After living in mid-Michigan for 7 years, Hubs found another job. We tried valiantly to move back to Iowa but the couple of prospects John was pursuing didn’t pan out. Instead the state’s western shore of Lake Michigan was luring us. About 160 miles west and north of Jackson-maybe a twitch closer to Iowa, but not much. What we gained in heading west, we lost by moving north.
You wouldn’t think 150 miles one direction or another would result in much change but it did. Everything from the difference in soil to how our TV preferences were handled. (Grand Rapids, 45 miles from Muskegon held the television strings with TV stations, which in turn deemed NYPD Blue to risqué for their Dutch population. So for a couple years we had friends tape in Jackson ‘from the sinner TV stations in Lansing’ and send it to us. Just kill me now. Obviously I was not mature enough to turn the channel to eliminate such filth, thus really appreciated WZZM’s to make that decision for me). We would be moving without Shannon and Ariana who were living in Lansing. Shannon was about to graduate from Michigan State with her (first 2 of 4, following with her masters degree in psychology, then doctorate-yikes) double major degrees in psychology and broadcast journalism. Joshua was in college too and working part time. We had 2 goals as we were house hunting. Well, I had one and Hubs had 1. Our youngest kid, Adam, was heading into his sophomore year, a tough time to move. (Ironically, all three kids had to change high schools in the 10th grade. Yes, we were terrible parents). So we wanted to find a good school fit for him. Don’t know if we did him any favors but at the time I was convinced that the larger the school district, the more likely he was to do a couple of things:
1. Fall through the cracks and shuffle his way through.
2. Fall in with the wrong crowd and turn out shitty.
3. He did neither, turned out fine, graduated from Western Michigan.
Hubs was fascinated with water. Ugh. He was determined to live on one of the many lakes in the area. I was not so smitten. (Although I love looking at the water, I’m not so inclined to BE on water) Odd as it sounds, neither of us were gung-ho about living on Lake Michigan itself. While one of the most beautiful natural resources in the world, most of the homes on the big lake were not affordable to mere mortals. While breathtaking, many homes on the north side of Muskegon Lake were located on high bluffs requiring 75 steps to get to the water, plus you really couldn’t have a dock. Ok, the main reason Hubs wanted to live ‘on water’ was to have a boat (yes it’s true, boats are one big money pit), but if we couldn’t dock the boat at our house, we had to pay for a seasonal boat slip, which is very expensive. The homes on Lake Michigan on the south side of Muskegon Lake were on flatter ground but most were part of much bigger school districts. We looked in Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Whitehall, Montague and North Muskegon.
I thought Spring Lake or Grand Haven looked inviting until we really started spending time in both towns. Quaint shopping districts, Mom & Pop dives, small town feel, but the traffic was unrelenting/unbelievable and notched up my rage for inanimate objects. The main thoroughfare was highway 31, a north/south 4 lane-smack dab in the middle of town. With one drawbridge eager to snarl traffic for hours during the summer months. Both towns have major vacation/tourism appeal compared to Muskegon. I know not why. Both (lumping Grand Haven and Spring Lake together) have the same stunning Lake Michigan shore line, but for some reason Muskegon is shut out in garnering the market on summer visitors.
Heading north on 31 was Whitehall and nearby Montague. Both smaller towns with nice lake access but had nothing available in our price range when we were looking. Our best bet sat just north of Muskegon called, aptly enough, North Muskegon. A snooty, old money town of 4,000 with their own good sized body of water called Muskegon Lake. (How did they ever come up with these unusual names?) Parts of North Muskegon are only several blocks wide because a smaller body of water (Bear Lake) lounged there. Each lake had access to Lake Michigan via boat, but your boat better not be very big if you lived on Bear Lake because you had to maneuver under a low bridge first. Both homes we had interest in were in North Muskegon Public school district, which we decided was our number one choice for Adam. Small school, great graduation rate, ranked high in the state.
