we’d drive back to the dock, pick up the family and our camping stuff, and head back to the deeper woods.
During our earlier trips, we made camp in a little clearing adjacent to one of the old logging trails that crisscrossed the property. Dad was always out measuring, looking for the property survey markers and clearing brush. I remember him beginning work on a driveway that would lead to our frontage on Thompson Lake, as it was otherwise inaccessible. He made about 20 feet of headway before discovering that he’d actually been working on the neighboring lot – it was almost impossible to tell the difference. He stopped clearing and never attempted it again.
I remember late one night, at our place, we heard a truck coming down the pitch-black two-track road toward us. This was highly unusual, as we’d rarely encountered a soul back in those woods even during the day. As the glare from the headlights grew nearer, we could see it was the Gibbons’ familiar old International pickup. Inside were Mayme Gibbons and her elderly mother (or mother-in-law, perhaps – I can’t recall). The older woman knew the Island like the back of her hand and was navigating as Mayme drove. They apologized for the intrusion, but asked to borrow the keys to the family sedan we left parked at the dock in Cheboygan. Apparently there was some construction happening on the mainland, and all of the cars had to be moved away from the dock by the following morning. My folks gladly handed them the keys, relieved that this unexpected late-night calling was not a serious emergency, and they drove off again into the night.
Bois Blanc was like Mayberry to me, as a child. I was so delightfully naďve, and the place seemed as pure and wholesome as all outdoors. My sisters and I would ride around on the tailgate of the old Ford pickup, dangling our feet as it bounced gently along the overgrown backwoods roads. I remember spending my fourth birthday at Andy’s Place – my favorite spot in the world and, I suspect, an unlikely place for a kid’s birthday. I remember Andy coming out of the back room, amusing me by walking his “invisible dog” (a leash that moved as though it was actually attached to a dog), and giving me a free Hershey bar. He and his wife Opal were always so good to us, and it didn’t seem to matter to them that we were “off-islanders”. They treated us like family. I miss them.
Andy’s Place really made those early trips special. So many good memories – like the time we just stopped in for a quick bite to eat, and a gentleman who’d brought his guitar began an impromptu performance on the little stage. We ended up staying late into the night, clapping and singing, and the place was packed. And there were other times when I’d finish eating and just wander off across the road to skip stones in the lake.
It was around 1980 or ’81 when Andy’s Place closed. The bar was vacant for a short time, as I recall, then Seville’s Saloon and The Orchard Restaurant moved in. A wall was erected inside the bar, with Seville’s occupying the larger portion of the building and The Orchard getting only a few small tables and chairs. Those establishments lasted only a few seasons before the place went back to being a regular bar, under the management of Jim Rogers and, more recently, Barb Schlund.
My family kept in touch with Opal Anderson until her passing in 1993 – Andy had passed away some years earlier.
My Dad suffered a heart attack in 1981, but didn’t rest long before trekking back to the Island. With Andy’s Place gone, we began to frequent the Pines Hotel. We met Dan and Jenny Kruszynski, who were very kind to us and very tolerant of ten-year-old me wandering all over the Hotel grounds. We also met a number of other Islanders who made regular appearances as Hotel wait staff – Suzette Cooley, Max Kretschmer and many more. My sisters were in their teens and twenties by then, and no longer cared to go “up north” with the family, so it was just my folks and me traveling to Bob-Lo.
When the Hotel burned to the ground in April 1984, nothing on the Island seemed the same. We didn’t arrive that year until sometime in June, and the remains of the building were still smoldering. The Kruszynskis had left Bois Blanc. I wish I could have told them how much I enjoyed the place and appreciated their hospitality. Every trip I’ve made since that time has seemed somehow more lonesome, and the Island has seemed less friendly. Or maybe I just finally awoke to the reality of the situation, that evil and misfortune exist on Bob-Lo as they do anywhere else.
My father’s final voyage to Bois Blanc was in August 1988, and it was sort of a rite of passage for me. His health was questionable and he’d gradually lost interest in making the trip anymore. His last run was to help me rescue the red ’64 Ford pickup that had become so much a part of my Island memories. I wanted to bring it home and fix it up to drive to school. We got it running and prepared it for its first off-Island journey in almost 15 years. The truck made it all the way back to Detroit with no problems – it was like bringing a little piece of Bois Blanc home with me. I still have the truck, to this day, and it’s currently undergoing a full ground-up restoration.
I made several trips each year to Bob-Lo in the early ‘90s, with friends and with my new wife. Then, in 1996, my Dad died of a massive heart attack. His sudden death was very hard on us, and it was the first year since ’72 that I did not make the trip across. I did get back in ’97, only to find that the camp had suffered from vandalism and that someone had built a ramshackle cabin on the neighboring lot. Seeing the new mess next door and hearing the new “neighbors” carrying on at all hours of the day and night, my wife decided she’d had enough of the Island. I couldn’t blame her – but I continued to visit, by myself, in the hope of maintaining a presence there.
And I’m still trying. Coming back to Bob-Lo in the last two years, I have been pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people and the many promising new developments on the Island. Hawk’s Landing is doing well, expanding its dining area – and they serve great food! The Island again seems almost like it did to me in the early ‘70s – people passing each other in trucks and cars with a friendly wave, saying ‘hello’ on the boat and so on. Back on our property, I haven’t been bothered even once by trespassing ATVs or other annoyances. The ‘neighbors’ sold their cabin to someone who is taking better care of it, and quiet has returned to our little place. Maybe it won’t always be so nice, but I intend to do my part to preserve the great things I remember about Bois Blanc. I will be a part of it, as it will be a part of me, for the rest of my life.
I look forward to meeting more new friends when I venture back to the Island this spring. Thanks for listening.
South Lyon, Michigan