Thursday, April 14, 2011


Doug met us at the dock. We sat on our luggage washed in the light of a waning moon, one week after Equinox, wet from the spray of the water spewing from the speed boat that had brought us to the island. The light of a thousand stars danced their fairy dance over the waters of the Straits of Mackinac, the gentle drift of waves lapping against the sides of boats bound to the wooden posts jutting from the rim of the dock. The clip clop of hooves against asphalt pierced through the quiet of the night, moving closer and closer as Doug brought his wagon down the hill. He pulled the reigns in to his belly, calling a gentle Whoa as he leaned his back toward the wagon bed. The horse rocked his head back, his mane caught the breeze coming off the straits, his neck stretched tight, then released as he bowed his head, stopped, and tapped his foreleg against the dock.

“You two the newlyweds?” He asked, with a sort of tease in his voice. Dave introduced himself, then me, and thanked him for coming out so late. We had missed the last ferry, having driven eight hours from Pittsburgh after opening our wedding gifts with family that morning.

Mackinac Island sat in the distance, six or seven miles from the shore where we stood. I watched as Dave found a phone and made a few calls. Before long we heard a motor in the distance, coming over the water, and soon we were aboard a small private boat pouncing through the misty night toward the lights in the distance. As we approached the island Dave wrapped one arm around my shoulder and with his other hand pointed toward a string of sparkles along the shore up ahead, sitting higher than the rest of the lights on the island. A long steady stream of silver-gold specks: “That’s the Grand Hotel. Now count seven lights up from there…that’s the cottage.” I squinted my eyes, as much to protect from the lake spray as to focus on the scene. As we approached it became apparent that this cottage was nothing like the cottage of my childhood imaginings. I thought of a cottage as something from Goldilocks, or Red Riding Hood, or Snow White. Small and quaint and dripping with charm. I realized there in the water still a mile from the shore that this was no small residence.
Grand Hotel & West Bluff Cottages
 Doug lifted our luggage onto the wagon bed and jumped up to the buckboard, offering his hand to me as I lifted my foot onto the small step at the side of the wagon. Dave placed his strong hand in the small of my back as I rose into the wagon. I scooted over behind Doug and Dave scooched in next to me, wrapping his arm across my back and cupping his warm hand over the knob of my shoulder. Doug clicked his tongue against his cheek and flipped the reigns. The wagon started with a slight jerk, and we were off, the creature in front of us prancing at a pretty good clip to get a good enough steam behind him to make it up the hill to the West Bluff.
Front of cottage
We took the road back behind the Grand Hotel, back on that little one lane trail of a road situated between the mansions on the bluff and the carriage houses behind the massive shingled summer homes. Dave’s cousin, Pam (who would later marry Doug) was waiting for us, welcoming us to the cottage. Grandma and Grandpa Roy had left for the Tawas Cottage so we could have the place for our honeymoon; left us the whole stunning place, with an open tab at the grocery store in town and some money for a nice dinner at the Island House. This is the stock from which my husband came.
Grandma & Grandpa Roy in front of cottage at Mackinac

