Posted tagged ‘the marquette trilogy’

Book and DVD of Popular Local Play Willpower Now Available

June 19, 2015

Marquette, MI, June 19, 2015—When Will S. Adams was diagnosed with ossification, a mysterious disease that caused his tissues to harden until he became nearly a living statue, he refused to quit living life fully and was immensely productive. Now the original play Willpower, which translated his life story to the stage, is available as a book and a DVD.

The new book version of the play Willpower includes the full text of the play, sheet music, historical photos, and essays by the playwright and director.

The new book version of the play Willpower includes the full text of the play, sheet music, historical photos, and essays by the playwright and director.

In September 2014, Marquette’s Kaufman Auditorium was packed with people who came out to see the story of Will S. Adams translated to the stage, much as the Marquette Opera House was packed in 1906 with people who came to see his original operetta Miss D.Q. Pons. Born in 1878, Will was the adopted son of Marquette businessman Sidney Adams and his wife Harriet. He grew up in the sandstone mansion at 200 E. Ridge St., played baseball, and sang in the boys choir at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Then a strange disease began to stiffen Will’s legs and work its way up his body until he lost the use of his limbs, became bedridden, and eventually lost his eyesight before his early death at age thirty-one. Through it all, Will never lost his sense of humor, his energy, or his determination to make the most of every minute. In his short life, he ran his own newspaper, wrote poetry, drew cartoons, and composed the operetta Miss D.Q. Pons with Norma Ross, a local music teacher and his close friend, who also starred in the production. Will’s spirit of perseverance would attract countless admirers, including a Detroit Free Press reporter and the famous actress Lillian Russell.

In 2013, the Marquette Regional History Center hired local novelist Tyler Tichelaar to write a play and bring Will Adams’ story to the stage. The MRHC produced Willpower with the aid of a major grant from the Michigan Humanities Council and grants from the Marquette Community Foundation and Upper Peninsula Health Plan. The play was directed by Moire Embley, with Jeff Bruning as musical director. It starred many local actors and included period music. Filled with humor, romance, dreams, and faith, Willpower was received with standing ovations by audiences, and The Mining Journal’s reviewer said, “Will’s is an interesting and inspiring story to all and deserves to be told and retold.”

“Many people have expressed a desire to see the play again,” said Tichelaar, “and while I hope it will someday return to the stage, I wanted to release a book version to tell more of the history behind the play and allow Will’s story to continue to inspire us.” The newly released book includes the entire script of the play, photos from the original production, sheet music of songs from the performance, numerous historical photographs, extensive commentary on the history behind the play, and an essay by director Moire Embley.

The book version of Willpower is now available in local bookstores and gift shops and online through Tichelaar’s website at A DVD of the original performance is also available at the Marquette Regional History Center’s gift shop.

About the Author

Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., is a seventh generation Marquette resident devoted to capturing the past through his books. He is the author of the popular history book My Marquette and nine novels, including The Marquette Trilogy and The Children of Arthur series. In writing Willpower, Tichelaar grew to feel a special kinship with Will Adams, who shared his passion for literature, and with Norma Ross, who was friends with his great-grandmother.


What’s the Best Order to Read My Marquette Novels?

December 17, 2013

When I do book signings, I’m often asked what is the best order in which to read my Marquette novels. The answer to that question depends on how readers want to experience my books.

Tyler at the TV6 Christmas Craft Show in Marquette, December 2013

Tyler at the TV6 Christmas Craft Show in Marquette, December 2013

I’m not the first author to encounter this kind of question. Debates, for example, continue over the proper order for reading C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. Most people read them in the order they were published, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. However, other fans believe they should be read beginning with The Magician’s Nephew, the sixth book published, but the first chronologically. A similar conundrum could exist for my books. In fact, three different orders could be given for them as follows, depending on the experience readers want to have.

Publication Order

This order is probably the most logical and the one in which any of my longtime readers will have experienced the books. The order of my novels’ publication is:

  1. Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy: Book One (Feb 2006)
  2. The Queen City, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Two (Aug 2006)
  3. Superior Heritage, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Three (2007)
  4. Narrow Lives (2008)
  5. The Only Thing That Lasts (2009)
  6. Spirit of the North (2012)
  7. The Best Place (2013)

Chronological Order

This order is more difficult to determine since the timeframes of some of the books overlap with one another. I’ve listed below the years of the storylines in each book. I’ll leave it up to readers whether they want to read just specific sections of The Marquette Trilogy books and then set a volume aside halfway to read another book that fits within that timeframe.

  1. Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy: Book One (1849-1897)
  2. Spirit of the North (1873-1900)
  3. The Queen City, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Two (1902-1949)
  4. The Only Thing That Lasts (1917-1934)
  5. Narrow Lives (1915-1963; Note: Although this book chronologically starts in 1915 as opposed to 1917 for The Only Thing That Lasts, the stories are not in chronological order, but follow the pattern 1924, 1929, 1915, 1921, 1942, 1963, 1929-1964; since so many of these stories take place after The Only Thing That Lasts, it makes sense to read that book before Narrow Lives.)
  6. Superior Heritage, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Three (1952-1999)
  7. The Best Place (2005, with flashbacks covering 1938-2005)

Written Order

It’s equally hard to be specific about the order I wrote these books in, especially with The Marquette Trilogy. I intended to write one book but it became three so it was written in various pieces and I jumped around as I wrote it (it could be considered one book in itself for that reason). The advantage to reading the books in the order they were written is that you can see how my conception of my characters evolved over the years and how I expanded and came to define my fictional version of Marquette and its people. The order in which the books were written is:

  1. The Only Thing That Lasts (1987-1990; significant revisions made in 2005)
  2. Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy: Book One (1999-2004)
  3. The Queen City, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Two (1999-2004)
  4. Superior Heritage, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Three (1999-2004)
  5. Narrow Lives (2001-2004; although the first two stories “Cecilia” and “Danielle” had earlier versions written in 1992)
  6. Spirit of the North (2004-2005)
  7. The Best Place (2006-2013)

Author’s Pick

In which order would I personally suggest? I would read them in order of publication since I published them in that order because I thought it was the best way to present the series. For me, it makes sense to read The Marquette Trilogy first and then read the other novels since they are designed as stand-alone books but they also fill in parts of The Marquette Trilogy and will be more meaningful to readers who have already read the trilogy.

In whatever order you do decide to read my books, I appreciate you being one of my readers and I hope you will enjoy them.

You can learn more about all of them at

An Interview about my new novel “The Best Place”

October 17, 2013

In case you missed it, I’m reposting the interview I had about my new novel The Best Place with Susan Violante of Reader Views:

Interview with Tyler R. Tichelaar for “The Best Place”

Today, Susan Violante of Reader Views is pleased to interview Tyler R. Tichelaar, who is here to talk about his new novel “The Best Place.”

tylerTyler R. Tichelaar, seventh generation Marquette resident, has a Ph.D. in Literature from Western Michigan University, and Bachelor and Master’s Degrees from Northern Michigan University. Tyler is President of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is the owner of Superior Book Promotions, a professional editing service. Tyler lives in Marquette, Michigan where the roar of Lake Superior, mountains of snow, and sandstone architecture inspire his writing. To date, he has written seven novels set in the Marquette area, including “The Marquette Trilogy,” and the non-fiction history book “My Marquette.” He is also the author of two volumes of literary criticism—“The Gothic Wanderer” and “King Arthur’s Children”—and an upcoming series about King Arthur and his descendants.

Susan: Welcome, Tyler. Wow, seven novels now and they’re all set in Marquette, Michigan. How do you find so much material in one town and how is this novel different from the others?

Tyler: Thanks, Susan. I’m surprised too, but when you consider Marquette was founded in 1849 and how many people have lived there over the course of all those years and my novels span different parts of the city’s history, there’s no end of possibilities for novels, and often, a minor character in a novel catches my attention, making me want to explore that character more and make him or her the main character in another book. That’s the case with “The Best Place.” The character Lyla, who previously had brief appearances in my novels “The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Two” and “Narrow Lives” deserved her own novel.

Susan: So what about Lyla made you decide she deserved her own book?

Tyler: I didn’t decide it really. She insisted I tell her story. I set out to write a very different book that would have been more about the characters of Alan, Sybil, and Diana, but they all got pushed to the sidelines. Somehow, Lyla decided the next book would be about her even though her story didn’t have much to do with theirs at first, but she kept barging in, demanding I tell her story, until there wasn’t room for much of the other characters’ stories any longer. It took a long time to sort it out, trying to decide whether to write in third person or have multiple narrators, but I finally gave in and let Lyla tell the whole story because her story really is fascinating, beginning with her childhood and how she ends up growing up in Marquette’s Holy Family Orphanage.

Susan: And what was it like for her growing up in the orphanage?

Tyler: Well, it was a lot rougher than it was for Little Orphan Annie. Unlike Annie, no Daddy Warbucks comes to rescue Lyla from the orphanage. Oddly, I didn’t reference that comic strip in the book, but I’m sure Lyla would have just laughed at it. Lyla is pretty bitter as the result of her orphanage experience. Her father left the family when she was five years old. He was a Finnish American who decided to leave the U.S. during the Great Depression to go to Karelia, a Finnish province under Communist Russia’s control. It’s not a well-known part of history today, but many Finnish Americans left the United States to live in Karelia during the Great Depression, believing America had failed them and that Communism was better. Most of those people realized their mistake only when it was too late. Most families also migrated together, but Lyla’s father goes ahead of his family, planning to send for them later, only they never hear from him again for reasons they don’t know but can imagine are not pleasant. Then when Lyla is ten, her mother dies. Her only sister, Jessie, gets adopted by her piano teacher, Miss Bergmann, but for reasons Lyla never understands, Miss Bergmann doesn’t adopt Lyla. And even though Lyla was raised as a Finnish Lutheran, she’s placed in the Catholic orphanage and ultimately grows up to be Catholic, with mixed feelings about her religion as a result.

Susan: That’s really fascinating about Finnish Americans going to Russia, and you said that’s all historical, but what about the orphanage itself? What kind of historical detail did you need to include there?

