Tag Archives: yooper


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I’ve written before about being from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I am proud and blessed that I was able to grow up there. Towns are small enough where everyone knows your name, and just far enough apart from each other to ensure Friday night football rivalry games that somehow both sides equally attend. We spend our summers biking to the lake. Even without cell phones we were never concerned about knowing people that were there hanging out. We climbed bluffs with friends and sat on the top thinking how far we could see. We hiked through the woods to a clearing with a stolen bottle of liquor from our parents house to add to the garbage can party that someone, somehow organized at school. The U.P. really is a great place to grow up.

A few years after I got married and moved to the lower peninsula we brought our niece down from the U.P. to nanny our two kids for the summer. She had never been out of the U.P before and was eager, but also nervous about “coming down state”. The first thing my husband taught my niece was how to drive in the lower MI. He explained to her that it is a much faster paced place than the u.p. and that, it seems, everyone is in a hurry. “Never hesitate.” he told her, if you do you wont ever make it passed the stop light, and people will honk and swear at you. He also took her on the expressway, something many people dont like to do. My niece adapted quickly and was out driving around quickly. I wanted her to experience the many positives of living in a more populated area. We went to the mall, saw movies and went to concerts in Detroit. My niece loved it, I even got her to try some ethnic foods like sushi and hummus. She did not like the sushi, but loved the hummus, I took that as a win. She spent the summer with us and said she enjoyed it as was glad she did it. She knew if she wanted too she could move out of the upper peninsula. She didn’t, but knew she could if she wanted.

I never really thought much more about her being out of her element at the time. Recently we needed to get in contact with an old acquaintance from the days my now husband and I were dating in the U.P. The gentleman, a friend of my husbands family, and my husbands employer for several years, had fallen ill and we wanted to talk to him and offer our support. When we called the only number we had for him, his son answered. His son is younger than us by a few years, but is now grown, married with a couple of young kids. He is running his dad business and has been very successful doing it. My husband and I joked that we must be so old if this kid so much younger than us was a grown man with a wife and family.

We invited him down to visit us and told him we could take him and his family to a Detroit Tigers game. He thanked us, but then said, rather mater of factly said that he “Never goes below the bridge”. The bridge, by the way, is the Mackinaw bridge, a 5 mile span across the waterway where Lake Michigan and lake Huron connect. Its a beautiful site, but many people have a hard time crossing it. Several (ok many) years ago the wind blew a small car that was trying to cross it off the bridge and into the cold deep water below. The woman in the car died instantly. To this day, they close the bridge if it gets to windy or stormy which only adds to the scariness of the bridge. In my mind the son of our friend was kidding, surely you have been in lower Michigan before, for college, for hunting, to see friends, shopping, to attend a sporting event, something! It’s not a wall, it doesn’t cost you a million dollars to cross, there is nobody checking your passport before you do it. But he wasn’t kidding, he nor his wife (and now kids) had never been below the bridge. I hung up the phone and thought about the conversation. If he has never been below the bridge that that must mean he has never been out of the Upper Peninsula.

I sat and thought about it for a moment. Is this person so happy that he has no desire to leave the area he was born and grew up in? Did he not ever watch a football game and think how fun it must be to attend one? Go someplace where 60, 000 people go with the common goal of drinking beer and cheering on their favorite team? Did none of their friends every leave the U.P either so there is no need to go visit and catch up on old times? Have they never wanted to go to a museum, see a play, attend the Thanksgiving parade?

Maybe it is just me, and my husband, who thought about doing these things when we were growing up? I mean, I didn’t grow up and say that I was going to live in lower Michigan, but I never said I would never leave either. How many opportunities would have passed us by if we simply said “We dont go below the bridge”. I know we are all different, and want and need different things, but I prefer to take each opportunity as they come. Some opportunities I will jump on and some I wont, but I hope that I continue to not let constrictions of where I live dictate which opportunities I accept. I never want to say, “I cant, I dont go below the bridge”.