We entered through the kitchen door. Dave’s cousin Pam, who was working on the island for the summer, was staying in the servant’s quarters, up the small set of back stairs. Dave set the luggage on the floor of the kitchen and took my hand, leading me through the place like Prince Charming showing Cinderella his castle. The dining room, just off the kitchen, laid itself out like royalty, the eternally long table flanked by a matching set of 36 antique press back chairs. A fine walnut antique high chair sat in the corner. Through the other door of the dining room we came into the official entry hall of the house, beautiful massive doors set against a wrap around porch, arched entry ways and doorways going off the lobby to studies and drawing rooms and sitting rooms where Grandma and Grandpa Roy played cards or where Grandma knitted while Grandpa read the paper and smoked his cigar, the sweet scent swirling above his head and finally resting in the ornate tin work on the ceiling. A genuine Tiffany lamp sat next to an ornate antique table. The whole place was furnished with valuable, beautiful, dignified antique furniture, originally placed there when the house was built in the late 1800’s. Grandpa, who had made his fortune with Roycraft mobile homes, the first mobile homes ever commercially sold to the public, had bought the Mackinac Island home after a fire had damaged part of it. He was a carpenter, and a little hammering and sawing and building was no big deal to him. The home came intact, with all its furnishings. Grandpa was meticulous in his woodcraft. Grandma was tidy and diligent, keeping the place clean and friendly, hand washing every sheet used by the hundreds of guests flowing through the place, ironing the wide swaths of white cotton before she put them back on the beds, the aroma of starch and fragrant soap rising from the hot Iron Rite as she wiped her forearm across her sweaty brow, her breasts tucked snugly into the bib of her cotton apron, the thick beige stockings on her legs sagging around here ankles. She could have hired the work out. She preferred to do it herself.
Helene & Antoine Roy in drawing room
Swirling up from the entry was a large gracious stairway. The staircase on the movie Titanic very much reminds me of it. Up the stairs, lined with loomed wool runners, red and gold and taupe and blue woven into elegant patterns, we chose the Washington Room for our Honeymoon Suite. Its walls were covered with windows, tucked into the turret above the wrap around porch. The windows were graced with flowing draperies, elegant and timeless, with gauze-like under-curtains diffusing the light of the morning and dancing in the breezes as the weather shifted in the cool of the night. A striking antique bed waited, two little night stands and a pitcher and basin set on a wash stand. There was a secret passageway to the next bedroom through the closet. Indoor plumbing was added to the house years before, a real luxury at the time. I washed up a bit and then explored the house with my handsome prince of a husband, exclaiming and sighing at each turn. Thirteen bedrooms. All with matching bedroom suites. It was something from a dream.

Grand Hotel (photos by Dave's cousin Roy Chamberlin)
We spent nearly a week in the cottage, waking to the sound of horse hooves and wagon wheels. No cars are allowed on the island. We golfed, and biked, and swam and ate. In the evenings we sat on the porch and watched the light disappear around us; walked down the road overlooking the water from the bluff, stepped onto the long historic boardwalk of the Grand Hotel; stopping to watch Man of LaMancha in the small theatre at the Grand; making our way down the steep bluff to the sandy shore below, strolling arm in arm, counting the stars and doubling the number by the reflection in the rocking waves of the straits of water connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

David had spent his summers at this cottage, and at the smaller one…a true cottage…on Lake Huron in Tawas Michigan. He knew the ins and outs. His name was pressed into wet concrete when Grandpa had finished the walkway up to the front porch steps. His name and those of his brother and sisters and cousins, remain there today, though Grandma and Grandpa sold the Mackinac Place not too many years later. Grandma and Grandpa were aging, and were tired, and I believe they wanted to alleviate any possibility of sibling tension if they died and the place was left to the kids. Besides the upkeep was very costly and they did not want to burden anyone with that. So, before we were established enough to even know they were doing it, they sold the place where so many of the grandkids had honeymooned and were so many babies had toddled across the wide porch; where night games and board games and card games facilitated laughter and warm conversation for so many summers.

For the rest of their years we gathered in the summers at the Tawas cottage, a warm and charming and loving place we all adore; not so much for the structure itself but for the people who lived there. There were never two more gracious and welcoming people that Antoine and Helene Roy.

When we knew the Mackinac Cottage was going to someone else’s future memory books, we cherished our last summer vacation there. I asked Grandma if she would mind if I looked in the carriage house out behind the main house to see if there was anything we could keep for a memento. She smiled and said, in her French flavored English, “Of course, though I cannot imagine what you might want out there.”

I walked out the kitchen door and across the road to the white carriage house. The horse stalls were cleaned and unused for many years now. I found a couple old tin toy cars, and a few jars and utensils. A piece of the wool runner that matched the one on the grand staircase in the main house. And a sign hanging above the first horse stall, with jagged edges cut out and the name TRIGGER written in paint across the front.