TheBestPlaceTyler: I read a lot of newspaper articles and did research online about the Holy Family Orphanage in Marquette. There are still people alive who were raised in it. It opened its doors in 1915 and closed them in the 1960s. Today it’s an abandoned building and the city keeps threatening to tear it down. It’s also rumored to be haunted. Only a small part of the novel takes place at the orphanage, but I did enough research to get an idea of what it looked like inside, how it was laid out, what the daily regimen of the orphans would have been around 1938-1942, the years Lyla lived there, even to their helping to raise farm animals. Since Lyla goes there at age ten and the orphans all had to leave at age fourteen, the scenes there are limited, but the effects of being raised there and feeling unwanted haunt Lyla all her life. At fourteen, the orphans were sent out to work, so Lyla’s work career begins then when she goes to be housekeeper to two elderly ladies.

Susan: What do you think the orphanage means to the people of Marquette today?

Tyler: I think it was a very sad place for everyone. Various interviews I’ve read or people I’ve talked to vary in their reports of what life was like there. I’ve even read separate interviews by the same person that come off as positive and negative. It’s clear that the community supported the orphanage and the local businesses and community did a lot to help the orphans have nice Christmases, but that’s still not the same as being raised by loving parents. Also, in those days families often could not afford to support all their children so even if you had parents, you might end up there until the family could afford to feed you and take you back—Marquette also had a poor house, but this was more a poor house for children. As a result, some children grew up there from infancy, while others might only be there for a short time. The building itself—it’s on the front cover of the novel—is a large institutional, cold looking building. We all know how tough Catholic nuns supposedly were, but I think the important thing is not to make generalizations. Lyla is very unhappy at the orphanage. She has a negative attitude about most things, however, so it’s important to remember her opinion of the orphanage is solely her opinion. Lyla’s best friend, Bel, grew up with her at the orphanage, but she mostly has happy memories of living there. People simply have different perspectives, and it’s the same here today—many want the building saved, turned into an art school or condominium or something useful, while others think it’s an eyesore that should be torn down. Myself, I think the loss of any old building is sad, especially a place like the Holy Family Orphanage that served thousands of children. It deserves a happy ending. I should note, though, that it is not “the best place” of the book’s title. You’ll have to read the book to find out where “the best place” is.

Susan: So the book is then Lyla’s entire life story since you mention she becomes a housekeeper?

Tyler: Yes, it tells her story throughout her life, ending in the summer of 2005 when she’s seventy-seven and several events in her life come together, making her think back on her life and reassess her story and come to new realizations about it.

Susan: Why did you end the story in the year 2005 rather than some other year?

Tyler: I mentioned that Lyla’s father is Finnish, but you’ll notice her last name is Hopewell. Once her husband supposedly abandoned her, Lyla’s mother was ashamed that she had been married to a Communist, so she changed their name back to her maiden name. So Lyla grows up not knowing anything about her Finnish heritage. But every year Finn Fest is held somewhere in the United States, and in 2005 it was held in Marquette, so I decided it would be appropriate and fun for Lyla to attend the 2005 Finn Fest—a celebration of all things Finnish—as a way to get in touch with her past.

Susan: 2005 is pretty recent, so does that make the book a departure from your usual historical fiction?

Tyler: No, because Lyla keeps thinking back on her past, which includes living in the orphanage during the Great Depression, her life during World War II, etc. And even setting a novel in 2005 is writing historical fiction. I knew in 2005 that Finn Fest would be a great event to include in a novel so I kept all the articles and brochures from it at the time. Not being Finnish myself, I didn’t actually attend Finn Fest (now I wish I had), but the research I did was enough to create a believable scene around it in the novel. And this book was in my head from at least 2006, but it didn’t all get sorted out so that Lyla took over until a couple of years ago. Even so, I had to keep checking details, and trying to remember what Marquette was like in 2005. Since I was writing historical fiction, I decided to focus also on how Marquette has changed since then so I chose restaurants and other businesses that no longer are around to capture what Marquette was like in 2005—to create a kind of summer 2005 time capsule for Marquette in the novel’s pages. One of my favorite places I mentioned was The Pancake House, which was a short-lived restaurant in Marquette, but it was open all night and offered free cab rides there. My character, Sybil, who briefly appeared in my novel “Spirit of the North” ends up being a cab driver and taking Lyla and Bel out for pancakes at night.

Susan: You mentioned Lyla appeared in previous books and also Sybil. Why do you like to keep reintroducing your characters, and for those who’ve read your other books, are there any other characters in “The Best Place” that they may like meeting again?

Tyler: First, let me say that with the exception of the three books that make up The Marquette Trilogy, which should be read in order, all my novels can be read individually and in any order. People who haven’t read my previous novels won’t miss out on anything if they read “The Best Place” first, but if you’ve read my other novels, you’ll find many people reappearing, some of whom are well-known characters, others who barely appeared in more than one scene. For example, in this novel Mr. Newman is an elderly man. In my first novel, “Iron Pioneers,” he is part of the boating party when Madeleine Henning supposedly drowns in 1876. His name is Matthew in that book, and I didn’t give him a last name, but over the years, he’s developed in my mind until he appears in this novel with a last name. In fact, I’m toying with writing an entire novel about him down the road.

More familiar characters in this novel include the Whitman family who appeared in my trilogy, including Bill Whitman who turns out to be Lyla’s ex-boyfriend and his sister Eleanor, now ninety-three and still trying to get Bill and Lyla back together nineteen years after they broke up.

What turned out to be the most fun for me is to reintroduce John and Wendy who appear at the end of the trilogy. John is a character who is largely based on me in that novel, but in this novel, set six years after the trilogy ended, we can see him as a husband and father, something I’ve never been—I’m too married to writing and my books are my children—but I’ve had a lot of fun imagining what it would be like to be a husband and father through how I’ve depicted John. So in a way, those who read The Marquette Trilogy can see “The Best Place” as a bit of a follow-up to that series. Others who reappear are Bill’s son Alan, John’s college roommate Frank, and Scofield Blackmore, who appeared in my novel “Narrow Lives.”

Susan: The book is also very funny. Would you share with us a funny passage from it?

Tyler: I’d love to. One of my favorite passages is the first time Lyla and her best friend Bel go to eat at The Pancake House the first time in the novel. Here’s a bit of their conversation:

The Pancake House is our favorite restaurant and everyone there knows our names. It’s about the only place in Marquette to get breakfast other than Tommy’s since the Big Boy burnt down. I guess they’re going to rebuild the Big Boy, but they’re sure taking their sweet time about it.

After we place our order—pancakes for her, she always gets pancakes, while I usually get eggs and sausage—she says, “So, what are you doing tomorrow?”

“I don’t know,” I says. “Why?”

I hate the “So, what are you doing tomorrow?” question. It’s so unfair. I know it means that she wants something and isn’t just asking because she’s interested in what I’ll be doing. When she pulls that, I don’t know whether to tell her what I’m doing, or to admit I’m not doing nothing, or to come up with some fake things I’m doing just so I don’t have to do whatever it is she’s holding back on telling me she wants me to do, but I can’t tell her I’m doing such important things that I can’t cancel them without being caught in a lie if I do want to do what she wants me to do. I should probably just tell her to quit asking me that unfair question, but if I tried to explain to her what’s wrong with it, she wouldn’t get it anyways. Like I said, she’s got a bit of a screw loose sometimes.

“I was hoping,” she says, “that maybe you’d go to my doctor’s appointment with me.”

“Yeah, I can do that,” I says. See, why couldn’t she have saved the “What are you doing tomorrow question?” and just asked me if I’d go with her to her doctor’s appointment? I mean, I’ve gone to doctor’s appointments with her lots of times and never complained about it, so what’s the big deal?

“It’s at eight in the morning,” she says. “I hope that’s not too early. We can go out for breakfast after. It’ll only be an hour at most.”

“Eight a.m.?” I groan. There’s another morning where I won’t get my coffee. Not that I can’t get up to have coffee a little early. It’s just, I don’t feel right if I don’t have a bowel movement in the morning, and I can’t seem to have one unless I have two cups of coffee first, and I know my body isn’t going to be up to doing that before eight o’clock no matter how many cups of coffee I have.

She doesn’t reply to my moan. I guess she’s distracted thinking about her doctor’s appointment. I don’t ask her why she’s going. I’ll find out soon enough tomorrow when we get there. I focus on drinking my coffee. Then it hits me.

“Bel, you told me on Saturday that you had to go to the doctor on Wednesday.”

“I do,” she says.

“But tomorrow is Tuesday.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yeah it is. It’s Memorial Day today.”

“Yeah, it’s Tuesday and tomorrow is Wednesday,” she says.

“Bel, Memorial Day is always on a Monday.”

“Oh, I forgot,” she says, looking kind of pale like she’s embarrassed. She’s done a lot of stupid things in her life but I never saw her look embarrassed like that before.

“So is your appointment Wednesday or Tuesday?”

“It’s Wednesday. I told you that before.”

If I hadn’t just had another cup of coffee, I’d be seeing red now. She’s so looney she’s starting to confuse me.


Susan: Lyla’s best friend Bel is a recovering alcoholic and there are references to the Twelve Steps and other recovery groups in the book. Is she inspired by anyone you know?

Tyler: No, Bel is completely fictional. It’s hard to remember how she evolved as a character. I will say that there’s a revelation about her character toward the end of the book that surprised me a great deal. I didn’t know that was going to happen. But Bel first appeared in a minor scene in “Narrow Lives” where she’s sitting in a bar with Lyla and kind of drunk. That led to my depicting her as an alcoholic. I also saw the film “The Lois Wilson Story” when it was on TV’s Hallmark Hall of Fame a few years ago, about the wife of the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. That made me interested in creating a woman’s group in the novel, sort of a support group. I don’t depict any AA meetings in the novel, though Bel says she goes to them, but by creating more of a general women’s support group, I was able to have her drag Lyla along, which results in some interesting turns of events in the novel. I also did research on and already knew a lot about Twelve Step programs from having edited so many self-help books, so I drew that into the story, although I did not model the women’s group in the novel after any specific program.

Susan: That brings me to wanting to bring up who you dedicated the book to, someone very special I understand?

