We have meanwhile continued our journey to Cape Cod in Massachusetts where we will be for a week celebrating yet another special reunion with my friend Ben from my time at Emory and best man in my wedding and his lovely family.
As I sit on the porch with a last glass of wine and a soft and gentle Atlantic breeze caresses the trees around me, I ponder over the last three days in Up North Michigan, Traverse City to be precise, where I reunited with the family that hosted me for a year in high school 25 years ago and made me and has now made my entire family a part of theirs.
My American Family
We arrived in Traverse City on Lake Michigan after a long drive from Chicago, all across the lower Michigan peninsula, driving past Lansing, where my host family and I lived at the time. After these long weeks of driving out in the West of the country, the scenery here in Michigan feels almost familiar, as it is similar to many parts of Germany. Forests and farms fly by, until we approach our destination, which reminds me in some ways of Bainbridge Island, former lumber land.
And there she sits on the front porch of her lovely house, my host sister Sarah, smiling at us, now married to her most welcoming and caring husband Aaron, and a mother of two. We do not get to meet her son, as he spends some time in a summer camp, but her sweet little 8-year-old daughter is there and immediately bonds with our twins.
We unload our stuff and drive a little further North all together to meet my host mother for dinner at her place. She moved up here a little over a year ago, after Sarah and her family had settled down in Traverse City two years earlier. “High Sweetie”, she greets me, and I hug my “Mom” – what I started to call her back then and have called her ever since – after over 10 years since we last met. As it is the good family tradition, the table breaks with delicate appetizers from the region, drinks are kept cool in a decorative ice bowl on the back porch, overlooking the nearby river as wide as a lake in the polychrome evening sky. A soothing, welcoming family dinner atmosphere, and Aaron’s smoked ribs are just delicious.
The next days run by way too quickly, rich of activities and time together. First and foremost, we explore Sarah’s pastry shop “Sweet Tartlette” in town. Sarah has been a pastry chef for roughly 15 years and she knows what she is doing.
The macarons are a dream, but I must say that my personal highlight were her peanut butter cookies which melt on the tongue with a delightful salty note. I could have stayed there for an entire day, watching her build cakes and swirl icing around them. It is true art work and I am overwhelmed with pride and admiration for my American sister.
Traverse City on Lake Michigan
We take a walk through the neighborhood with beautiful mansions, giving testimony for the wealth of Traverse City back in the 1800s when the lumber industry in the region was booming, delivering wood on trains all the way down south to build Florida.
The afternoon of our first day is filled with activities at the nearby beach, and I am happy that there are no pictures of me on the stand-up paddle board out on the agitated lake. My son is much more of a performer. A joyful family dinner at Sarah and Aaron’s house mark the end of the day.
Wines and Ciders
Due to its micro climate, the region around Traverse City hosts an interesting selection of wineries and cider mills. We explore a few on day two of our stay and are marveled with the beauty and peaceful atmosphere of the landscape and of the places we visit.
The owner of the first cider mill on our route explains the process of making cider to us with the tranquility and patience of the artisan, and it turns out that his mother came from East Prussia as a young girl after World War II. We try to make a meeting possible the next day, but it doesn’t work out in the end.
We conclude the day at the beach of Leelanau followed by a white fish dinner in Leland, where Sarah and Aaron got happily married nearly 15 years ago. What a wedding it was! Bathed in golden early September light at various carefully chosen and charming venues, dancing away into the morning.
As with Juliane’s host family in Idaho, serendipity was all around us in Traverse City. We conclude our stay on Lake Michigan with an easy family day strolling through this charming town and enjoying the nearby beach once more. That my host family moved up here is no surprise to us after three days. It is a blessed piece of earth and offers everything a joyful and creative mind looks for.
A special moment of our last day is the spontaneous visit to the parents of my dear friend Brendan who was the captain of our swim team back in high school. Back then, I used to be at their house nearly every day in my memory, gulping down Brendan’s mother’s homemade salsa and playing streetfighter on the PlayStation until my eyes turned to squares.
We show up unannounced, the house looks like no one is there. I get out of the car and look through the door window into the living room where I see Brendan’s father in an arm chair reading something. I ring the bell. He opens. “Do you know who I am” I say. He squirts his eyes. You look familiar”, he replies. I reveal my name, and a big hallo follows. We spend sometime together, catching up on approximately 20 years or so, and I leave with yet more sunshine in my heart and a big jar of Brendan’s mother’s salsa, that still tastes as wonderful as it did 25 years ago.
Our departure from Traverse City saddens us all after these rich days of togetherness, and we leave my American family with the promise to meet again soon, if all goes well in Germany in a couple of years. Our doors and hearts are wide open.
And so we leave on a sunny day all the way down to Detroit to catch a plane to Boston, from where we will head to Cape Cod by car to reunite with Ben and his family after 10 years. We take a last peak at the magnificent Great Lakes benath us and say farewell to Michigan.