When one reaches retirement age it usually can be said that there are a lot of fond memories to recall from days gone by. Our retirement road trip through the Heartland gave us a wonderful opportunity to do just that. Ease Along with us and we’ll make a return trip to a place where Helen (adorable wife) spent a summer in an idyllic community on Lake Michigan.
After a busy, fun-filled four days in Chicago, our plan was to drive up the western shore of Lake Michigan to Harbor Springs which we would use as home base while we explored the Northern Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and Mackinac Island. The drive to Harbor Springs from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center would take about eight hours. We really weren’t up for a drive that long, so Helen suggested we make a one night stopover in Holland, Michigan and see if we could find the place where she had a summer job in the late 1960’s. Since I had spent that summer in Army Basic Training and not along to chaperone, I thought it might be fun to revisit an experience from my adorable wife’s past.
Her place of employment that summer was in a community now known as Castle Park. This place near Holland was, and still is, a community of primarily summer homes on Lake Michigan for mostly well-to-do families. In the center of the community, a large building was constructed in the 1890’s which resembled a European Castle. The Castle served as an inn and small restaurant for the visitors that did not own a home there. Helen worked in that restaurant as a waitress and she, along with the other waitresses, were affectionately known as “Pixies”.
Helen has forgotten most of the details of that summer except for the time she dropped a prime rib dinner in a gentleman’s lap. Helen told me that even though she was mortified by the incident, the customer was a good sport and gave her the biggest tip she received all summer. The fact that she recalled anything is somewhat surprising. Helen is blessed with the gift of being able to live in the moment. To her, the future will be here soon enough, and the past is the past…she genuinely enjoys today and, on this day, she was going to need help finding The Castle. Her first move was to call her BFF, Harriet, who also spent that summer as a fellow Pixie.
Harriet immediately emailed us a few items of information that led us in the proper direction. She included an article telling us that The Castle was still intact but had been purchased by the home owners in the community to be used as a clubhouse for residents. Harriet also dug through her photo library and found a picture from that summer of her and Helen serving ice cream together at an outdoor gathering. That picture is shown below along with a photo of these two Pixies taken more recently.
With the address now entered into the GPS, we were able to locate the fabled Castle. Signs at the entrance gate warned us that the property was for residents only, but we figured that a former Pixie might be able to get forgiveness so we drove in. Helen remembered the community as being filled with plenty of activity but there was only quiet now as most of the summer residents had moved out after Labor Day. The Castle was still standing…empty, but in good repair and pictured here.
We walked the grounds and met a permanent resident who had lived there during the time the Castle was an inn. This gentleman recalled having some fun times in the Pixie cabin. Helen, claiming no memory of such events, changed the subject…it was time to shake off the Pixie dust. It was easy for me to see how this would be a wonderful place to spend the summer. We left grateful for the chance to visit the area and I was so glad Helen had the opportunity to revisit a memorable experience from the past.
That evening we walked around a charming downtown. We love small towns and after the hustle and bustle of Chicago, this was what we needed. We scouted a few food places and decided to give Hops at 84 East a try since the menu looked good and the craft beer list was intriguing. As is my usual preference, we ate at the bar where we met Ron and Jen, a couple of professional photographers from the area. We told Ron we were on our way to Harbor Springs and he recommended strongly that we drive through an area known as the Tunnel of Trees. This was a great suggestion and will share that drive on a future article in Easin’ Along.
For dinner, I chose the baked spaghetti pie. This was a delicious blend of three cheeses, spaghetti and basil. It was topped with a home-made tomato basil sauce and served with a large meatball. I scraped the plate. Helen chose a pan-seared, Wild Caught salmon entrée that was served with asparagus, fingerling potatoes, and a tomato/corn hash. She said it was awesome. The craft beer we tried (twice) was Shorts Light Lager. Very good!
The next morning, we went to Windmill Island and paid a visit to the De Zwaan Windmill. This windmill was brought to Holland, Michigan from the Netherlands in 1964 and erected on this island. The citizens of Holland, MI wanted to promote their Dutch heritage and went looking for an original Dutch windmill to use as a landmark. This was made difficult because many windmills in Holland had been destroyed in World War II and Dutch officials had decreed that no more windmills would leave the country. Nevertheless, the Michigan townspeople were able to negotiate successfully for the purchase of this heavily damaged windmill and brought it to America. It was the last windmill to leave the Netherlands. This handsome structure (125 ft tall) actually has bullet holes from the War on one of its blades. On this windy day, it stood proudly with an American flag at its side.
Our stopover in Holland had been a splendid decision. We had avoided a long day of driving and had added another memorable event to our retirement road trip through the Heartland. Harbor Springs is up next and we’re Easin’ Along on a road less traveled.