Tyler: Yes, Susan, our former boss and colleague, Irene Watson, who founded Reader Views. A lot of what I know about codependency, dysfunction, etc. I learned from working with Irene. I had the privilege of editing her books “The Sitting Swing” and “Rewriting Life Scripts” and learning a lot about recovery from her. Irene was always blogging about self-help and recovery issues. She also was very supportive of self-published authors, having founded Reader Views as a book review service that grew into a publicity service because she couldn’t get reviews for her own book. Sadly, Irene lost her battle with cancer on November 3, 2012. But her positive energy and desire to help people be well and freed from the dysfunctional cycles they were caught in made me decide to dedicate the book to her. I’m sure she would have understood Lyla and cheered her on during her journey.

Susan: Why should readers care about Lyla’s story if they’re not senior citizens like her, or Finnish, or have never been an orphan?

Tyler: Like I said, I’m not Finnish, I’m not female, and I’m not seventy-seven years old, but I think some of Lyla is in all of us. The book is told in first person so we’re constantly in her thoughts, and she thinks things that I think many of us would like to say, and in a sarcastic manner that I personally think can be quite hilarious—and my readers so far have agreed with me—but I think most importantly, her desire just to be loved, her self-esteem issues, her desire for meaningful relationships, and her attempts to connect with her roots and make amends to those she’s hurt or been hurt by all are issues and parts of life we can all relate to. I think we all want to feel important, valued, and connected to others. It’s kind of like what Lyla comes to realize when she’s at Finn Fest: “Finally, when the ceremonies are all done, the crowd claps and cheers, and I get that same feeling I had the day before, that we’re all connected, we’re all one big happy Finnish family, even though some of us may be Catholic rather than Lutheran, or have English or French Canadian or German or Norwegian or Swedish blood mixed up in us.” In other words, we’re all human, and “The Best Place” is a very human story.

Susan: Well said, Tyler. Before we go will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about “The Best Place” and your other novels?

Tyler: Sure. My website is and it’s full of information about my novels and Marquette’s history, including a timeline of Marquette history, some fun quizzes to help you determine which of my characters you’re most like, a page of my character’s family trees, and upcoming events I’ll be at. You’ll also find links there to other Upper Michigan authors’ websites, as well as to my other websites and Stay tuned for my King Arthur book series coming soon, and thank you again, Susan, for the opportunity to talk about my new book.

Susan: You definitely have a very active website, Tyler. Thank you again for the interview. I wish you all the best with “The Best Place.”


The Best Place – The First Book Review

July 9, 2013

I was thrilled to receive my first book review for my new book The Best Place, and from one of my favorite U.P. authors, Jenifer Brady, author of the Abby’s Camp Days series. You can check out Jenifer’s books at her website:

I can’t tell you how much it means to an author to receive a good book review, and they are harder and harder to get these days since newspapers and other publications have largely quit printing them. If you like a book, the best way you can say thank you to the author besides telling everyone you know about the book is to write a book review. It doesn’t need to be long. Just a few sentences at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or on your blog or Facebook page will do the job. I encourage you all to support U.P. authors and any other favorite authors you have by writing them honest reviews of their books.

With Jenifer Brady’s permission, I am reprinting the review she wrote for me at Amazon below:

TheBestPlaceI think I’ve read every one of Tyler Tichelaar’s books set in Marquette, MI, and this one was my favorite so far, in large part because of the narrator, Lyla Hopewell. The book is told through the viewpoint of this feisty, hilarious 77-year-old lady, and she’s just a riot–very entertaining to read. I found myself laughing quite a bit as I read, not because of the subjects this novel tackles (some were quite heart-wrenching like feelings of abandonment, orphanage life, and family strife) but because Lyla has this way of speaking her mind throughout the narration that draws you in and makes you chuckle no matter what topic she is talking about. She pretty much says what you’re thinking about certain subjects but are too polite to point out yourself.

I’m always impressed when an author can write a viewpoint that is vastly different from their own, and as I was reading, I had to keep reminding myself that this book wasn’t actually written by an elderly lady.

I also enjoyed seeing some of my favorite characters from previous books. I like when authors continue on with their characters because when I close a book, I always wonder what happens after “The End.” I liked getting to see John, the hero from the third Marquette Trilogy book, and his young family, as well as Sibyl from Spirit of the North. There are even a few surprises from old characters that I didn’t see coming.

I had read about Lyla in other Marquette books, but I didn’t really get to know her until this one. She might appear to be a bit gruff on the surface, but once you get to know her, you’ll see that she exemplifies the heart and Sisu of a true Yooper!


Shoveling Off the Roof – a Scene from Superior Heritage

January 19, 2013

On such a snowy day as today, I thought I’d post a snowy scene from one of my novels. This passage takes place in Superior Heritage, The Marquette Trilogy: Book Three and takes place in 1992 when John Vandelaare, a college student and living at home, helps his father Tom with cleaning off the roof. Enjoy. I hope none of my readers have to clean off their roofs any time soon, but if you do, be careful!

Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three

Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three covers the history of Marquette from 1952-1999.

The first weekend of January, Tom Vandelaare was convinced the three feet of snow on his roof, and the several more feet still to come before winter ended, were certain to bring the ceiling crashing down, burying his family under a blanket of snow and ice. After days of hemming, hawing, and hoping for a warm day to melt the snow, he resigned himself to shoveling off the roof.

“John, you want to come up and help your dad?” Tom asked at breakfast.


“Come on, be a nice boy and help Dad.”

“I’d probably fall off the roof,” John said.

“No, you won’t. Not if you’re careful.”

“I can’t, Dad. I don’t think I’m coordinated enough to keep my balance.”

“Chad, will you help me?”

“No,” said Chad. “You always yell when I help you. Besides, I have to go to work.”

Chad worked at the NMU cafeteria. John had a job as a tutor at the campus Writing Center, but he could not use work as an excuse today.

“It wouldn’t hurt you boys to help your father,” said Tom.

“Tom,” said Ellen, “they don’t need to go up there. I wouldn’t risk breaking my neck up there either. If you don’t think you can clean the roof off on your own, we’ll hire somebody.”

“The neighbor’s son goes up on the roof to help his dad. I’ve even seen him up there shoveling by himself,” said Tom as he put on his boots. No one replied until he had gone out and slammed the door.

“Maybe I should help him,” said John.

“Just ignore him,” Ellen replied. “If you don’t think you can keep your balance, you shouldn’t go up there. I don’t need two of you falling off.”

“Well, it’s a big job,” said John, “and Dad’ll wear himself out doing it alone.”

“You’ll just fall off because you’re so uncoordinated,” said Chad, putting on his coat and kissing his mother goodbye.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ellen said. “Your father’s a fanatic about cleaning snow. He wouldn’t even clean it today if he had someone to go ice fishing with.”

John helped his mother clear the breakfast table. When she started the dishes, he went in his room. He tried to work on his novel since it was the last day of Christmas vacation and tomorrow he would be busy with school. He had wanted to write all during vacation, but instead he had spent his time doing genealogy and watching movies. He sat down at his desk, turned on the computer and waited for it to boot up. He found himself staring out the window as shovelfuls of snow were thrown off the roof. He could hear his father stamping his feet so no one would forget he was up there working. If Tom had to clean off the roof, no one else would be able to concentrate on anything until he was done.

“Negative attention, that’s all he wants,” John thought. He opened the document that contained his novel, rewrote a paragraph, then found himself staring out the window again.

“Darn it,” he thought. “Why do I always have to feel guilty?”

“Where are you going?” Ellen asked when he passed through the kitchen in his winter jacket.

“To help Dad.”

“Oh, John, just ignore your father. He doesn’t need your help.”

“It’ll take hours to shovel off all that snow. It won’t hurt me to help him for an hour.”

“Well, just be careful,” said Ellen.

“Dad, I’m coming up!” John shouted once he was outside, shovel in hand.

“Okay, I’ll hold the ladder for you,” Tom shouted down.

John had expected at least a “Thank you” for his help, but he should have known better. Now wishing he had stayed inside, he climbed up the ladder, careful not to let his feet slide off the slippery rungs. Soon he lifted one foot onto the roof.

“Be careful,” his dad warned.

For a minute, John imagined himself falling backward, plummeting into a five foot snowbank, but once his feet were planted on the roof and he stepped away from the edge, he felt secure.

“Start shoveling there,” said Tom. “Try to throw the snow as far as you can so it doesn’t land on the bushes beside the house.”

John only partly listened. He gaped at all the snow. He wondered how long this job would take; he imagined it would be time consuming if the roof were slippery. He wished there were a way to bring the snowblower up here.

“Don’t worry about getting close to the edge,” Tom said. “I’ll do that since I’m more steady on my feet up here.”

“All right,” said John, stepping only where snow on the shingles gave him traction. He had expected to have trouble balancing himself, but other than shoveling on a slope, he did not feel as endangered as he had expected. The work was tiring, but he did not mind. He stopped every few minutes to catch his breath and to watch his father work like a machine. Tom liked to complain about work, but he was only happy when he was occupied.

John threw the snow onto the already imposing banks. Soon his back hurt from his crooked stance and the repetitive movement of shoveling. The snow was coming down lightly, but it was a warm winter day, nearly twenty-five degrees. The constant movement kept John warm, and he enjoyed the cool air; he had nearly forgotten how fresh air tasted after two months of being cooped up in the stale house.

Father and son stopped a moment to watch an air force jet fly overhead.

“They can make planes fly and send men to the moon,” said Tom, “but they won’t heat our highways in winter or find ways to make the snow melt off our roofs. The government sure has its priorities messed up.”

John ignored his father’s complaints. He wondered where the plane was going and what it felt like to fly one. He decided it was worthwhile to help his dad, if only to see the snow covered trees stretching in all directions and the chimneys peeking out of snowcovered roofs. He could even see Marquette Mountain’s ski hill and the edge of town where the trees ended. Up here, he realized how small Marquette was—only a little clearing in a giant northern forest; it had grown from a village of a hundred people to over twenty-thousand, but when compared to the size of the forests, it had grown little. All the snow burying the houses reminded John how insignificant people were beside the power of Nature. All people could do was to build shelter for protection, to claim a piece of land for a little while, maybe a few generations, a piece of land that would remain long after its owners were gone. Yet John was descended from the rugged pioneers of Upper Michigan, and here he wanted to stay. John had not traveled much—he wanted to see the land of English literature, and Ireland, India and the pyramids of Egypt, and the Netherlands where his father’s father had come from, but wherever life might lead him, he knew he would always come home to his snowy little town on Lake Superior.

