At age eleven I moved to a small town in Northern Michigan. I was emotionally broken and looking for a safe place to land. At that time I didn’t think much beyond today and just trying to get through the day. I had no idea what awaited me as I moved north, but I did know I couldn’t continue in my current home. I was breaking down mentally and emotionally.
Thankfully it was Christmas time and my Grandmother was in town. As she prepared to leave to return home I lost it. And not a tantrum as a toddler would execute. I started to go into a full blown panic attack and mental breakdown.
My Grandmother was a smart and emotionally intelligent woman. She saw what no one else did. I was on the verge of a breakdown and I needed a moment away. So she scooped me up and took her north with her for a few days. I stayed with my Aunt and roomed with my old cousin Tina. On Christmas morning I realized I was soon to return home and I broke down again. Tina tried to settle me and told me I could just stay and live with them. eleven-year-old old in me didn’t see how that was at all possible. My parents expected me to return to the chaos of home and eleven year olds did what their parents told them to do.
Tina didn’t take that as fact and she marched downstairs to petition her parents to let me stay. With some miracle, they agreed to take in another child, even though they could barely afford the ones they already had. And with that decision, I could breathe.
On Christmas morning I mustered up the courage to call my parents and tell them I wasn’t coming home. Both my parents told me that was not the case and I was coming home as was planned. Somehow their minds were shifted and I was allowed to stay. I don’t remember if I convinced them, if my Aunt intervened, or if my Grandmother stepped into to plead my case and demand action. I just remember the relief in not having to return to chaos.
I lived with my Aunt for six months and then moved in with my grandparents. I stayed with either them or my Aunt until I graduated high school. I remember going into Michigan’s Family Court and sitting up on the witness stand to petition the judge to allow me to stay up north. It was strange, and honestly, a blur. My father sat on one side of the court and my grandparents on the other. But I spoke my peace and I was allowed to become a ward of the state and live in the physical custody of my grandparents.
That was a pivot point for me. One of many I’ve had in life, but by far, the most important. This forever changed me, and by all rights, saved me.
The move to a small, rural town would send some screaming. But to me it was safe and it was room to breathe.
And for that, I am forever thankful.
For the next seven years, my Grandmother worked on healing the emotionally broken child in her care. She taught me basic things like right and wrong, manners, respect, and all the other things normally taught by parents. She built up my trust and she took an emotionally battered child and turned her into a strong, confident adult. Everything good within me comes from my Grandmother.
As I look back as an adult, I know she wasn’t the only one who was imprinted on me. She was one of many. My Aunt Patty and Uncle Duane always gave me a loving smile, a warm meal, and a safe place to sleep. Mr. and Mrs. Krause offered pro bono legal services, small jobs to make money, and a place of rescue in middle school. Mr. and Mrs. Jones showed me families can exist without chaos and helped me sign up for free lunch at school. Mr. and Mrs. LaGrow paid for movie tickets and meals out. Everyone around me seemed to know that I was a poor kid, from a broken home, and I need a little help along the way. Everyone but me.
At the time I never realized so many people were offering help. It was subtle assistance, but help always was around.
That, my friends, is a small town life in northern Michigan.
Flashforward decades and I’m now married, a mom of two, and a successful professional. And thanks to all those people in that little northern town, I’m mentally healthy, I’m happy, and I live without chaos.
I had moved away from my small town at eighteen. I left to attend college and only came home to visit on weekends until me my Grandmother and mother died a few years later. After college, I only returned home for events like weddings or funerals. As I lost touch with my up north family and moved into adulthood and the pursuit of a healthier me.
When I met my husband fifteen years ago he took me back north to his family cabin on the east side of the state. It was then that I realized how much I had missed small town life, the greenery, and the soothing comfort a Michigan lake offers. Apparently, there was a part of me that still loved small town life and Northern Michigan. I just didn’t know it was there hidden away.
My husband and I both loved the north so much, we eventually purchased our own cottage and spent five years loving on it with renovations and remodeling projects. I loved every minuted of it and I know he did too. We spent quiet weekends of sitting by the lake, playing games with the kids, and simply enjoying the peace of everything in nature. At the end of each weekend, neither my husband nor I wanted to leave.
And then a funny thing happened. My husband and I realized neither one of us ever wanted to return downstate to the suburbs, concrete, and constant activity. We wanted to move north. We talked about retiring in Northern Michigan and started to think through what we could do to make it happen.
As we talked about options I mentioned moving over to the Traverse City area where his extended family lived. His eyes lit up when he realized I would be open to fulfilling his childhood dream of owning a farm in Buckley. The humor of all this is I had no idea this was his dream. I just thought if we were going to move north, we should move near his family. And we did.
We started our search for farmland and spent over a year looking for property. In a small farm town, where families run multiple generations deep, farmland doesn’t go for sale very often. In fact, it rarely comes on the market. With a whole lot of searching and no results, we broke down and hired a real estate agent to help. This agent took us to a parcel that was on the county line and empty. It was an old Christmas tree farm that had been sitting vacant for years. Since the address was wrong on the MLS, no one was looking at it and no one had bought it.
As soon as I arrived, I knew this was home. The wide-open space backed up against woods, a creek, and a little pond. Across the street was a friendly horse farm with a welcoming white picket fence. It was everything I was looking for and it was exactly what I wanted to call home.
We made a cash offer and moved quickly to lock it down. And shortly thereafter began the real work of clearing away hundreds of shrubs so we could start planning our future home and farm.
It was worth it. All the craziness that followed the land purchase was worth the end result. We had to see everything we owned. The cottage, the boats, and the main home all had to go so we could pick up and move across the state.
Every single minute of the next two years was worth it because I was coming home.
And I did do just that. I returned home to Northern Michigan, to small town life, and to the area that saved me. I’m over an hour away from my original home with my Grandmother, but Traverse City was frequently visited as a child and this was home.
It’s the same small-town feel, where everyone knows you, and everyone has your back. Where people smile, welcome newcomers, and take the time to stop and ask if you need help.
This move has allowed my husband to abandon corporate life and retire in his late forties. It allowed my son to escape the busy suburbs and live the slower paced country life he loves. My boys are country boys and both need room to roam.
And so begins my tale of farming and turning “CEO Mommy” into “Alpaca Mama”. It’s a good life and yet another pivot.