My grandmother turns 90 years old at the end of June, and I can’t think of someone who has lived life quite like she has. First off, it’s where she lives. She calls a remote island along Lake Huron’s north shore home for much of the year. Now that she’s getting a wee bit older, she doesn’t live there by herself and instead resides at her house in town, waiting not-so-patiently for a relative to head north or, if it’s me, fly east, and take her by boat to her cabin. There are no roads on this island, and it can only be reached by private boat. Her boat? Well, it’s a trusty and steadfast Boston Whaler, a good 40 years old itself.
She’s quite the renegade, possessing a wild independent streak. A few years ago, when she took it to the local marina for a new boat engine, they replaced it with one that is quite underpowered. Years ago, she outran the local Coast Guard unit who tried to hail her for a safety check. She pretended not to see the boat or its sirens and zoomed away. My guess is that in her small town, population maybe 600, everyone is likely in cahoots to slow her down. Good luck with that. I flew home over Memorial Day Weekend to help her open her cabin, and there is still no one who can dock a boat like she can. The water and currents at our boathouse are tricky, even when the surface looks calm, and if she’s in the boat while I’m at the helm, I always botch it.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been her longtime home, although the past two years with my mom’s move to Kalispell, my grandmother spends the winters in Montana. Folks raise their eyebrows when this is announced and she asks if they’ve ever endured a winter in the U.P. When they say, “no,” she retorts: “Winters in Montana are easy.” She’s not lying. When those same people ask, won’t she stay and enjoy a beautiful Northwest Montana summer, she looks at them like they’re nuts. “No, I’d rather be on the island.” End of conversation.
She’s my son’s great-grandmother and I couldn’t be luckier to have her part of his young life. While we visited our cabin, she taught him how to pitch a rubber ball and gave him batting tips. She helped haul all the patio furniture on the deck, and raked the beach from its winter wreckage of driftwood and someone’s nice dock pilings.
My heart doesn’t think she’s aged a bit, and my fondest and most important memories are my many summers spent with her on that island. Yet I know that 90 is big, and who knows how long she’ll be able to call the Les Cheneaux Islands home. This summer, we’re making two more trips to Michigan so she can be in the place she’s meant to be, and enjoy the life that’s just perfect for her.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.