White Christmas: A Teaser

December 12, 2012

The following passage is from my novel The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Two. It takes place at Christmas 1944, during World War II. At Christmas, let’s not forget our veterans and those we’ve lost:

Margaret woke up early to start the coffee. Christmas Day was just about the longest day of the year for her because of all the work she had to do. But it was also the only day she had the entire family gathered under one roof—well, almost all the family. Roy would not be home—he was somewhere in France she believed. And Bill—she had no idea where he was, only that he was sailing on the U.S.S.—-; she imagined the ship was somewhere in the Pacific. She hoped it would not be too melancholy a holiday for her boys; this was the third Christmas they would be away from home. Even the joy of her grandchildren could not remove the worry from her heart. She hoped next year this damn war would finally be over. For a moment, she chided herself for thinking the word “damn”, but then she told the kitchen stove, “It is a damn war,” and for the thousandth time, she wondered why God allowed it.

The kitchen clock said it was seven-thirty. Henry’s family would be over for breakfast in an hour. She wished she had stayed in bed another half hour—she could use the extra sleep, especially after being at church late last night, and then staying up to finish wrapping all the packages. But she was up now. She turned the radio on to keep her awake, then started the coffee. She hoped some Christmas music would get her in the spirit, and then she would go get dressed. She would have preferred to get dressed first, but that would have woken Will, and then he would have been cranky if the coffee were not made when he came downstairs.

The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Two

The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Two

Her heart lightened a bit as “White Christmas” came over the radio; she had first heard the song last year. It always reminded her of when her parents had been alive and living in California and writing home that they missed the snow in Marquette. That was two more people—her mother and father—who would not be here for Christmas dinner. Six years now they had been gone, yet she still missed them everyday.

Twelve cups should be enough for breakfast. She could always make another pot later. Before getting dressed, she had better put the children’s presents under the tree in case they arrived early—she hoped she had not forgotten anything. She had presents hidden all over the house, but trying to remember where, and how many she had bought, and who was to get what was becoming a problem. She would have to plan better next year, especially if she kept having more grandchildren.

She put the coffee pot on the stove, wiped her hands on the dishtowel and headed toward the stairs.

Then the radio stopped her.

“This just in. The U.S.S.—- has been sunk in the Pacific by a German submarine. Further details will be forthcoming.”

Margaret froze. She must have heard wrong. It couldn’t be. Didn’t they notify families before broadcasting this kind of news? Maybe she had heard the ship’s name wrong. Why didn’t they repeat it? No, instead they were playing “Silent Night” and at this hour of the morning! Oh Bill. And she had just been wondering how he would spend today, all the while not knowing the truth. It had probably happened hours ago, and now the news was just broadcasting it. Imagine, to have slept soundly all night, not knowing. How could a mother not have felt it?

She caught sight of the Christmas tree. She should turn on its lights before Henry’s family arrived. She would turn on the lights in a minute, but she felt too dizzy right now. She told herself not to faint. No, better stay seated and take it in. If it were true, she would have felt it. She knew she would have. She would have woken up in the middle of the night feeling upset or odd at least. It must be a mistake. Not her Bill. And why today, Christmas—what timing. She must have heard wrong. Why didn’t they quit playing that damn “Silent Night” and broadcast more news? If she hadn’t heard wrong—she’d have to tell Will. How could she? But she would have to. And then Henry and Beth would have to be told, and then Eleanor and Ada and—oh, the poor grandchildren—they were all too young to understand—they scarcely remembered Uncle Bill from before he left for the war, and now their Christmas was ruined.

She just couldn’t tell everyone. Not today. She would keep it to herself—so everyone could still have a Merry Christmas—if Bill were gone, what difference would it make to tell them tomorrow?

The radio paused. She waited for another announcement. She could hear the water on the stove boiling. The coffee must be almost done. Another Christmas song started to play. Coffee would help her nerves, distract her attention and give her another minute to compose herself before going upstairs. She trembled as she walked back into the kitchen. She found a cup and filled it, putting in a teaspoon of sugar and a drop of milk, then another spoonful of sugar, too distracted to remember the first one; then she sat back down at the dining room table. She tried to listen to the radio, but instead, she heard Will coming downstairs. What would she say? How could she possibly tell him?

“Maggie, I thought you’d wake me up. It’s eight o’clock already.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how late it was. I was just enjoying the Christmas music. I better go put the rest of the presents under the tree. Grab your cup of coffee and then you better get dressed before Henry’s family arrives.”

“Yeah, all right,” muttered Will, not much of a talker before his morning coffee.

The radio kept playing Christmas music. Margaret went upstairs to find the children’s presents. What if the radio repeated the announcement while she was gone? Then Will would hear it. What a way for him to find out, but at least then she would not have to tell him. She did not know if she could. Bill was his namesake—the baby of the family.

“I can’t obsess about it now,” she said, opening the bedroom closet and digging into its hidden recesses to discover where she had stuffed away her grandchildren’s gifts. As she found them, she piled them on the bed. Then she took off her nightgown and quickly put on her slip and dress. As she buttoned the dress, a weakness overcame her and she sat down. Then the tears came. She grabbed a pillow and covered her face so Will would not hear her sobbing. After a couple minutes, she still ached, but the sobs had helped her regain her self-control.

She was still not sure whether what she had heard was true, or whether she had heard it right. If it were true, wouldn’t she have received a telegram? Didn’t the government always notify the family before making a public announcement? But maybe the telegram was lost, or maybe the government accidentally forgot to send one. She might have been overlooked—after all, there must have been hundreds of men on that ship, and the ship might have sunk days ago, and its loss was only now being announced after the families were contacted. But that she had not received a telegram might also be a sign that she had heard the news wrong.

She heard Will’s step coming upstairs; quickly she jumped up, set down the pillow and started to make the bed. His step sounded slow—had he heard the news? Her heart nearly stopped as he entered the room. But his face looked composed—he must not have heard anything.

“You better get dressed,” she told him. “Henry’s family will be here any minute.”

Will said nothing to her as she left the room—that seemed strange—could he have heard, and not knowing she already knew, he did not know how to tell her? But after forty years of marriage, they often did not speak to each other—what was there left to say when they understood each other so well? Will had never been talkative, the direct opposite of her, but even she did not talk that much around him anymore. Funny, none of the children seemed very talkative. They must all take after their father that way. Roy was so moody and quiet, and Henry always seemed just silently content. And Bill was—

Poor Bill—how could she even for a few seconds be thinking of something so stupid as how much people talked when her son might be dead? But for those seconds, there had been no fear in her heart. She would have to think of other things if she were to get through this day—she could not tell Will yet, not moments before the family came over. She did not want the family depressed on Christmas morning.


To find out what happens, read The Queen City, available at

Blueberry Picking Season – 1920 Style

August 6, 2012

I just had a wonderful piece of blueberry pie, so in tribute to my favorite pie, favorite berry, and an occupation I find quite relaxing, I am posting a scene from my novel The Queen City that takes place in 1920 and depicts some of my characters taking the blueberry train north of Marquette to go blueberry picking.

Enjoy, and may you have blueberry pie sometime in your near future.



            On this beautiful August morning, Kathy McCarey felt all was finally right again with the world. This time two years ago, the war had still been raging, but now some good might be detected as having resulted from it. She would never cease missing Frank, but the worst pain of his loss had been dealt with, and while a day never passed without her thinking of him, she found life remained abundant about her. Jeremy had come home from the war, and a year ago, he had married. Now Kathy and Patrick were expecting their first grandchild. Jeremy had met his bride, Caroline, while training downstate at Fort Custer; after the war, he had gone back to Battle Creek to visit her family and bring her home to be his wife. Caroline missed her family downstate, but Kathy felt once the baby was born, her daughter-in-law would adjust to the change of location and feel her life was complete, just as Kathy had felt when her first child, Frank, had been born. She had become a mother so many years ago, yet Kathy found it hard to believe that only her baby, Beth, was still at home. And now Beth was a big girl of ten and would be running off to get married before she knew it, but by that time, Kathy imagined she would have Jeremy’s children to spoil.

The Queen City

The Queen City: The Marquette Trilogy, Book One

            “Mama, hurry, or we’ll be late!” Beth shouted.

The girl had learned to yell for her mother’s attention, and usually Kathy heard her. At first, the deafness had been difficult for Kathy, but she soon found she knew her family so well, she could guess what each one wanted even if she only caught a couple words. She had become very good at reading lips, especially when speaking to people outside of her family. At other times, her family might speak loudly to her, but because she was not facing them, she pretended she did not hear them; she had found that a little exaggeration of her deafness helped to prevent many unnecessary family conflicts.

“Thelma’s already waiting outside,” Beth continued to holler.

Thelma was making her annual summer visit. Kathy felt the girl was a good companion for Beth, old enough to watch over her, yet young enough to play with her. That Thelma was a bit slow for her years made the two girls all the more compatible. Kathy had often feared Beth would become a tomboy because she only had older brothers to model herself after, but Thelma was decidedly feminine with her fancy white gloves, expensive dresses, and refined taste in music. And Thelma had not yet acquired any of those silly notions about boys that so many young women had these days. Kathy had been married at Thelma’s age, but Thelma was a late bloomer, and Kathy was thankful because then Beth was less likely to get any ideas while so young. Thelma’s eccentricities actually dissuaded several young men who might otherwise seek her hand solely from interest in her father’s wealth.

“Mama!” Beth hollered again.

“I’m coming,” Kathy called. She had promised to take the girls blueberry picking. Last year a huge forest fire near Birch and Big Bay had resulted in this summer’s mammoth blueberry crop. A “blueberry train” had been organized to take people to the berry fields north of Marquette so they could spend the day filling their pails. When Kathy heard reports that people were returning with tubs full of berries, she was determined to go; she just hoped the fields were not completely picked over; she longed for blueberry pie and did not want to disappoint the girls.

Kathy, Beth, and Thelma soon walked to the train at the depot with a few dozen Marquette residents, all fiercely intent upon blueberry picking, and even more intent on having a good time. Smiles and general gaiety marked the group, for it was a pleasant summer day, with a slight breeze to cool them from the sun’s rays, and the low humidity meant the woods would not be stiflingly hot. True Marquettians are always ready for an excuse to get out of town, no matter how much they love their distinguished city of sandstone and scenic views; they have an innate desire to get lost among trees, to forget civilization’s existence, to renew their spirits amid Nature’s serenity.