Bear Lake was my choice. The small, shallow lake was attractive as you looked from your back yard down a few steps to the water. It’s size lent a cozy, neighborhood feel as you could easily see the houses right across the lake from you. John hated it. Too small, not deep enough, boat size was determined by that damn bridge. Plus he hated the house I liked. An addition (attractive), but built on a slab was the clincher. The lake house Hubs was leaning towards was 2 years old (now how are my hundred year old oak antiques supposed to look in a brand new house with no character or charm?) It rested at the bottom of a steep hill, a comma shaped cul-de-sac consisting of 7 homes, all virtually new. Right on Muskegon Lake, facing south. The lake offered a great view, but across the lake was a rather weary piece of Muskegon. Some kind of gigantic, ugly elevator type structure. I was not impressed.
John got his way. He preferred Muskegon Lake, liked the area better, the newness of the house. My take was this card carrying grudge holder (me) would take approximately 5 years to warm up to this house. (If nothing else, I am consistent). But the Hubs called it right on this one. Though the views across the lake during the day weren’t exactly spectacular, the views at night made up for it. Next to the ugly warehouse thingy was an area showing great promise. It’s called Heritage Landing, a place for concerts, fireworks, festivals, none of which meant very much to me. But there was an abundance of vintage street lights around Heritage Landing. Those lights at night would shimmer all the way to our shoreline if there wasn’t much wind. Made for some very stunning pictures and memories. The night view from Bear Lake was pretty much blacked out depending on whatever house/yard lights from the opposite shore to light up on the water.
Besides boat ownership, my least favorite part of lake living was when the surface water was no longer in liquid form. Oh those damn ice fishermen used to drive me bonkers. Part of the appeal of lake living is the view. Watch rolling white caps blow in during the day, fishing boats idling by, 1,000 foot tankers headed for the BC Cobb plant to drop off tons of coal. No curtains/drapes/window treatments adorned our windows to the south beside bathrooms and 2 bedrooms.
But during the winter was a whole different story. It would be a couple of years before we could afford to bring in some fill and add a sea wall to prevent further erosion. Because our lot was fairly flat and next to one of the few remaining empty lots left on the lakeshore, multitudes of 4-wheelers and snowmobiles saw our property as an easy on/off ramp to haul their shit setting up their ice fishing city. Rude dudes. Zipping right over our back yard, back and forth all night long. So glad when the ice finally broke up in March.
Home ownership on a lake should require signing a prenup. Things you may not think about when you’re overly enthusiastic about living on water for the first time and in your early 40’s. You don’t realize how much work is involved or you might reconsider. Everything from trying to grow a lawn of weed free green grass when you have 4 inches of topsoil covering 8 feet of sand (water, water & more water) to constantly repairing sprinkler heads clogged with sand. The most work however is your shoreline. Sea wall maintenance, invasive weeds, putting in 100 plus feet of dock every spring, hauling it back out in October. By July when the heat really hits the area, seaweed floats to your shore (like standing in line for the lady’s restroom at Wrigley Field. Much too long if you’ve really got to pee). Dark green, stinky, unattractive. (the seaweed not your pee). If you want to utilize your beautiful lakefront, you’ve got to haul that crap out of the water to dry and get rid of it.
After 20 years, now in our 60’s, these jobs that are part of lake living proved to be too much. We still had options, hire it done, bite the bullet and continue doing the work-or move. And that’s where we found ourselves a few years ago. The lake appeal had long since faded. The second floor stairway (including our fabulous master suite) was tough on our joints, up & down several times a day. The rest of our family (3 kids, spouses and our 4 grandkids) lived 3 hours east. Since we were both semi-retired, we were on the road almost every week to visit, attend a function, game, or babysit. We decided to sell and move closer to our clan. It wasn’t a tough decision. We enjoyed living on the lake but the pull was now geared to family. At first the kids, especially the grands were disappointed. They loved the water, especially a trip to Lake Michigan’s sandy beach, but we have not regretted our decision to give up living on the lake for one minute. We are where we’re supposed to be. And loving it…