My town, Holland, MIchigan, was a stereotypical, ideal mid-western town. It had everything in its place, all clothed in tulips, wooden shoes, windmills, and dutch heritage. Its boundaries I learned: first on foot, then on coaster bike, and eventually by hot convertible car. There was a church on many corners, this was Michigan not Wisconsin. It had become very American too, the main-street had merchants, drive-in food spots, an “A & W Root Beer,” and convertible cars. 8th street, was otherwise known as the “main drag.” Drive-ins would deliver burgers via roller skating girls. There was a near-by little lake (Macatawa), which connected to what we called the Big Lake (Michigan).
There were summer visitors, primarily tourists from Chicago. Rumor had it that Al Capone had a shoot-out in a nearby spot. The sugar sands on the Big Lake’s shore formed dunes planted with long grasses to hold them from drifting. There was home town knowledge shared by word-of-mouth. We knew when the grass was planted, what gambling halls were covered over in the earlier shifting sand dunes, and who lived on which side of the tracks. There was little room for uncertainty. The town was laid out on a grid, and was flat.
It was easy and lush to grow up in such a town and time. It contributed to a certainty and sureness or “comfort zone” around the known world, Such secure homogeneity doesn’t hold much merit in the diverse world of today. But little other than steady growth seems to change there, so I still can find my way around that town blindfolded. It just seems over the years to have shrunk.
Dutch heritage implies boats. Some I flipped over, some I ran aground, some I sank. Some were primarily used on the small lake, because it was far less daunting. Both lakes included chasing girls in the summertime. I made a lucky catch in that I had a girl friend who owned a small sail boat, although it lacked running lights for sailing at night. Problem solved. We would go out for what I still think were romantic night-sails; and if any motor boats came close, we’d take a flashlight playing across at the luffting sails to make sure they’d see us and not run us over. It was a golden place to spend a summer night, the air was liquid and warm and when we were lucky the wind was but a whisper. Almost becalmed. The sails would fluff and fill and fluff again, we never had to wear anything more than swim suits, we kissed and we kissed again. I’d have preferred it if we could take off our swim suits, but my luck had run out and that never happened. There was a tiny outboard motor as if we wanted to get back to the home dock. The last time I visited Holland I reminisced about the romance of night-sailing with a flashlight, and one of my oldest friends said…..”nope, you’ve got the girl wrong.” What? You did date Jeannie, but she didn’t have a boat. You’re thinking of Barbra, she lived near the fire docks on Macatawa, and she had one. She was the one who had a small sailboat.” So I”m the first to admit that the characters of my home town have been gradually clouded by fog, romance and time. Some details about it are probably not fair to remember. The phrase comes to mind, “liar, liar, pants on fire.” But this is what growing up in Holland Michigan makes of me.