The train trip was uneventful, but all the more pleasant for it. Quiet yet eager conversations filled the railway car, and Kathy found herself surrounded by several of her acquaintances. Marquette’s population now surpassed ten thousand, but it remained small enough that if everyone did not know everyone else, people were sure to have mutual friends and acquaintances. Because she could read lips, Kathy could better converse on a noisy train than most of her neighbors with perfect hearing. She felt she hadn’t known such fun since long before the war. Thelma and Beth occupied themselves by looking out the windows. Beth tried to count the birch trees, but she soon gave up—they flew past so rapidly. Thelma willingly entertained her younger cousin, pointing out pretty little meadows or oddly shaped trees. They spotted a few deer, including a princely young fawn. The morning sun glistened through the trees, casting a medley of sunshine rays through the train windows. The ride felt all too short on such a glorious morning, but after a long day of berry picking, they knew they would all appreciate the shortest return trip possible.

When the train stopped at the berry fields, the passengers scurried across the meadows and copses, laying claim to large shady trees under which they could leave their excess belongings until lunchtime. Several people had brought multiple buckets, one even brought a small washtub. People went off with one pail, returned to place it under their claimed spot, set off into the fields to fill a second, and then started on a third. Little fear existed of anyone stealing berries amid such a multitude of overflowing bushes.

Kathy selected a spot for lunch while Thelma led Beth across the berry patches; Beth anxiously followed her cousin, but her enthusiasm was not bound to last.

After fifteen minutes of berry picking, Beth was tired enough to want a break. Thelma, too focused on picking berries to bake a pie for her father’s visit next weekend, ignored her cousin’s complaints.

Seeing that Thelma wasn’t paying attention, and that her mother was across the field, Beth decided to quit picking and go for a walk by herself. As she crossed the fields, she spotted another girl close to her age. She did not recognize the girl from Bishop Baraga School, but that did not matter. Beth went over to introduce herself; in a few minutes, the two girls were best friends, chasing each other and playing hide-and-go-seek among the trees; they completely neglected the blueberries, save for trampling over some of the bushes.

When Kathy looked up, she was concerned not to see her daughter near Thelma, but after a minute, she saw Beth and the other little girl. Having known Beth’s work ethic would not last long, she smiled to see her daughter had found a friend. Kathy returned to berry picking until Thelma had picked her way in the same direction. When the two were close enough, they started to chat and momentarily forgot about Beth until Thelma heard her scream from across the meadow.

Thelma told her aunt what she had heard, and then Kathy, who had not heard anything, quickly looked about for the source of her daughter’s cries. Then Beth came running toward her mother, her dress ripped, her eyes filled with tears, clutching the handle of her berry pail, only half connected to its handle so that the berries were haphazardly plunking from the bucket to the ground as she ran.

“Beth, what’s wrong?” asked Kathy, rushing to take her girl in her arms.

“I saw a snake! I nearly stepped on it before I saw it,” she said between sobs. “And that girl, Amy—I hate her—she just laughed, and she picked up the snake and shoved it at me; it hissed and tried to bite me!”

“There, there, dear. There aren’t any poisonous snakes around here. What color was it?”

“Green, and it was really big, like this.” Beth held up her hands to indicate a foot and a half.

“Ha,” laughed Thelma. “It was just a little garter snake. It won’t hurt you. I know a boy back in Calumet who keeps a half dozen of them as pets.”

Rather than be consoled, this news ran shivers up Beth’s spine.

“There, dear, it’s okay,” said Kathy. “It wasn’t nice of Amy to do that, but it didn’t hurt you any. Now tell me, how did you rip your dress?”

“Oh,” said Beth, forgetting she had intended to carry her pail in front of the rip so her mother would not see it. The snake ordeal had broken her cunning, so she had to confess. “I tore it on a branch while Amy and I were climbing a tree.”

“Well,” said Kathy, “it’s one of your older dresses, and I imagined you’d end up with berry stains on it, but I wish you wouldn’t climb trees.”

The mention of berries made Beth look to see how many she had picked. Then she discovered her bucket handle had broken. The bucket hung down at a forty-five degree angle. Inside, only six berries and some blueberry leaves were to be found.

“I lost all my berries!” she cried.

Twenty feet away, a young boy heard the lament. He had witnessed the snake incident and been unable to restrain from silent laughter, but now he felt sorry when Beth looked devastated by the lost blueberries.

“Come, dear,” said Kathy. “Let’s have lunch, and then we’ll fix your pail so you can still fill it this afternoon.”

“But I had it almost full,” sobbed Beth. “I wanted to pick two pails worth.”

In truth, the pail had barely been a quarter full, but Beth exaggerated her loss so her mother would not chide her for slacking in her berry picking.

Kathy and Thelma continued to console Beth as they found their shady tree and set up lunch. While they unfolded the picnic cloth, the young man who had witnessed Beth’s tragic scene approached. He waited to be noticed, then said hello.

“I saw you spill your berries,” he told Beth. “You can have my pail full if you want. I don’t really need so many.”

“Oh no, we couldn’t,” said Kathy.

“I insist,” he said, turning to Kathy. “It didn’t take me long to pick them, and I already filled two other pails this morning. I have all afternoon to pick, and I know little kids get tired quicker, so now she won’t have to pick all afternoon to make up her loss.”

Kathy was going to object again, but the young man said, “Please. I really do insist.”

“What do you say, Beth?”

“Okay,” Beth agreed, too surprised by such kindness to remember her manners.

“We thank you, Mr.—”

“I’m Henry,” he replied, although pleased to be called “Mister” when he was only fifteen.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Henry,” said Thelma, holding out her hand. “Would you like to have lunch with us?”

Henry did not wish to impose. He waited for permission from the adult.

“There’s plenty of food,” Thelma said. “Isn’t there, Aunt Kathy?”

Kathy smiled. “We have more than enough. Please join us.”

Henry accepted by sitting down. Thelma introduced everyone, explained that she was visiting her relatives in Marquette, then launched into her life story, which despite her short lifespan she described in enough detail that it could have rivaled War and Peace if written down. Beth sat quietly, too shy to say anything, but she adored the kind young man. Kathy emptied the picnic basket and spread out everything while Thelma continued to chatter.

“Henry, are you here by yourself?” asked Kathy, breaking in as Thelma paused before beginning to describe her life at age nine. Kathy was surprised the boy did not eat with his own family or friends.

“Yes, my pa is working for the Kaufmans over at Granot Loma. I usually work with him, but today there wasn’t much I could do, so he suggested I pick berries, and I’ll meet him when he’s ready to head home.”

“Oh, you’ve seen Granot Loma!” squealed Thelma, although less interested in Granot Loma than in gaining the boy’s attention. He was younger than her, but boys rarely spoke to her, so she was not choosy.

“Yes, it’s incredible. It’s so big, and it’s progressing beautifully.”

“What is your father doing there?” asked Kathy.

“He’s a carpenter, just like me,” Henry replied.

“You’re not old enough to work,” said Beth. “Don’t you go to school?”

“I did until this year, but from now on, I’m going to work with my Pa to help out the family. I have four younger brothers and sisters; the youngest one, Bill, is just two months old, so we need all the money we can get.”

Kathy smiled. She believed in the importance of education, but Henry seemed intelligent from his manner and speech, and a boy who helped his family was often of better character than one who received honors at school. It was unfortunate he knew tough times at his young age, but she suspected he might persevere all the more because of it.

“You look familiar,” she said. “Who are your parents?”

“My pa is Will Whitman, and my ma is Margaret. She was a Dalrymple.”

“I used to know Jacob Whitman and his wife Agnes. Are you related to them?”

“They were my grandparents.”

Then the names clicked in Kathy’s head. So this was Will’s son—Jacob and Agnes’s grandson. She had not seen Will in years—would not recognize him if she did see him. He must be middle-aged now, although she could only picture him as the little boy she had once gone sledding with. That meant, if Will were Henry’s father, then Sylvia Cumming was Henry’s aunt. Well, she mustn’t hold that against him.

“I remember your father when he was just a baby,” said Kathy. “When I was a girl, my mother was good friends with your family, especially with your grandma, and I think your great-grandparents. When your Grandpa Whitman moved the family out to his farm, though, we didn’t see much of them after that.”

“My pa did grow up on a farm,” Henry said. “But I never knew my grandparents; they died before I was born.”

“Mine and Beth’s grandparents are dead too,” said Thelma. “Grandpa and Grandma Bergmann I mean. We never knew our grandpa, but our grandma only died a few years ago.”

“Tell us more about Granot Loma,” said Kathy. She did not want to talk more about Henry’s family; his connection to the Cummings reminded her that Sylvia’s sons had come home from the war while Frank had been killed in France.

“Is Granot Loma as grand as everyone says?” asked Thelma. “It sounds like a castle in the wilderness.”

“Sort of is, like a castle masquerading as a log cabin,” laughed Henry.

He launched into a description of the Kaufman family’s magnificent mansion on the shore of Lake Superior. Intended as a summer home, it far outrivaled any cabin in the great North Woods, even those at the exclusive Huron Mountain Club. The Kaufmans had named the cabin for their children by using the first two letters of each of their children’s names to spell out Granot Loma. The famous architect, Marshall Fox, had been hired with several assisting architects to design the monstrous getaway. The main sitting room alone was to be a tremendous eighty feet long, forty feet wide, and thirty-six feet high. Henry did not know all the details, but he remembered those dimensions because they were so unfathomable. His parents’ entire house could fit into that one room. Stonemasons, plumbers, electricians, all were working constantly, yet completion of the building, already begun a year earlier, was estimated to take another five years. Rumor said the Kaufmans would build several smaller yet ornate cabins in the surrounding woods, one for each of their children, locally known as the “million dollar babies”.

“I just can’t imagine anything so grand in Upper Michigan,” said Thelma, jealous that despite her father’s own lumberjack prosperity, he would never be able to afford anything a quarter so splendid.

“Oh, great homes have been built here before,” said Kathy. “You’re all too young to remember the Longyear mansion, but it was a marvel in its day.”

