Great Water


My ancestors came to Michigan as victims of a con artist who sold them “rich Michigan farmland” that turned out to be little more than pine trees and beach sand.  Despite that shaky start, I am proud to be a true Michigander, born and raised in this fabulous place, and I want to share a few lesser-known facts about our state with all of you.

First, the word Michigan means “great water.” That’s sort of a given, considering the fact that we are surrounded by lakes. Every child in this state learns around third grade how to remember the names of all five Great Lakes: HOMES. Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.  Lake Champlain was a Great Lake for brief time in 1998, but we Michiganders were quick to stifle that. I’m sure Lake Champlain is a great lake, but it’s not a Great Lake. 

I’d also like to point out that Michigan truly is shaped like a mitten. Some folks argue that Wisconsin is the mitten-shaped state, but those folks are just wrong. Plain and simple. Unless your mittened hand has been mangled in a random wood-chipper incident, that is.

Any questions?

Those of us from Michigan never need a map to show anyone what part of the state we live in. We simply hold up a hand and point.


Okay, sure, we’ve got that whole mutant-shark-dolphin thing going on up there in the U.P. but that’s a different subject.

And that brings me to another point. Here in Michigan, we don’t waste our time saying “Upper Peninsula.” We call it the U.P. Actually, those who live up there tend to call it “da U.P.” but I digress. Those hardy souls who live up there are called “Yoopers.” Not to be confused with the game they play called Euchre, which I believe was something our ancestors had to learn as a requirement for statehood.

Because the two parts of our state are joined by the Mackinac Bridge, Yoopers have been known to refer to those of us who live south of the bridge as “Trolls.” You know, as in “living under a bridge.”

By the way, tourists who visit Mackinac Island are known as “Fudgies” because Mackinac Island Fudge is a treat that should never be missed. Ever. Doesn’t matter if you buy it from Ryba’s or Murdick’s; just buy it. Buy a lot of it. And eat it quickly.

It’s that good.

And speaking of all things Mackinac, please don’t ever come to our fine state and pronounce it MackinACK. Oh, heavens no! It is pronounced MackinAW. MackinAW Island, MackinAW Bridge, MackinAW City.

(Just an aside here: What is wrong with people who pronounce our neighboring state as IlliNOIZE OR IlliNOICE? It’s IlliNOY, people. Hearing it pronounced that way grates on my nerves as much as hearing people saying they get books at the liBERRY.)

Another thing you should know before visiting our fine state is that we treat almost every minor illness with copious amounts of Vernor’s Ginger Ale.  Upset tummy? Vernor’s will fix it. Fever? Vernor’s will make it go away. Bad day at work? Vernor’s with a shot of whiskey will give you a whole new perspective. For a serious attitude adjustment, one can always try a delightful Vernor’s concoction known as a Naughty Gnome, but I wouldn’t recommend drinking more than one of these unless you are a 300-lb fullback with the constitution of a freight train.

We don’t drink soda here in Michigan. It’s called pop. And we often buy it at a “party store,” which is basically what everyone else in the world refers to as a “convenience store.”

When we drive, we have to learn to avoid deer, potholes, and the dreaded Michigan Left. Nearly everyone I know has managed to hit at least one deer in their lifetime. And the potholes are often the size of a small Volkswagon. There’s a pothole on my street right now that’s bigger than the kitchen in my apartment. As far as the Michigan Left is concerned, well, it’s sort of a convoluted go-straight-then-left-to-go-right kind of thing that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

And now that some genius city planners have tried to add those ridiculous roundabout things in the middle of roads for no apparent reason, I’m scared to death that I’m going to segue from a Michigan Left into a roundabout and end up spending eternity on some endless Moebius Strip circling the same series of potholes for all time.

That’s a big part of why I don’t drive much any more.

Michiganders also like to add a random “s” to end of words, making them possessive when it makes no sense to do so. Out of state visitors shop at Meijer and Kroger, but we go to Meijer’s and Kroger’s.

Most of all, we talk fast. Really fast. We like to cram as many words as we can into as few syllables as possible. In high school debate class, I once gave a twelve-minute speech in three minutes and twenty-two seconds. No one even blinked.

Probably because they didn’t have time.

We’re pretty tough here in Michigan. We have to be. We’ve got mosquitoes and deer flies and these horrible little biting things that no one has ever really seen. Hence their name: Noseeums. Original settlers in the area even had to worry about Malaria. We have bats and snakes and all sorts of slimy, nasty things to worry about. It’s not unusual to see a five foot long blue racer, and unfortunately even less unusual to see me wet myself when one slithers across my foot.

