I have no sense of direction. Zero. None. My old college roommate was fond of saying that I could get lost in a revolving door, and I have to admit that she was right.
It runs in my family. Aunt Marian called it our “Family Disease” because most of us have very little idea of just exactly where we are at any given time. Put a handful of my relatives in a car and it’s anybody’s guess where we are going to end up, although it’s a safe bet that we aren’t going to reach our intended destination.
Dad tried to teach me. He showed me how to look for the moss on a tree to figure out which way is north, or how to follow a stream to find my way around. He made every effort to help me understand the compass points on a map.
None of which is even remotely helpful when I’m screaming through the S-curves in Grand Rapids during rush hour, trying to figure out if my upcoming exit is going to be on the left or right.
Still, it was manageable when I lived in my hometown. The streets have names there. Lexington Avenue. Schuring Road. Julie Drive. Names. Identifiers. Logical tags to help the directionally-impaired find our way around.
Now I live in the country, where nobody bothered to name the roads. We use numbers out here. County Road 665. M-43. 54th Street. And they complicate matters by throwing in half-streets. That’s right, 51 ½ Street. 52 ½ Street. The real kicker is that there is no 51st, 52nd, or 53rd Street. Just the halves.
Just in case that isn’t quite enough of a mind-screw, some of the roads out here have different names, depending on what part of the road one is traveling on. County Road 388, for example, is Phoenix Road in South Haven, 46th Street in Berlamont, Kalamazoo Avenue in Bloomingdale, and 388 again for the next few towns until it becomes D Avenue somewhere near Kalamazoo. It may change names again, but I’ve never followed it beyond that.
Because these are all small towns, there has to be another twist to make it that much harder to find my way around. The locals have nicknames for certain roads or locations, nicknames that make no sense and don’t show up on any map. Trowbridge Flats, for example, is nowhere near Trowbridge Township. There is no Armstrong Road anywhere in the vicinity of Armstrong Corners. I have no idea who or what a “Kibbe” is, but I drive through Kibbe Corners every day.
And then there’s Merson’s Corners.
I hate Merson’s Corners.
The hate began between my freshman and sophomore years of college, when I was staying with my Aunt Verna for the summer. I wanted to visit my Aunt Ida’s grave at the family cemetery in Trowbridge Township, so Verna gave me detailed directions for what should have been about a 45-minute drive. She used lots of numbers and nicknames, and the biggest part of her instructions involved my traveling along the Pullman Road.
There is no Pullman Road. It is not on any map. As far as I can tell, it goes nowhere near Pullman, Michigan. Which is fine, I guess, because I don’t think Pullman, Michigan is anywhere near Trowbridge Township. Or Trowbridge Flats, for that matter.
I saw parts of Michigan that day that I had never seen before and quite possibly have never seen since. Or maybe I have; after a while, the trees and corn sort of blend together and start to look alike. By the time I ended up at Merson’s Corners roughly three hours later, I was hungry, tired, hopelessly lost and bawling like a baby.
The town consisted of a sign that said “Merson” and a convenience store. There was another sign advertising a business selling “local herbs and honey” but I decided to take my chances at the convenience store. This was before cell phones, and the sole payphone was out of order, so I had to ask for directions from the goober at the counter. A goober who, as luck would have it, had never heard of the Pullman Road or Mallory Cemetery and wasn’t too sure about the Trowbridge Township Hall, but happily told me about the time he got his car stuck in the mud at Trowbridge Flats.
Which is nowhere near Trowbridge Hall, Mallory Cemetery, or Merson’s Corners.
In retrospect, I think there is a strong possibility that Goober might have been sampling some of the “local herbs.”
I know now that a simple left turn at Merson’s Corners would have taken me to the family cemetery in about five minutes. I have a theory that I have so many ancestors buried there because most of them died while driving helplessly around in circles trying to visit the graves of other ancestors.
But on that particular day, Goober sent me in the opposite direction to Armstrong Corners, which I recognized as the intersection of M-40 and M-43. Where there is no Armstrong Road.
My odyssey should have ended there. But in the years that have passed since that day, a strange thing has happened. Every time I get lost (which is pretty much every time I get behind the wheel) I end up at Merson’s Corners. It doesn’t matter what town I am aiming for; as soon as I realize that I have no idea where I am, I relax and start looking for Merson. Once I end up there, I can find my way home. Or I can find Armstrong Corners or Mallory Cemetery, although I have still never located the Pullman Road.
Merson has a nice, big church at the corner now. We met there to meet with the pastor about my father’s funeral, and we use the parking lot as a good halfway point to meet other family members on our way to the county fair. My brother-in-law and his wife even attended that church for a while.
I’d like to try that church, but I have a confession to make: I can’t find it.
You see, Merson’s corners is still not on any map. I can find my way home from Merson, but I can’t get to Merson unless I am trying to get somewhere else. Anyone else could simply flip the directions around and backtrack, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I start wondering why there’s a place called Merson’s Corners when there’s really nothing in Merson but a church and a convenience store. Then I start to wonder if there’s a an Armstrong family at Armstrong Corners, which leads me to question the existence of a Kibbe Family, at which point I wonder if the Armstrongs and Kibbes were wiped out of existence while stuck in the mud of Trowbridge Flats while looking for the Pullman Road.
My husband recently asked me if I would meet him at Merson’s Corners so he didn’t have to drive quite as far to bring the kids home. He must have seen the panic on my face.
“You can find it,” he assured me. “Don’t aim for Merson. Look for the Pullman Road.”
I made it to Merson’s Corners with five minutes to spare.