“My pa told me about that,” said Henry. “He and my Grandpa Dalrymple were among those hired to take it apart.”

“It must have been quite a job,” said Kathy. “It was so enormous it filled an entire city block, and when the Longyears decided to move, the whole house was taken apart and shipped out East on railway cars.”

“My ma,” said Henry, “went inside it one day when my grandpa was working there. She got lost in it, it was that big.”

“It must be grand to be so rich,” said Thelma, although she had far more than most young ladies.

“Well,” said Kathy, “let’s have our cake and then get back to berry picking. I spied a good patch just before lunch, and I don’t want anyone to snatch it up.”

When the cake was gone, Henry thanked Kathy and the girls for their hospitality, then said, “I better get back to work. I promised to bring my ma back enough berries for two pies, and I want to bring some home for my grandparents too.”

“We’re glad you could join us,” Thelma said. She was sorry he was leaving; he was a cute boy; she wondered what chance she had to see him again.

Beth was more forward than her cousin. “Henry,” she asked, “can I go pick berries with you?”

“No, Beth, you stay with me,” said Kathy, not wanting to impose on the young man’s kindness.

“But Henry might know where the best berries are,” Beth said.

“She can come with me if she wants to,” said Henry. “I won’t mind.”

“I’m afraid she’ll be a trouble to you,” said Kathy.

“Oh, no,” he replied.

Kathy suspected he was only being kind, but she gave in. “All right, if you’re sure. Beth, you mind your manners, and be back in a couple hours so I don’t have to go looking for you and then miss the train.”

“Yes, Mama,” said Beth, clutching her berry pail, then disappearing with Henry.

Thelma looked after them, wishing she could go along, but she dared not ask—she knew she was no longer a cute little girl who could get away with joining a handsome boy. She stayed behind to help her aunt clean up the picnic.

“Don’t you want to go with them, Thelma?” asked her aunt.

“No, it wouldn’t be fair to leave you alone, aunt,” she said. She was embarrassed that her aunt should ask. She wanted to pick berries with Henry, but having Beth along would just spoil it anyway.

Kathy was pleased such polite young people existed as Henry and her niece, who was always attentive to her. It made her hopeful for the future. The war had not destroyed everything, not when such a beautiful day existed for berry picking, and when grand homes like Granot Loma were being built right here in Upper Michigan. She could not imagine having enough wealth to build such a home. But she was here to collect berries, not dollars, and if she wanted to make those pies, she had better get back to work.

Two berry picking hours later, Henry returned Beth to her mother. Then after saying goodbye, he started for the main road to meet his father and get a ride home.

“He’s so nice,” said Thelma, already starving for another look at the cute boy.

“Yes, the Whitmans were always good people,” said Kathy, thinking the Cummings did not count since they did not share the same name. Kathy thought Agnes would be pleased to know she had such a fine grandson. She wished Agnes could hear how beautifully Thelma played the piano. Agnes had taught Kathy to play and Kathy had first interested Thelma in the piano, and now Thelma was quite an accomplished pianist. Kathy wished Agnes knew how her influence lived on, although more than thirty years had passed since her death.

As they were stepping onto the train, Kathy’s thoughts were interrupted by Mrs. Quigley, whom Kathy knew from church.

“It’s a wonderful blueberry crop this year, isn’t it?” Mrs. Quigley said.

“Yes, I can’t get over how big the berries are,” Kathy replied.

“Listen to this,” said Mrs. Quigley. “I got me a cousin in Chicago, born there, lived there all her life. She called me up on the phone this mornin’ and when I told her I was goin’ to go pick blueberries, she asked whether I was bringin’ a ladder with me. ‘For what?’ I asked. ‘So you can reach them on the trees,’ she said. I said, ‘Blueberries don’t grow on trees, they grow on bushes.’ ‘Oh, I thought they was fruit,’ she says, ‘like oranges and apples.’ ‘They are,’ I says, ‘but lots of fruit grows on bushes.’ And then she got kinda mad at me and said ‘Well how was I to know?’ She ain’t never seen a blueberry bush in her life—only seen blueberries at the grocer’s. Can you imagine that?”

“How stupid she must be?” laughed Beth.

“Beth, we don’t use that word,” said Kathy.

“I’m not sure that she’s stupid,” said Mrs. Quigley, “but it goes to show you that livin’ in the city distorts a person. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere there wasn’t all these woods and open country as we have around here.”

“Chicago must be horrible!” said Thelma.

“Well, some must like it,” Mrs. Quigley replied, “else they wouldn’t live there.”

“People only live there to make money,” said Kathy. “But they don’t realize how little money is worth it. I wouldn’t live there for a million dollars.”

“Me neither,” said Beth.

“Well, I’ve been to Chicago a couple times,” said Mrs. Quigley, “and it’s a dirty, noisy place. It’s nothing compared to the fresh air and clean water we have here. And it’s too crowded, not quiet like here where you can at least hear yourself think.”

“That’s true,” Kathy nodded as the train started to chug down the track, leaving the blueberry meadows far behind.

“Looks like you all made out well,” said Mrs. Quigley. “Must be nice to have helpers. Couldn’t get any of my family to come out. My husband just wants to lay around the house. I’ve three big boys, but do you think I could get one of them to come? Not that they’ll argue when it comes time to eat the blueberry pie and muffins. But I shouldn’t complain. It was a nice quiet day for me. A woman needs a break now and then, especially when she lives with all men. Nice to be out in the woods like this.”

Kathy smiled in agreement. She felt her spirit refreshed by these beautiful dark woods.

Everyone on the train felt content. Bending down all day to pick berries was hard work, but everyone had a full bucket to make blueberry muffins, blueberry pie, blueberry pancakes, blueberry cookies, blueberry jam, blueberries on cereal and blueberries on ice cream. For the especially brave, there would be blueberry soup, that looked like paint and tasted worse, but even these people had to be admired for their blueberry passion. Yes, it had been a fine blueberry-picking day.

Will Bishop Baraga become Venerable?

January 27, 2012
Bishop Frederic Baraga

Bishop Frederic Baraga, circa 1860

This coming February 6th and 7th will be two of the most important days in the history of the Marquette Diocese. For years, efforts have been made to achieve the canonization of Bishop Frederic Baraga, affectionately known as “the Snowshoe Priest,” as a saint of the Catholic Church.

The Cause for Baraga’s sainthood, which the diocese has been supporting for more than half a century, may or may not make significant progress on February 7th. On that date, the Cardinal members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will hold a formal discussion of Bishop Baraga’s heroic virtue, conduct a vote, and make their recommendation to the Holy Father regarding whether Bishop Baraga truly exhibited heroic virtue in his life and is therefore worthy of the title of “Venerable.” If the vote is positive, public veneration of him may take place, and his earthly remains, now in the bishops’ tomb in St. Peter’s Cathedral will be moved to a more prominent location for veneration of the faithful.

Current bishop of the diocese, Alexander Sample, has designated February 6th as a day of prayer and penance for the success of this effort.

If Bishop Baraga does receive the title of Venerable, the next step toward canonization will be for him to be beatified and granted the title “Blessed.” Part of the requirement to achieve “Blessed” status is proof of a miracle, which can occur through the intercession of the prospective saint through the power of prayer. An alleged miracle has occurred and a formal diocesan investigation occurred in July 2010. The Church is currently waiting to have the miracle recognized by the Congregation for Causes of Saints. Once Baraga is beatified, the next step would finally be canonization.

While we await the Vatican’s decision, the people of Upper Michigan already know that Bishop Baraga was a man of God who served the Native Americans and early settlers of Upper Michigan for three decades, snowshoeing and walking across the entire Upper Peninsula, as well as Wisconsin, Northern Minnesota, and Lower Michigan. His impact and his memory will never be forgotten here.

Bishop Baraga’s strength, courage, endurance, humility, and love have always been an inspiration to me, so much that I could not resist in my novel Iron Pioneers to depict him and suggest that he may have been responsible for working a miracle, or rather, having God work a miracle through him. Following is a scene from Iron Pioneers: The Marquette Trilogy, Book One, which takes place when Molly attends Bishop Baraga’s funeral and thinks back to a meeting she had with the bishop:

Molly entered the somber cathedral, now completed and functioning for two years. She clutched Kathy to her, glad to be inside the warmth of the church lit by candles to dispel the gloom of the blizzard raging outside. She felt privileged to attend the saintly bishop’s funeral mass, and when she saw his coffin, she replayed in her mind the day of her miracle, the day she was convinced Baraga was a living saint. It had happened a few months earlier, not long after Kathy’s birth had relieved some of the pain of Fritz’s loss. Molly had found it hard to understand why God had taken Fritz from her, but He had sent her someone equally precious in her long awaited little girl. Then one cold autumn day, Kathy had contracted pneumonia, and Molly was terrified. That day was the worst in her relationship with God; she had never dared be angry with Him before. But even in her anger, she struggled to keep her faith and pray.