In this part of the state, we’ve got storms that gather strength as they roar across Lake Michigan. In the winter, they can dump snow on us by the foot, and in the summer, the thunderstorms can be pretty impressive. I grew up with a “tornado bag” packed and ready to grab on my way to the basement, just in case.

When I was married and lived in a house with a Michigan half-cellar, I refused to go into the basement when the tornado sirens went off. Those places are half-cellar, half-evil, and 100% horrific. I told my ex-husband and children that I’d rather go up with the house and hang out with Dorothy and Toto than go down there.

To give you an idea of just how powerful a Michigan storm can get, let me tell you about my niece, who lived in Seoul, South Korea, for three years. One morning, she woke up to discover that a storm had knocked out the power. She battled the raging wind and rain to get to work, only to find her stunned co-workers gaping at her in astonishment. “We can’t believe you made it to work in a typhoon!” they said.

“That was nothing,” my niece told them. “I grew up with Michigan thunderstorms.”

So if I haven’t scared you away, and if you’re feeling adventurous, please come visit my lovely state sometime. We’ve got Hell and Paradise, Iron Mountain and Motown, water as far as the eye can see. If you can’t find something to like in Michigan, it can only be because you’re not looking hard enough.





It’s coming.

The sun came up an hour ago, and I went outside in the watery morning light to open up the chicken coop and let the chickens out.  It looked and felt like rain; even the morning weather girl on WWMT News seemed decidedly un-chipper when she warned of big storms with “potentially damaging winds”.

It’s coming.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and it’s as dark as it was at 5:30.  Through a crack in the living room curtains, I can see the trees swaying as those “potentially damaging winds” get closer.   The breeze coming through the window is surprisingly cool, and it brings with it a smell of wet grass, of dirt, of outside.

I just heard the first crack of thunder.  Looking out the back door, I can see dark, swirling clouds in a sky that has taken on a greenish-yellow tinge.

It’s here.

It’s perfectly normal to be a little bit afraid of some of the powerful storms here in Michigan.  I still crawled in bed with my mother during storms until I was in middle school.   I have childhood memories of watching storms come in off the Lake that were so strong that rain was driven through the walls of our cottage, around the window frames and under the door.  I was fourteen years old when an F4 tornado ripped through the downtown area, killing five people and leaving a trail of devastation that the town is still recovering from.

I will never forget the sight of the mannequins from Gilmore’s Department Store, strewn throughout the wreckage.

We thought they were bodies.

It’s perfectly normal to feel apprehensive when these storms move in.   I have children sleeping upstairs, a husband on his way to work, loved ones out driving to and from work in this weather.  I have a dog and three cats who are currently freaking out, trying to hide under my couch and cuddle with me while simultaneously trying to avoid each other.  Any person would feel that little flicker of concern for their safety in threatening weather.

But what I am feeling is not normal.

It’s not fear or apprehension.

It’s stark, unreasoning terror.  It is the certain knowledge that I will die in this storm.   That these are the last moments of my life.  My heart is pounding; I can’t catch my breath.  I am ice-cold and boiling hot at the same time.  Menopausal hot flashes are nothing compared to the heat radiating from my body at this moment, while icy waves of numbing chills keep washing over me. My eyes burn with tears that I am too scared to shed.

It is not a matter of wondering if the storm will turn deadly.  I just know it will. Period.

Logic says otherwise.  After all, I have survived hundreds –no, thousands– of thunderstorms in my lifetime.  And really, what are the odds?   They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice.  By that reasoning, I should be the safest person on Earth.  Think about it:  how likely was it that one lonely tree on that stretch of road was going to fall over at the precise moment when I happened to be driving under it, at just the right speed, at just the right second?  One or two seconds earlier or later, to the right or to the left, and it could have missed me completely.

Or it could have killed me instantly.

So many random factors, all adding up to that one unpredictable, unstoppable instant.  That split second of “are you freaking kidding me?!”  when I heard it and saw it and knew it was going to crush me.  That infinitesimal moment that lasted forever but happened so fast that there was no time to do anything but watch.

Watch and know, beyond a doubt, that it was going to hit and it was going to hurt and that I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

It’s not what people think.  When storms hit, I am not re-living the entrapment, the extrication, the pain.  I’m not seeing what came after.  No, I am back in my van, in that one second.  Over and over.  Seeing the tree, knowing I had nowhere to go, no way to escape.  Smelling the rain, feeling the wind gusts rock my van, and not being able to do anything.

That’s the part I can’t move past.

That’s why I hate thunderstorms.   It’s not the storms themselves.  It’s that one tree, in that one second, that just won’t stop falling on me.