Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, June 13, 2019


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter--

Each second Monday in January, when we lived in Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where winter is thirteen months long, we went to a potluck supper at the home of Dean and Bette Premo, because Bryan Bowers, the famous folk singer/auto harpist was at Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp the night before, doing the concert part for the Premo’s Second Sunday Folk Dance, and Bryan had spent the night with Dean and Bette, and they needed help in entertaining him.

Except for Mountain Man Mike, Helen and I were the only non-musicians. We were invited because Mountain Man Mike makes a fabulous bear stew, and everybody loved Helen’s tropical beet salad, and anything else she brought, and I could keep the multi-talented but somewhat unpredictable Bryan under control, since, for some unknown reason, he thought I was an old 1960s hippie poet and so liked to get my opinion on his own poetry.

After supper, folks uncased their instruments, and we went into the living room to play and sing. All around the top of that room--which the Premos call “the front parlor,” which gives name to The Front Parlor Dance Band, the group that plays for the dancing part of the Second Sunday Folk Dance, a room large enough to hold twenty people, many of them playing stringed instruments--runs a book shelf, from the kitchen, above the double sliding doors to the deck that overlooks Fire Lake, turning the corner at the end where the violinists sat, and finally stopping over the piano, on the wall beside the bedroom where we piled the coats, a pile so big, this being the UP, where everyone has to wear a parka, a snowmobile suit, insulated boots and a fur cap [and that’s just inside], that it took twenty minutes to find your own coat in amongst the others.

It is a deep and tall shelf, for it holds dozens of cardboard archive boxes, the kind that are about a foot high and only four inches wide, the sort that libraries use to shelve stuff that doesn’t stand up on its own.

Bette and Dean both have PhDs from Michigan State University. She is a limnologist and he is an environmentalist. They own and run White Water Associates, an environmental consulting firm, but their first love is music. They perform under the name of White Water. Their children, Evan and Laurel, were part of White Water from the time they were little, but as grown-up, married, professional musicians, they no longer live in the UP, so the mother-daughter duo of pianist Susan and fiddler/clog dancer Carrie Dlutkowski are now part of White Water. Carrie’s sister, Emma, also a fiddler/clog dancer, plays with them when she can get away from her job as a park ranger.

I knew that Dean had built that house himself, into the hill beside Fire Lake, deep in the woods, with a sauna outside, and a huge wood shed, large enough to house his parents originally, too. [The house, not the wood shed.] So it was he who put that shelf high up all around the parlor. I assumed those boxes must contain research from his doctoral work. One night, though, I enquired about it. No, it was not his research. It was the research of Dean’s major professor. It was probably out of date even when that erstwhile professor retired, but he could not bear to part with all that represented his life’s work, the stuff he had worked on so hard for so long, so he gave it all to Dean.

Poor Dean! What do you do with a white elephant like that? He could not refuse; that would dishonor a man who had helped him so much. He built a long and winding shelf for those archive boxes. There all that old research still sits. No one has looked into any of those boxes since the day many years before when they were placed on that shelf. Dean’s old professor has been dead for decades.

Try, though, as we might, even with all our might, to continue our time on earth, by passing on our “stuff,” be it material or emotional, our time will eventually come to an end, even if those who respect us are willing to humor us by building a place for our stuff.

Some day, Evan and Laurel will have to deal with the stuff on that shelf. Should you think about buying a house on Fire Lake, don’t agree to take it “as is.”

John Robert McFarland

We are living right now in somebody’s “good old days.”

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