Iron Pioneers, The Marquette Trilogy: Book One by Tyler Tichelaar

“Lord, I don’t understand,” she had pleaded. “I pray and trust in You and the Blessed Virgin with all the faith I can muster, yet You keep sending hardship my way. I try to believe my sufferings are a sign of Your favor, and that You will make good on Your promise that the meek shall inherit the earth, yet after all these years of praying, there seems no end to my difficulties. I do not wish to complain, but please, dear God, do not take my little girl from me. I cannot bear her loss.”
That same evening Kathy’s pneumonia had turned into a dangerous fever. Although Molly could scarcely afford the expense, she had sent Karl for the doctor. Kathy’s fever raged for two seemingly endless days. Finally, the doctor had admitted Molly should send for the priest to give last rites. But Molly had adamantly refused; she would not give up hope. And then, the thought of the priest had made her think of the bishop. Ignoring the doctor’s protests, she had quickly bundled Kathy up in a blanket, then run through an October rainstorm to the church rectory.
When the housekeeper opened the door, Molly demanded to see the bishop; the housekeeper replied he was in a meeting with the Ursuline nuns who had recently started a Catholic school in Marquette; could Molly possibly return in the afternoon?
“No, I can’t. It might be too late then,” Molly had cried.
“I cannot disturb His Excellency,” said the overly dutiful housekeeper.
“Please. My little girl is so sick with a fever. I need the bishop to pray over her. I can’t bear to lose her. Only he can save her. You don’t understand. My husband is dead, and I waited so many years for this child. I’ll never have another. Please.”
Molly sobbed as she spoke, and the housekeeper had pitied her, but she also feared Molly’s cries would disturb the bishop.
But His Excellency had heard the disturbance and stepped out to the doorway.
“What’s the matter?” he had asked, although he need not have; he clearly saw a wretched mother clutching the child she loved better than herself.
“Your Excellency, I tried to tell her to come back later,” the housekeeper had apologized, but the Lord’s servant calmly dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
“Molly, your little girl is ill,” Bishop Baraga had said. Molly had never spoken to His Excellency before, save a few times when he gave her communion at Mass. She had not realized he knew her name. Overcome with fear, she heard herself babbling in desperation.
“Yes. Oh please. She has a fever. The doctor said I should have a priest give last rites, but I can’t. I can’t bear to lose her. Please, if you pray over her, maybe—”
The words had scarcely left her mouth before Baraga had taken Kathy in his arms.
“The doctor has given up hope?”
“Yes, he’s attended her for two days and says he can do nothing. But I thought—if you prayed—God would hear your prayer and heal her.”
“You have great faith,” Baraga had said, placing his hand on Kathy’s forehead to feel it burn like hellfire. “Let us pray, Molly.”
She had bowed her head while Baraga whispered, “Lord God, we pray you to heal this child. Cure her sickness that she may grow up like her mother, a faithful servant who does Your will.”
He had then spoken several sentences in Latin. Molly had not understood the words, but she was comforted merely by his gentle voice, his kindness, and the sacred language.
“Now go home and care for her, but remember her soul is saved, and that is what matters most. God bless you.”
Molly had then felt a bit let down, even as the bishop placed the child back into her arms and made the sign of the cross over her. She had muttered, “Thank you” and turned to leave.
Then Kathy had let out a cry.
“She hasn’t cried in two days!” Molly had said as she felt Kathy’s forehead, now soaked with sweat. “The fever has broken! Thank you, Your Excellency.”
“Thank God, Molly. I have done nothing. He must have some great plan for her to heal her so rapidly. Perhaps someday she will be a loving mother like you and bring many servants to the Lord.”
Molly had scarcely heard these prophetic words; she had only had eyes then for her child.
“Thank you,” she had repeated.
“Go home now and keep her warm. Do you have medicine for her?”
“Yes, the doctor has helped with that.”
“Very good,” the bishop had replied and bowed to dismiss her.
She had rushed home to share the miraculous news with Karl. She found him seated with the doctor, both still surprised by her hasty, unexplained departure.
“The fever broke!” she told them.
“Impossible, so suddenly,” muttered the doctor, placing his hand on Kathy’s forehead. He found it cool and drenched with sweat. “Why, she’s breathing regularly now and the color is returning to her cheeks.”
“It’s a miracle,” Molly had said.
The doctor was not a Catholic, but an Episcopalian. More so, he considered himself a man of science. “Often it is at the most critical moment these fevers turn. Perhaps taking her out in the cold air made the sudden difference.”
“It was a miracle,” Molly repeated.
“It doesn’t matter so long as she is better,” smiled the doctor, collecting his bag. “I’ll stop by tomorrow to check on her again.”
It had been a miracle. Molly refused to believe otherwise. Now months later, she knelt in a pew waiting for Bishop Baraga’s funeral to begin. She wondered why God had not prolonged his servant’s life longer, that more souls might come to Him. Then Molly remembered the Bishop’s words that many might come to the faith through Kathy. Perhaps Bishop Baraga had served his purpose on earth and now was rewarded, and it was left to those, like her, whose lives he had touched to win souls for the Church.

Sledding on Ridge Street in January

January 12, 2012

As we experience another winter storm today, I thought I’d post another winter scene from The Marquette Trilogy. This scene takes place in Iron Pioneers January 1884 when Agnes Whitman takes her children sledding on Ridge Street. Enjoy!


            There was no absence of snow that January, and it was the best kind of snow—good for both sledding and snowshoeing. Agnes had already been out with the Marquette women’s snowshoeing club a few times that winter, but somehow she had always been too busy to go sledding with her girls. A fresh snow had fallen the night before, and the day being a surprisingly warm twenty-five degrees, the afternoon was perfect sledding weather. She had to take the children sledding at least once this winter since her son Will was three years old now, and he had never gone before; she had always felt him too little in past years. And she might not have another chance to take him because she was expecting her fourth child; if it were not that bundling up in winter clothes hid what her figure otherwise made apparent, she would not have gone outside at all, but her winter coat would allow her to remain active for another month. Of course, she and Will would have to settle for a safe, small hill, but that was better than an entire winter without a sledding trip.

A good half hour was spent getting everyone ready. Will was her only child who needed help putting on his winter clothes, but Mary and Sylvia insisted on their mother’s constant attention even for such little details as color coordinating their hats and scarves.

“We’re only going sledding girls, not to a party,” Agnes reminded.

“Yes, but you can never be too careful. A young lady must be prepared for every occasion,” Mary replied.

Agnes usually ignored such affected comments from her daughters. Mary was the worst while Sylvia only followed her older sister’s example. Agnes thought Sylvia would be more like herself if not so influenced by Mary, who sometimes reminded Agnes a lot of her own stepmother. She often wondered what kind of women her girls would be while she hoped Will would be as kind and handsome as his father.

“Are we all ready now?” Agnes asked, after helping Will put on his mittens.

“Yes, Mother,” Mary replied. “Hurry, I’m sweating in this warm coat.”

But they were delayed another minute. Kathy Bergmann chose that moment to appear on the doorstep with a fruitcake from her mother.

“Mama meant to bring it over before Christmas,” Kathy said, “but what with the funeral and everything, she didn’t have time.”

“I didn’t expect her to give me anything,” said Agnes, nonetheless touched to be remembered despite Molly’s recent troubles. Except for Montoni’s funeral, Agnes had rarely seen Molly lately. After Agnes’s father and stepmother had moved back East, the Montonis and Whitmans had lost touch with each other. But Agnes knew Molly looked on her as a daughter because her mother and Molly had once been best friends. Agnes had found it hard to visit Molly after she married Montoni because she remembered Molly as a happy young woman, despite poverty and her first husband’s ill health, and Molly’s sadness in recent years had unnerved her into keeping her distance. Now Agnes wished she had done more than just attend Montoni’s funeral and send a gift of money. She should have gone to visit, but Christmas and her pregnancy had kept her occupied. Agnes reminded herself that since her father had moved away, Molly was now the only one left in town who had known her mother well, and Agnes did not want to lose that connection; her memories of her mother were growing dim, and she had recently been surprised to realize she was now several years older than her mother had been when she died.

Agnes accepted the fruitcake, and feeling she should give something in return, offered, “Kathy, we were just about to go sledding. We would love to have you join us.”

Before Kathy could reply, Will grabbed her skirt and shouted, “Do come! Please, Kathy!”

Kathy laughed, and picking up Will, she gave him a big hug. She was sixteen now, and the maternal instinct was strong in her. She yearned for a baby, one as cute as Will, but first she needed a husband. Not even her mother’s second marriage had distorted her romantic notions; Montoni had been a bad man, but Kathy honored the memory of the father she had never known, and she idolized her brother. She even had a secret fondness for Ben, her brother’s attractive business partner; she hoped someday he would notice her. But if not, other men existed who might make good husbands and fathers; she was becoming obsessed with the desire to find one.

“Kathy is going to join us,” Agnes told her daughters as they continued to sweat in their winter clothes.

“Oh,” Mary said. Sylvia sighed. Both noted Kathy’s unfashionable coat.

Seeing that Agnes and Will wanted her to tag along, Kathy overlooked the girls’ lack of enthusiasm and agreed to join the party.

“I don’t think you’ll be warm enough,” Mary tried to dissuade her. “You’re not dressed for sledding.”

Kathy felt self-conscious then, and she hated that Mary, three years her junior, could make her feel that way. “I’ll be warm enough,” she replied.

“I have an extra scarf and some heavier mittens you can borrow,” Agnes said.

“No, I’m fine. I don’t mind the cold,” said Kathy, already regretting that she had agreed to join them.

“Let’s go!” Will screamed and wiggled until Kathy set him down. Then he grabbed her hand and tried to tug her toward the door.

“Girls, fetch your sleds out back. We’ll wait out front for you,” said Agnes.

A few minutes later, they had walked to the eastern end of Ridge Street, where the bluff sloped down toward the lake to make an excellent hill for sledding.

“That’s my grandparents’ house!” said Sylvia as they passed the Hennings’ former home.

“They don’t live there anymore,” Agnes replied.

“No,” said Mary, “they have an even bigger house in New York City because they’re rich!”

Mary looked at Kathy as she spoke, but Kathy ignored the ostentatious child.

“Our grandparents always send us expensive Christmas presents,” Mary said. “This year Sylvia and me each got a dress made in Paris.”

“Sylvia and I,” said Agnes.

“Mary,” Sylvia said, “Kathy has probably never owned a store bought dress, much less one from Paris. I think her mother makes all her clothes.”

“Girls, that’s enough,” Agnes said.

“How will she ever find a husband without a decent dress?” Mary asked.

“Maybe I don’t need a husband,” said Kathy, denying her dearest longing.

“That’s good ’cause rich men don’t like poor girls,” Sylvia replied.

“I’m not poor,” said Kathy, “and even if I were, didn’t a prince marry Cinderella?” Despite this bold retaliation, Kathy was unnerved by the girls voicing her fears.

“Yeah, but Cinderella was at least beautiful,” said Mary.

“Girls, that’s enough,” Agnes repeated. “Do you want to go back home instead of going sledding?”

“No!” cried Will. “Be good. Don’t be bad,” he implored his sisters.

“Apologize to Kathy,” said Agnes.

Each girl muttered, “I’m sorry.” Kathy tried graciously to accept their apologies, but she felt this much-needed festive excursion was spoiled.

They had now reached the top of the sledding hill.

“Girls,” said Agnes, “why don’t the three of you ride down on the big sled, and Will and I will use the small one.”

