For many years, I lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I wasn’t a native “Yooper,” however, and never heard of “Heikki Lunta” while living in the Lower Peninsula. In the past, people had come to the U.P. from many different countries to work in the copper mines. There’s still an especially recognizable Finnish influence in many areas.
When I first heard of Heikki Lunta, I assumed that it was a mythological Finnish goddess or god. I was on the right track, but not quite right. Ukko is a god of weather, and Vellamo is a goddess of storms. There was no supreme being specifically for snow, which seems surprising, given that’s such a snowy part of the world.
Fast forward to 1970. As the story goes, U.P. promoters for an upcoming snowmobile race were concerned because not much snow had yet fallen that winter. A record was aired on a local radio station in which the singers pleaded with “Heikki Lunta,” a snow god of sorts, to send more of the white stuff. The whole idea took off, or “snowballed,” you might say.
These days, businesses like this one on the right often put up signs asking that deity for more snow. By spring, there are sometimes signs asking him to stop! At least one town in the Upper Peninsula has named its yearly winter festival after Heikki Lunta.
What does all of this have to do with my story being published, you might ask. Now living in Texas, I’m struck with the fact that many of the children here (and sometimes the adults) wish dearly that it would snow!
A few winters back, we did get a pretty healthy dusting, here in the North Dallas suburbs. My two youngest granddaughters were thrilled, and my daughter let them stay home from school to play in the snow. That’s the day my idea for a meeting of reality and myth, in “Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta” was conceived. I’m thrilled to report that my fictional story for kids and families, alike, now appears in U.P. Reader #3.
Valentine’s Day always made me nervous as a kid. What if none of my classmates gave me cards? Would the little boy who I had a “crush” on bring me one? A certain year that comes to mind must have been when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. Teachers at that time in our small Michigan town didn’t allow an entire afternoon of fun and games on that particular holiday. We waited in agony until almost the end of the school day to pass out our cards. With relief, I saw a reasonable number of valentines being deposited into my decorated shoe box and hoped that those I had given out were well-received.
I was a “walker,” living just a block from my school, and took a few extra minutes in the cloak room to look over my “haul” before putting on my coat and boots to head home. A little boy who had signed his valentine to me with just the initials “T.F.” sidled up close and said that he wanted to give me something else. He held out his hand, as did I. Into it he placed a golden ring with a clear stone that sparkled like glass. I’d been given rings by boys, before, remembering several that had purple or red stones and appeared to have come from the local “dime store.”
This one seemed different, somehow, and I remember feeling kind of troubled by it. Sticking the ring into my coat pocket, I became rather speechless and doubt that I even said “thanks.” Arriving home, I put the valentine box on our dining room table so Mom could see my cards. It took me until that evening to get up my nerve and show her the ring. “This looks real,” Mom said. I didn’t even know what she meant. After asking who it was from, she went to our black telephone in the hallway and took out the phone directory, skimming her finger until she arrived at the “F’s.”
Mom returned to where I stood by the table in just a few minutes with a mysterious look on her face. She gently explained that I wouldn’t be able to keep the ring, since it was a diamond my classmate had taken out of his mother’s jewelry box! I felt very silly, but I suppose it was T.F. who really should have been feeling embarrassed. His mother suggested that I just bring it back to school the next day and evidently wasn’t overly concerned. If memory serves me right, she was no longer married to the boy’s father and may not have been all that attached to this particular reminder of the past. I looked the ring over one last time, and my mom placed it in an envelope for me to deliver back to “my admirer” the next day.
This wasn’t to be the last ring that I would give back to a boy or man over the years, but I HAVE managed to hang on to a few! ~Becky
The rear compartment of my father’s station wagon often carried mysterious cargo. During much of my childhood, he worked as a sales representative for a “sundries” company selling most things that drug stores carried, other than the actual medications…stationery, sunglasses, toys, personal care products, and many handy helpers for the household.
Dad traveled from our home in Northern Lower Michigan to client stores all over the state, taking orders. The back of his trusty station wagon was typically used to carry product samples meant to show the buyers, or sometimes he also brought “returns” with him that needed to be sent back to the company in Detroit. We often got a peek at the exciting goodies in there, and once in a while even got to keep something small, in the case of a discontinuation or some similar situation.
One very cold December, I remember that Dad ended up with a package of Noma bubble lights in his car. Christmas was quickly approaching, and he would have to hang onto them until after the holiday. They were meant to be used indoors, and he was afraid that the liquid in the bulbs might freeze and break the glass if he left them outdoors in the car. One thing led to another, and to my delight, they eventually ended up on our Christmas tree!
