From one Flats lover to another! I have been writing to you about McDonald's island, on the Middle Channel, opposite Brown's tavern, and bounded by the Fisher Cut and Dickinson Island on the other side of the other side of the Fisher cut.
The part of the island which went up toward Lake St. Clair was mostly uninhabited at that time, except for an old ice house owned by a man named "Sears". Behind us was Long Pointe Bay.
During dry summers, we had a path worn across to the back of the island to the Bay. It had long white sandy beaches, it was protected by rushes on all sides and very few people knew it was there. You could go there and escape the "world". It was very shallow and led into Fisher Bay and Goose Bay. Being shallow, the water was usually up to our knees, and it warmed up before the other water ways and cuts.
During the good old days when there were "FISH" - we used to go back there with a big oval copper wash kettle and fill it with big yellow-belly perch which we caught two at a time - "double-headers".
During the spring there would be a big run of "silver" bass in the little Bay, but these were bony and not as succulent as the perch - which I swear were the best-eating fish in the world.
As a child I never understood why we ate so much fish - which my long suffering mother cleaned without a word of complaint. Now I realize it was because we didn't have refrigeration; and, besides, fish were free and it was depression time when I was in junior and high schools. (I went to Jackson Intermediate and Southeastern High Schools, because we lived on Somerset near E. Warren.}
The story of "how we drove up to the island each week from Detroit" is another interesting tale. My mother would unpack our dirty clothes on Monday morning in Detroit, wash and iron them and get started packing clothes and provisions all week long, for our departure on Saturday early a.m. for another trek to our beloved flats. There were no expressways, so it would take us hours - and oh, the stops along the way. My Dad must have been the most patient man in the world, because he suffered through all these "stops" with nary a complaint, after having worked all night at Hudson Motor Car Co.
We drove through old Mt.Clemens with its smelly rotten-egg odor from the "bath houses" there. We had to stop at a farm for "eggs", at Stahl's in New Baltimore for bread, at a house that had good spring water along the road in Anchorville, and finally reached our debarking point at the end of a little road that goes past the present Margaret Jean's restaurant and the Century 21 Real Estate building.
There was an old-time grocery store at the end of the road by the water, (which is long gone). Here we got the rest of our provisions. (I believe the owner' name was Mr. Tremble - but I can't remember for sure- or was it Mr.Taft?). I do remember that he had a long glass case of penny candy. We kids would press our noses along the glass, and take interminable time choosing which penny candy we would spend our tightly- clutched -in- little- fists money on. Would it be little sugar babies in wax bodies, or Mary Janes, or Baby Ruths, or little sugar dots on pieces of paper, or soldiers, or any of the delicacies which were there The patient owner just waited while we procrastinated. The folks would buy ice for the ice-box at our cottage. We would haul the ice block in the boat, down the Middle Channel, past Dckinsons and finally to our cottage on Mc Donald's Island.
By the time we got there the ice block had dwindled to half of its size - and when we popped it into the warm ice box which had been warming up all week during our absence it would quickly melt almost into oblivion. The melted ice would fill the metal bowl which was kept under the ice box for overflow and flow onto the floor if it wasn't emptied in time.
The Champion boys were young men at that time, Frank and Art Champion. They lived on Dickinson Island at the head of the junction of the middle channel and the north. This was long before Art Champion had the ferry to carry cars to Harsen's Island. They had two wooden Chris-Crafts which they used to ferry customers up the Middle Channel to their respective islands. I believe one of them had a helper called Clayte. We would load up the Chris Craft and through storm and peaceful waters, make the trip to the island.
My only son, (born in 1943) Russell Whitehead lived on the Colony - on Colony Drive - had both a powerboat and a lightning sailboat. We used to drive through the Doty as we made our little rounds, and also on our way to Long Pointe Bay.
During the times of extremely high water, I remember the sorrow I felt at seeing most of those cottages flooded. I loved McDonald's Island most before we had electricity. With the kerosene lamps and stove, we harkened back to the old days - and somehow it was more "cottage". We used to lament the fact that we did not have electricity, but when they did drop the cable under the Middle Channel and we had the power it spoiled things! What a commotion that was in the old pre-electricity days when we opened up the cottage each May.
The willow trees were starting to get green and the air was fresh and clean = and my folks, with their old house-must-be-clean Belgian backgrounds, really gave that cottage a good spring cleaning.
Can you remember the days when everyone had to "spring clean"? It was a ritual, just like the big old dose of sulphur and molasses that my mother gave me to strengthen me up after the winter because I looked "peeked". Well, we would go up there; and, if the water wasn't too high, there was much raking of dead twigs and debris. And on a sunny day all the beds and springs, had to be carried down from the upper floor and outside to be sloshed down with pails of water and thoroughly washed. Including the "pot" which was always kept under the bed in case of a nighttime emergency. (During the day we used the outhouse.
We were were quite upscale, because we had a two-seater.) The mattresses, carpets, and blankets would be strung on a clothesline, between the willow trees, and we would beat the living begeebers out of them with a clothes beater. This was an affair that looked like a big tennis racket with wire loops. We'd take turns flailing away and the dust would fly! The cleansing sunshine would help whisk away the musty smell of a cottage that had been closed up all winter, and then we would haul it all up again and put it back in place. Then everything on the first floor had to be hauled outside for the same loving treatment. In the living room we had a coal and wood burning pot-bellied stove for heat, and always with a tea kettle full of water heating on the shelf on the top of it. We didn't have traditional running water. I was the running water - when my mother would hand me the pail and say "Lorraine, run out to the end of the dock and bring me a pail of water". I was an only child. I loved Phyl's page about her go-around with the telephone company. I also found that she was U of M. I was Class of 1940 Maize and Blue. Your mother's pg was also a favorite of mine. During the 1800's when Detroit was a booming building center, the 4 McDonald brothers were bringing sailboats full of building timbers from Alpena to Detroit, when they ran into a horrendous storm. They found shelter on an uninhabited long spit of land in the Middle Channel. They camped there until the storm passed, and found it so delightful that they made it a regular stop on their trips from Alpena to Detroit with lumber to build the booming Detroit community. Walter, Zeke, Ed and Frank McDonald, divided the land into four equal parts and each staked out his own claim. At least that is what Ed McDolnald's son, Jack, (now deceased - in fact, I suppose - am sure- they are all gone to the happy flats in the sky). My next installment will be about the big "hurricane" of 1933 we went through while on the island - and the days of flooding high water. People (and newspapers and environmentalists) get all agog about the water levels, not realizing - as we old flats people know - that the water level goes up and then it goes down in cycles - and will forever, probably, be thus. Just something to expect and "live with". Bye bye for now Lorraine