Finally a Positive Vibe from Michigan!… But Wait!…

Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, April 10, 2010

When my family moved from South Carolina to Michigan when I was nine, there were lots of things I didn’t understand. First, everybody’s Dad worked a shift at a plant. My Dad sold chemicals to those plants, so I knew what they were, but I didn’t get the concept of a “shift” and what “first, second, third, split, double, etc.” meant. My first summer, I didn’t understand where everybody went on the weekends. My neighborhood would seriously empty out. I was told, “They went UpNorth.” That didn’t help — where the heck was UpNorth? “It’s where people have their cabins.” Oh. I still didn’t understand, but at a certain point — if you want to have any chance of not being a pariah — it’s best to say “oh” when something is explained in a way that strongly implies that it is common knowledge. I came to accept that cabins were some sort of vacationy things.

I was starting to get my bearings but then come fall, just before Thanksgiving, there was another mass migration up north to cabins, but this time it was just Dads and they all had (!) guns. What sort of shift was this? Deer hunting shift, apparently. Oh. Again, I didn’t get it right away. That was until my friend Joe’s mom picked me up to take me to a 5th grade basketball game. Mrs. Peltier had car pool that night, and the only vehicle they had big enough to take us five or six Holy Redeemer boys to the game was their Suburban. It was enormous. Big enough to carry all of us boys plus a dead, bloody deer in the way back. I know this because on that particular day, there was one back there. Mrs. Peltier apologized for not having time to pull it out — Mr. Peltier had just returned from hunting. None of the other boys seemed bothered by this. It was just a Michigan thing.

So, yeah, there are some special things about Michigan, and one of them happens to be the popularity of tromping around the rural landscape with guns, which — and I’m being perfectly sincere — is great. I don’t hunt. I think there are two reasons for this. One, my family didn’t vacation UpNorth or have a cabin. Second (and I think this is the bigger reason), I don’t like to be cold. And having to sit perfectly still for hours in a deer blind on bitter November mornings — not enticing. But I get hunting. I get why there is a Michigan culture that supports hunting and related lifestyle. Unfortunately, I also understand why there are a very small percentage of zealots who take the guns and rugged independence and separate society to an extreme, and that’s why we end up with groups like the Michigan Militia from the 1990s and now the Hutaree of today. They shouldn’t define Michigan, but radicals always seem to get a disproportionate share of the attention. I don’t understand why that has to be, but, ya know, you have to move on.

Some things I get right away (Ernie Harwell), and some things I never will (Bob Seger).


  1. Michele (Peltier) DelGreco said,

    April 24, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    Love your point of view. This brought back some great memories of my family. Thanks!

  2. John Auchter said,

    April 26, 2010 @ 7:24 am

    I actually think about your folks quite often. My drawing board is an old wood drafting table your Dad saved from AC Spark Plug when they were changing over to newfangled steel tables. (I imagine at some point those were junked and replaced with computers.) I saw it in your basement one day and my Dad eventually bought it from your Dad. Best gift ever. Let your folks know — it still gets used nearly every day!

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