In my mind, they were magical, with many different colors of bubbling liquid that made the surrounding ornaments shimmer. Our tree seemed almost alive. Some of the bulbs didn’t bubble very well, and my parents were too busy with other things to fool with them and discover that they needed to be almost perfectly upright to work effectively. I didn’t care and absolutely loved them. After the holiday, those lights disappeared from our lives.
Many years and Christmases passed, and as an adult with a tree of my own, I never again came across those types of Christmas lights. The year that my mother died, the leaves were already starting to turn color near my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I was still married at the time, and my husband was teaching at a university quite some distance from our town, which required him being gone during the week. Even with my new job as a preschool director and our home and dog to care for, I had way too much time on my hands to think and feel sad about Mom’s passing. I needed a project!
The project that I decided upon that autumn was to re-style our Christmas tree with new lights and ornaments with an overall vintage appeal. My first thought was BUBBLE LIGHTS. I searched far and wide and finally found some through Ace Hardware that needed to be ordered. My husband also surprised me by bringing some others home one weekend that he had found “downstate.” We ended up with two different types, but that worked out fine and looked lovely with the old-fashioned style of ornaments I had bought at various shops. The tree was beautiful and offered me that sense of connection with the past and my childhood just when it was most needed. Those decorations were enjoyed for many years.
One fall a few years ago my world turned upside down, and I left my home and that life behind. At the time, bubble lights or any kind of Christmas decorations weren’t exactly uppermost in my mind. They remained in the house, hidden away in the little storage space under the stairs. I honestly don’t know if those beauties ever again saw the light of day. They didn’t appear to be on the tree when “First Dog” and I made a visit (in spirit:) last Christmas, and I’m guessing that they’ve been forgotten or dumped. Kind of sad.
A small, pre-lit Christmas tree in my current home nicely shows off a few new vintage-style ornaments and several that were salvaged from my past only because they happened to be packed in with other things. I’ve recently been yearning for the look and feel of those bubble lights, again, but the size of this current model will definitely not support them. I saw an ad the other day for a single bubble night-light and was tempted, but shoved the idea aside in my mind, since I was getting ready to go out-of-town for the holiday. To my utmost surprise, one of those very lights, fashioned in red, was proudly bubbling away in the room when I reached my destination. Might be fate or life trying to tell me something? Not sure, but I think that a bubble night-light is on my shopping list for next season. Something to look forward to…small but special.
If you’re celebrating, have a safe and pleasant holiday. I hope that each and every one of you will experience a healthy, productive and happy 2019! ~Becky
Unknown to the woman and man, it was to be their last good Thanksgiving. While she sifted through cookbooks for new side dish and dessert recipes, he planned the main course. Menu was written, shopping list compiled, and ingredients purchased.
Fall weather in their northern location was typical. Rain and winds had brought down most of the yellow and orange leaves. Halloween delivered a few lazy flurries. Beyond the French doors, the Autumn Joy plants in the garden provided a natural tracking device for the unyielding progression of the season. Summer buds of green turned to pink flower heads, which every day bled into a darker tone of red. Seeing the perennials had already turned a deep shade of crimson, the couple regretted that hope of a warm day had surely passed.
Thanksgiving dawn was hopeful. Temperatures outside continued to rise, and the baking oven warmed their home from within. Eat outdoors on Thanksgiving?Unheard of for that location! In smiling agreement, they readied the terrace: swept leaves from the table and chairs, added a tablecloth, lit the chiminea. Only sweaters required.
Dinner was savory and dessert was sweet. Red wine matched the Autumn Joy’s blooms. Reflecting on a few remaining leaves, the sun began its descent beyond the tops of trees. Slight breeze, crackling fire, and easy conversation. Sundown lowered the temperature, moving them closer to the fire, while shrugging into jackets. When the addition of a new log was insufficient, they finally relinquished their claim on that remarkable Thanksgiving dinner.
The view from frosty French doors the following morning offered a scene of white. A weather front had produced heavy snows, and autumn changed to winter overnight. The world had turned cold and stark, with sharp edges of ice. Shrouded in a pale cloak, the Autumn Joy had given in to the ravages of the seasons. Winter would remain, and wishes otherwise would go unanswered.
Magic from that day is gone, but not forgotten. The warmth of their world is remembered. No longer sharing that kitchen, that terrace, that garden, the memory still connects them.
The day after Labor Day was always the first day of school in Michigan. One of my earliest memories is of my older sister, Terri, heading out for school the year I must have been four. I can see myself sitting in the bay window of our living room, and she alerted me that she was leaving for school, but mentioned how “lucky” I was that I got to stay home and watch “Ding Dong School” on television.
