I can remember trailing behind my parents while they planted the massive row of white pine trees that line the drive of our up north property. My dad dug the holes while my mom plucked the palm-sized seedlings from a bucket, planting them one by one. Forty some years later, the branches of the towering pines arch and sweep over us as we drive down that road.
Today, new owner’s took possession of the ‘up north’ property my family has owned for forty years. Having lost my Dad two years ago, the time had come for my mom to sell.
When we listed the property, I began to prepare myself, letting the prospect of our future reality drip on my conscience while my mind played an endless reel of the ‘good times’ we had down that road.
Motivated by his passion for weekend farming and a history of ‘up north’ vacationing as a kid, my Dad talked my mom into purchasing forty acres of undeveloped land back in the seventies. My mom’s father, ‘Grandpa Smith’ joined them, purchasing the adjacent forty acres and our eighty-acre wonderland of amusement was born.
In the beginning we tent camped, making meals on a green Coleman stove while crews brought in electricity, dug wells and laid the road down the center of the two parcels. As an upgrade to our temporary accommodations, my Dad strapped a shanty-like outhouse to the top of our station wagon, hauled it up north and dropped it a respectable distance from camp. True story-I shit you not.
The picture of my brother and me on a tire swing represents one of our earliest trips—as I recall it was a day spent tromping through the marsh until our pant legs clung to our ankles, caked with mud and burrs. Note the ‘Hee-Haw’ overalls I’m wearing in the picture. Thanks Mom—as if the arrival of the outhouse wasn’t enough of a hillbilly shout out to our new neighbors.
After the basics were in, my Grandpa anchored a travel trailer to his land. He lived in the billboard-sized space for fifteen years, eating fried eggs and bacon and surrounded by the constant drone of a transistor radio. Neighbors began to whisper about his wife—questioning the allusiveness of the stoic profile they saw sitting beside him in his red pick up truck everywhere he went. When they visited the property—‘Mrs. Smith never showed—only Grandpa and a German Shepherd named Sam.
My parents followed Grandpa’s lead, setting up concrete blocks and raising the wheels on our first mobile home. When my cousins vacationed with us, the ends of the double wide served as ‘no-man’s-land’ for endless games of ‘capture the flag’ while the grown ups sat around a bon fire you could see from space—another one of my dad’s specialties.
Tractors started well before anyone in the sleeping bags crowding our living room floor raised a head. Echoes of the dueling engines would beat against the hardwoods—rising and fading throughout the day.
My Grandpa usually made his way to the area in front of his trailer, which he would eventually dig into a huge pond. My Dad would head for the back forty, continuing his mission of carving a series of cart-wide trails for the stream of motorized vehicles we collected over the years including, ATV’s, dirt bikes, an Amphicat and a ‘Mule’. My favorite was our dune buggy.
It was an off road Volkswagen Beetle. I’d steer from the driver’s seat, barely able to see above the skinny round wheel, while my Dad and brother rolled the frame to the incline at the top of our road. From this starting point, they’d push until they were running to keep up. Seconds later my Dad would appear sprinting beside me, waving a forward hand and yelling, ‘Pop the clutch! Pop the clutch!”
I learned to drive a fleet of bartered, second-hand vehicles over the trails my dad forged. My mom taught us how to ride horses, took us on daily outings to Lake Huron, and cooked for a small army in her electric frying pan. We dropped a dock and raft into the pond my Grandpa dug and spent countless hours swimming, fishing, kayaking and feeding our resident family of turtles.
In one of their more ingenuous stunts, my brother nailed a high top converse shoe to a board and water-skied the length of the pond while my dad drove along the bank, pulling him from a tow-rope attached to his Lincoln.
After we grew up and had kids of our own, my mom and dad continued to do all of these things for our kids and more. They planted a huge garden with vegetables, fruit trees, sunflowers, and my dad’s personal pride, horse-radish. In October the garden became a pumpkin patch blooming with huge orange globes that we’d transport home and deliver to the neighbors.
When my Grandfather died, the two parcels of land shuffled a bit and my husband and I bought a portion of the land that I love. Time changes a lot of things. The echo of the man on the tractor working in the woods is now a cherished memory. The house and outbuildings were built on my mom and dad’s parcel, which means there’s no tent, trailer or house on the land that Mark and I are keeping. Despite that, I’m thrilled to be back in the same setting as the little girl in the Hee Haw overalls—blessed by the charmed life my parents created at the end of those white pines.