Dave came out and joined me. I showed him the Trigger sign and he smiled when he saw it.

“Trigger was Grandpa’s old white horse, the one we all rode from the time we were small. He was a gentle old thing, slow as molasses, and stubborn when he was worn out. You couldn’t come close to the Grand Hotel when you were riding him in the evening, because he always turned his head toward the carriage house, knowing he would get a treat. He was done when he was done, and no amount of prodding or kicking or hollerin’ would turn his head away from the road to the carriage house.” Trigger was as much a part of that home as the Tiffany lamp in the entry. He had died years before I came to the family.
Watercolor painting of the Carriage House by my daughter Sarah

I gathered up the toy cars and the glass jars and the roll of carpet and the Trigger sign and put them in a cardboard box. Asked Grandma if it was ok if I took them. She shook her head and giggled. “What in the world do you want them for?”

“I just do.” I said. What I wanted to say was that anything that carried the scent of a musty Michigan summer, that held the sandy grit of years of wear on a historic old resort island, that may have been held in the hands of a small boy grown to an old man by now…anything that spoke of these two beautiful people who gave life to my husband’s mother…I wanted that in my home. Not for any kind of show, but to remind us of what we love and loved.

We loaded that box onto the wagon bed when we left the Mackinac Cottage for the last time. I turned back as we hit the steep edge of the road down below the hotel, leading into town. Looked at the grand old lady of a West Bluff Cottage shrinking in the distance.

I’ve lost just about all that was in that box but the TRIGGER sign. When Sarah was four or five years old she and her friend Ashley decided to have an over-the-top lemonade stand where they sold who knows what from our pantry and basement. They set a play cupboard out on the lawn in front of Kensington Street. Placed their wares on a small table they had also dragged out across the grass. And on the front of the cupboard they hung the Trigger sign, to which Sarah had added the word “Restrot”. I’m not sure if anyone stopped at Trigger’s Restaurant that afternoon, but I sure cherish the sign from that venture. I have hung it in my kitchen for two decades now. It reminds me of that little girl who grew into a beautiful mother and sister and doctor and friend. And it reminds me also of the charmed past I have to pinch myself to believe was my reality: a cottage like a castle where I spent my honeymoon; a king and queen of warmth and grace and poise whom we called Grandma and Grandpa; a history of charmed summers where cousins chased cousins over grassy hillsides and raced them across sandy beaches, and the gateway to the larger part of my life with a man beyond my wildest dreams.

Trigger's Restrot sign hanging in my kitchen


  1. Oh, you've killed me. Killed me dead. The cottage is like - like someone took my dreams out and laid them on the table in front of me, that Eastern -on the water - vintage grace. Kansas City had houses like that, but they weren't island houses. Even so, there is one small Kansas City house, in Waldo, a spec by comparison to this place that was the same exact thing to me - full of smells and feelings and sounds of summer and mystery and age and family - and I have things I took from it - a chair, a clock, smaller things - for the scent and feel and memory. You've made me cry - not for the house, though I grieve that they sold it - but for that exact feeling, for things lost to time but stored in the heart. For cousins and vacations and the movement that takes us from one thing to another in life.

    And I still have this whole dang day to live through now.

  2. Thank you for the memories. I was quite young and I don't remember Uncle Antoine and Aunt Helene much, but the pictures were a great reminder.

    From a cousin who scraped her knees on the front steps of the Mackinac Island Cottage (Del and Kate Roy's granddaugher), Kathy (Roy) Maunder

  3. Denise DavenportJuly 29, 2013 at 6:15 AM

    As much as I often long for the days before electronics took such control over our lives, I am so grateful that through their magical powers we come in contact with family across the globe. Kathy Roy Maunder, this is also one of your Roy cousins who just happened to be with Cori the day after you posted your comment above. I love when blessings like that happen. Glad you were able to spend some enjoyable time at that wonderful "cottage" on Mackinac.