It all seemed rather dubious to me, since I WAS looking forward to kindergarten the next year, but it was kind of her to make the attempt. My mother looked on and seemed to be trying to gauge my response. I suppose it was hard for me to face summer’s end and be the only child remaining at home, since my younger brother was not yet born.
I DID love the show, however, and since we only had clear reception of one network in our little town in Northern, Lower Michigan, I was lucky that it ran on NBC through 1956 (followed by syndication for some years after). The presenter, Dr. Frances Horwich, known to the young viewers as our teacher, “Miss Frances,” had a calm, soothing voice that seemed to be aimed directly at me. The show always began with her ringing the large school bell, of course. She read books to us, presented various types of interesting lessons, and demonstrated art projects. Children often sent their drawings and other works in to the show, and Miss Frances would sometimes share those, as well.
Sources reveal that she was an experienced educator, but had very little familiarity with working in front of the camera. From a kid’s point of view, the show felt very natural and real, as if I was actually there in her classroom. Due to the show’s popularity, many different types of products carrying the “Ding Dong School” name became available, like finger paints, balloons, valentines, and records. I don’t remember having any of those, but we did own some of the “Golden Books,” such as these shown. Titles often focused on family, community, and the use of imagination in play.
My afternoon kindergarten the following year paled in comparison, naturally. With a large room full of actual children and no helpers that I can remember, I’m sure that our teacher had her hands too full to give us much individualized attention. I kind of missed those mornings spent at home in our sunny living room, with my mom nearby and Miss Frances talking to me out of the black-and-white television like I was the only kid in the world. Little did I know at the time that my future would also find me as a teacher in the classroom with young children.
When Ebay was still a novelty, I often looked up collectibles that interested me. One day, I saw some of Frances Horwich’s personal items related to the show up for auction, following her death, such as a custom-made chair with her name on it, her collection of school bells, and awards that she had received. I did some research and learned that she and her husband had no children, so I suppose there was no one in particular to leave these types of things in a will. At first this seemed very sad, that her belongings would simply go to the highest unknown bidders on the Internet. After giving this some more thought, however, I realized how insignificant “things” really are and how many thousands of individuals, like myself, remembered this woman for providing them with a pleasant first education experience. That seemed much more important, in the grand scheme of things.
Growing up in the small town of Tawas City, Michigan, in the early to mid-1960’s, Friday night at the East Tawas Rollerdrome was THE place to go! My best friend, Jean, and I practiced skating without falling down and flirting with boys who were also trying to act cool and make it around the rink without hitting the wooden floor. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the rumble of wheels, smell the dust, and also hear the corny music, which thankfully evolved into “by request,” for teens who were willing to bring their own records from home. Here’s an image of the sticker from that establishment of long ago.
National Lighthouse Day can’t sneak past me without a mention of my experiences with those stately structures. I didn’t truly understand, while growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Huron, in Michigan, how lucky I was to have such easy access to Tawas Bay and the beautiful lake, with its moaning fog horn and elegant lighthouse. Years ago, the light wasn’t open to visitors, as it is now, but I loved the hot summer days when my parents would drive all the way out to the end of Tawas Point so that my siblings and I could gawk. Many a rainy night I fell asleep to the comforting sounds of the foghorn, in the distance.
As an added bonus, we often traveled north along the lake shore toward Rogers City, to visit relatives. This gave us a chance to view several other pretty lighthouses along the way, such as the one at Sturgeon Point, and when we reached our destination, near Forty Mile Point.
Michigan isn’t the only state to sport lovely lighthouses, of course. I had the opportunity to visit several that are situated along the Atlantic coast of the United States while living in North Carolina, such as the lights of Bodie Island (left) and Cape Hatteras (right). Quite the tourist destinations.
Years later, when a teaching job brought me back to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I discovered an entirely new group of lighthouses to explore along the shores of Lake Superior. Several that had become private enterprises, such as at Sand Bay and Big Bay, even rented out rooms to overnight guests, which was great fun!
One of my favorite Michigan lighthouses, and possibly the last one I visited before moving to Texas, is pictured below at Ontanogan. It offers an impressive museum area to show visitors what life might have been like for early “keepers of the light.”
Although my writing was prompted by our country’s National Lighthouse Day, the title of this piece also opens its arms to encompass an important spot in Ontario, Canada, as well. I spent several lovely vacations there, near Bruce Mines (below), and couldn’t complete this post without including that memory.