Snow more memories…

Here in Michigan, everyone knows it can snow any day from October to April, and sometimes, even earlier or later than that (I have pictures of it snowing in September). And the Upper Peninsula can have vastly different weather than lower Michigan, especially because of the always cold Lake Superior wind ever present in the area. Still, every time my Facebook memories come up and I see snow in the U.P. early in the winter season I am either surprised, or excited that I’m not up there in it. It is diffidently a love hate relationship that I have with those memories.

After moving to lower Michigan for just a few years, I remember vividly the first winter we moved back to the Upper Peninsula. That was the year (78-79)that the area I lived in, far west Gogebic county about 10 to 15 miles from Lake Superior, received over 250 inches of snow, and other parts of the U.P received over 350 inches of snow. We had a rod-iron decorative fence around our property and that year the top of it was far beneath the snow and you could walk across the lawn like there was no barrier at all. There was an empty lot on the opposite corner of the block we lived on and we kids played king of the hill on it often after school. I remember being at the top of the snow pile and looking down into the second story of the house that was next door, into a bedroom. We had a couple of dogs and they would often climb the snow pile by our garage and then run around on the top of the garage. I dont remember school being closed ever, we just did what we needed to do to get there. The ski hills loved the snow of course, a winter wonderland for sure.

Recently my Facebook page showed me a memory of a few years back when I went home to the U.P. and got stuck driving up my sisters very steep driveway. There was a good 12 to 15 inches of snow, I didn’t think I had lost my Yooper ability to drive in snow, but stuck deep, clearly I had! I had posted a picture with the caption, “Don’t miss this shit!” I looked at the picture of fluffy white clean snow with the sun rays bouncing off of it, then out my office window at the damp and muddy ground, it had been half snowing half raining for several hours and I dreaded going out in the mess to drive home. Maybe I do miss it…. snow that is. I remember cross country skiing to the nearby ski hill, then skiing all day. I remember taking inner tubes down a snowy hill being carful not to slide down to far and go into the road. Snowball fights, lots and lots of snowball fights. Getting snow in the top of your boots, making your ankles cold and socks that slid off inside your boots making you have to take the boots off and put them back on again, often while still in the snow. We never got many snow days in the U.P. you just went to school, but if we were lucky enough to get one we still went out anyway, but to the ski hill instead of school room.

I scanned the other pictures I had posted that day on social media. My husband and kids standing next to a snow pile. My kids throwing snowballs at each other. My sisters crazy ass dog, after having the zoomies, covered in snow, looking like he had been digging for hours in the white fluffy stuff. What if I did miss it? The snow that is. What if I say I do as an excuse for me not going home for a long time? The weather is too crazy, too much snow, I dont like that shit any more. What if I bitch about it because everyone else does, because it is a convenient excuse to not go there to visit? This is the week before Christmas and several more Facebook memories that either myself, or various family members have posted of the snow at home will appear in Facebook memories. I will look at them and smile, and remember the fun and the family. But maybe, instead of saying that I dont miss the shit maybe, I will at least think quietly, I miss this snow.

I’m caught in the middle, a yooper at heart, but a troll for more years than I care to count. People see my Upper Peninsula tattoo and ask if I’m a yooper, most everyone outside of Michigan have no idea what it is a tattoo of, which makes me laugh. When they ask me if I miss “living up there” I usually give a middle answer. “Yes, great place to grow up, but no, you cant make a living.” I haven’t bought a hat in twenty years. My friends say that I’m a yooper so I dont wear hats. People assume I can ski. I can, but haven’t for years. And of course there are the people who have been up there once, or have a kid that goes to school there, and now think they are a yooper too, so not even close. The snow, like being a Yooper is part of who I am, sometimes I love it, like when it is snowing big fluffy flakes and the sun make the flakes shine like stars. Sometimes I hate it, like when its below zero and the snow is wet and makes you cold to your bones. Either way I guess it is what it is and I should start embracing it…. but I think I’ll embrace the pictures of it on Facebook first, at least for this winter.