Two faces of a small town.


Small town auto show in the summer

The pandemic has changed our lives. Along the way, this may have led us to new discoveries, or if we already had some notions about things, we are now finding out the truth. This happened to me. I learned about the double life of a small town.

This town is a typical resort town with a short season. With a population of 1,600, there are 10,000 larger cities in the U.S. The difference in the life of this town is that between Memorial Day and Labor Day, at any given time, the population is ten times greater. For example, on the Fourth of July, as many as 20,000 people cram the streets—and there could even be more.

For people who visit for a day or two in the summer, and to a certain extent those who spend two months or more in season, the town is a special experience. Fudge shops, ice-cream parlors, high-end resort clothing, fine art, gourmet cookies, and vacation real estate agencies abound. The thing in short supply is a parking place. Most crosswalks have gaudy, yellow-striped right of ways and autos are advised to yield to pedestrians. The marinas are full and the City dock has a waiting list of 173 for the fifty docks, which turn over at a rate that creates a ten-year or longer wait time for new owners.

In season, many people are having fun and everybody is on a mission. For more than thirty years, I was mostly in the “summer group;” plus several weeks in the winter around Christmas, but we only stayed longer if there was good snow.

But that changed this year.

I spent seven months in this Northern Michigan resort town, from May through November, living with my daughter and her family. During this time, I saw the town wake up to meet the summer and then return to “slumber” to recharge for the next summer, which always comes. It was an education and I learned a lot.

Shopkeepers cut back hours and there are always a few who give up, never to return. “Available” signs sprout in empty store fronts. For many service workers, unemployment checks are the only means of survival in the off-season. In contrast, there is a flurry of activity as 500 boats, some weighing ten tons or more, are plucked from the frigid waters and nestled in barns for the winter, where they will be prepared for another summer.

Even busier for the entire winter are the home builders and renovators, who have a treasure trove of old wooden houses, some more than 100 years old, to update and rescue from the ravages of time.

This insight took shape as I spent a long lunch with a local resident who had grown up on the shore of a small inland lake nearby. Now in his seventh decade, he described a colorful life that included, mostly in summer, dealing with the many (not all) big dogs*; and for the rest of the year, spending time with his hunting pals, church group, and a few “summer” friends who bridged the gap – regular folks. His stories brought to mind something that everyone tempted with feeling like a big dog should experience.

When I was in the fourth grade, we had a class called auditorium. As you would expect, it was held in a small auditorium. Our teacher was Miss Ammon. I also had her as my kindergarten teacher. She knew me. Each day, students put on short plays, mostly expressing our own ideas; or we practiced in front of the class for the annual Gettysburg Address competition.

One day, as an obnoxious eleven-year-old, I started acting like a big dog. On stage, I made sport of poking fun of what we were doing and putting down the other participants. I was showing off.

Miss Ammon stopped me and “took me behind the woodshed” in plain sight. She dressed me down in front of the class, and as she was doing this, I told myself, “She’s right.” Some might say my reprimand should have been done in private. But I believe Miss Ammon did just what she should have done to teach this big dog wannabe a lesson that he would never forget.

Thank you, Miss Ammon, you were right.

*Notably prominent person, influential, a self-proclaimed big shot.

By Savvy Senior

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