Mary gave her mother a funny expression, making it clear she did not want Kathy on her sled, but when Agnes glared back, Mary said nothing. Kathy saw the facial exchange and again wished she had not come, but she would not embarrass Mrs. Whitman by acknowledging her daughters’ rude behavior.

“No. Me and Kathy ride,” said Will, unknowingly solving the problem.

“Kathy, do you mind going with Will?” asked Agnes.

“No, Will and I can have a good time by ourselves.”

Mary and Sylvia, relieved of Kathy’s company, climbed onto their sled, ready to go downhill.

“Thank you, Kathy,” said Agnes, feeling more tired than usual from the walk to the hill. “I’m feeling a little worn out so I’ll wait until later. You go without me.”

“I don’t mind,” Kathy assured her.

Agnes stood at the top of the hill. She watched her girls, then Will and Kathy sail down the snow-covered street. She had looked forward to this outing, but her obstinate girls now made her thankful for a moment alone. She looked out at the lake, slowly freezing over as winter progressed. January was her favorite time of year because the snow completely covered the earth; December even in this northern land occasionally could be without snow, and Christmas was so much trouble—although in the end the children’s pleasure made it worthwhile. But January was a month without the bother of holidays, a month that allowed a good long rest, a month to enjoy the snow before it piled up in February and March and seemed as if it would never end. January was the slow return of longer days, the month when each night a minute or two more daylight remained before you closed the curtains, a minute or two that reflected the promise of spring’s inevitable return. Agnes found pleasure in these little things, in marking the rhythm and progression of the seasons; she never complained about the weather, but marveled over the daily variety as one season changed into another, accumulating into a lifetime of natural wonders.

The children were climbing back up the hill, but Agnes still had a couple minutes before they would reach her. She continued to look out at the half frozen, silent lake, so serene this afternoon; a flood of warm sunlight made its iced surface sparkle like diamonds. Some days that massive lake roared like a bellowing monster; some days it was cruel, as when it had taken Caleb and Madeleine. But the lake was a constant in Agnes’s life, something that never failed to revive her spirits when all else came and went. The lake was always there, almost like a family member, someone to quarrel with one day, but ultimately, even if begrudgingly, to love as a familiar extension of herself, its very water flowing inside her. The lake was a part of her as was the snow, the trees, and these hills she loved so well.

She felt an especial fondness for this particular spot with its distinct view of the lake. She vividly remembered one summer day when she and her mother had stood on this hill to collect lady’s slippers—they had filled a whole basket with the delicate flowers, and all the while, she remembered that in the distance, through the trees—trees that were now mostly gone and replaced with large prosperous homes—she had been able to see the lake; back then there had been no grand houses, no real streets, just a small collection of wooden buildings nearly hidden along the shore of Lake Superior. At that time, she had known few children to play with, so she had named many of the trees, pretending they were her friends as much as any little boy or girl in the village. In later years, her father had frequently told her how her mother had loved this land—she wondered whether her mother had also thought of the land as a friend, a real person, a very part of her soul. Agnes loved her hometown, but she liked to remember more what it had looked like nearly thirty years ago when she was a small girl. Everything had changed since that distant spring day when she had come here to pick flowers with her mother, yet for a moment she could forget it was winter and that she stood in the middle of a fashionable neighborhood; for a moment, she could imagine it was spring in the forest and her mother was with her, listening to her childish prattle.

“Mama! Mama! We went fast! Did you see, Mama?”

She awoke from the past and turned to her son.

“Was it fun, Will?” she asked as he ran up to her, his chubby cheeks glowing red from the cold.

“I wanna go again!” he screeched with delight.

“You don’t have to take him if you don’t want to,” Agnes told Kathy.

“I don’t mind,” Kathy said.

“Just don’t scare him by going too fast,” Agnes replied.

She watched Kathy and Will go downhill again. Then Mary and Sylvia arrived at the top for their next trip down.

Agnes perched herself on a low snowbank, simply content to exist in this beautiful place where her mother had once watched her as she now watched her children.

When Will came back, he wanted her to ride with him, so she and Kathy started taking turns going downhill until Will’s little legs became exhausted from climbing back up. Agnes hoped that meant he would take a nap when they got home. Finally, she and Kathy sat on a hard crunchy snowbank while Will curled up in his mother’s lap and fell asleep. She wrapped him in her scarf to keep him warm. She considered taking him home, but the afternoon sun was causing icicles to drip off nearby houses, so she thought it warm enough to let the girls sled down the hill a few more times. Since Kathy waited with her, Agnes asked after Molly.

“Mama’s fine,” said Kathy, not wanting to confess how her mother had moped since the funeral.

“She must miss your stepfather?”

“I imagine so, but she doesn’t really mention it.”

“Do you think she’ll marry again?”

“Not at her age,” said Kathy.

“She isn’t that old is she? Maybe fifty?”

“She’ll be fifty-four this year.”

“That’s not so old,” said Agnes.

“Two husbands were enough for her, especially considering what the last one was like.”

Kathy regretted the words as soon as they were spoken, not wanting to shame her family.

“I always suspected she wasn’t happy with your stepfather,” Agnes replied, “but I remember your own father was a kind man.”

“Yes, but he was always so sick Mama had to work to support us.”

“Your mother did that out of love. It’s worth it for a kind man.”

“Is your husband kind?” Kathy asked. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I want to know these things for when I get married someday.”

“Yes, Jacob’s a good man. He loves me and the children, and he works hard to give us more than we need. Even when he doesn’t say so, I know he loves us by his deeds.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get married,” Kathy said.

“You will when the time is right.”

“No, I don’t think I want to,” she lied to deny her fear of being a spinster.

“You will when the right man comes along,” said Agnes.

“No, no man will ever notice me,” she said, thinking of how Ben ignored her. “I guess I’m not pretty enough.”

“Of course you are.”

“And I’m not rich or fashionable, just like Mary and Sylvia said.”

“Mary and Sylvia are just silly young girls, and I apologize for their rudeness. I don’t know where they get it from—not my side of the family,” said Agnes. “But Kathy, in another year you’ll be a blooming beauty. I was much more plain than you at sixteen, yet Jacob took an interest in me.”

“I’ll be seventeen in April.”

“Then love could come anytime,” said Agnes. “Just be patient. You don’t want to rush it. Love comes at different times for everyone, but the wait is worth it when it does come.”

Kathy thought it easy for Agnes to say such things when she had a husband and did not have to spend every day wondering whether she were destined for spinsterhood.

“We better move a little, or we’ll freeze sitting here,” said Agnes, trying to stand up without waking Will. “The girls are almost back up the hill now.”

“We can lay Will in the sled to pull him home,” said Kathy.

“That’s a good idea. I’m glad you came, Kathy. It was the perfect day for an excursion. I hope your mother doesn’t mind that you didn’t come home sooner.”

“Oh no, she won’t be worried,” said Kathy. “Thank you for inviting me.” She did not add that she had not enjoyed herself.

“Hurry girls! We’re freezing!” Agnes called to her daughters still a hundred feet down the hill. Then she took another gaze at the lake as the sun began to set. “Kathy, look at how beautiful the lake is with the sky all pink and reflecting on the ice. Even with the snow and cold, how could anyone want to live anywhere else?”

“Yes, it is pretty,” said Kathy, but she was too worried about her future to appreciate the present moment’s glory.

Agnes asked Kathy to come home for a cup of hot chocolate, but Kathy excused herself to turn down Front Street and walk south to her mother’s house. She said she should get home before dark, but truthfully, she did not want to be around Mary and Sylvia any longer. She liked Agnes, but she had not found her comments on love very reassuring. She was terribly lonely, yet she preferred to be alone with her yearnings than to feel a lack of connection while speaking to others. She wanted to be needed, especially by a man, but everyone she knew already seemed to have a full life and not need her. Except for her mother, whose need scared her.


To find out more about Iron Pioneers, visit

The End of the Blizzard

January 5, 2012

After we finally had our first winter storm this week, I thought I would post one of my favorite passages from my novel Superior Heritage. This scene takes place after a blizzard keeps John and Chad Vandelaare, in their early teens, home from school for the day. The boys go out into the storm as it is dying down with their dog named Dickens.

From Superior Heritage:

Being cooped up in the house all day made John and Chad anxious to explore the newly created landscape left by the blowing wind and drifting snow. Ellen was hesitant to let them go outside, but after supper, when the visibility had increased until individual snowflakes could be distinguished as they fell, she finally consented. It would not be dark for another hour, so the boys had plenty of time to trudge over the snowbanks and burn off their excess energy.

John and Chad put on their long johns and flannel shirts, then their snow pants and jackets. They wrapped scarves around their necks, pulled hats down over their ears, and slipped on boots and mittens. Before they went out the door, they were already starting to sweat from wearing so many layers, but they would be well protected once outside. John suggested Dickens should join them since he must be equally tired of staying inside. During the day Dickens had only made quick bathroom trips into the driveway, just a few feet from the garage door, but now he could wander free until he complained of cold feet.

Soon the boys and Dickens were outside. They quickly discovered the wind was still strong, so seeking protection, they set Dickens up on the high snowbank, then climbed up themselves. They trudged on top of the snow, at times six feet above the buried grass, until they reached the shelter of the neighboring woods. They found a giant pine tree whose lowest branches, usually eight feet above the ground, were now heavily weighed down with snow, until they curved down three feet to touch the top of the frozen banks. The boys were forced to bend down to enter beneath the tree whose branches were too high for them to reach on summer days. Beneath the tree’s bent limbs, they felt sheltered in their own little lodge house. A small depression around the tree formed snow walls to provide further insulation from the bitter chill wind, while leaving room for John, Chad, and Dickens to sit and watch the dying storm. Exhausted from the heavy trudge into the woods, the boys and Dickens were content to listen to the storm’s fury. The dazzling whiteness of everything was breathtaking—snow was clustered against the brown and gray tree trunks, turning them into giant white poles, while tree branches had glazed over with frozen ice and snow that perched precariously until the morning sun would come to melt it away.

Neither brother was eloquent enough to express his awe over the beauty of the scene, but neither could fail to notice it. Now free from the stifling, still air inside the house, the boys gratefully opened their mouths and breathed in the fresh coolness, enjoying the pleasure of it biting down their throats. They pulled off their gloves to coil their fingers into fists, then replaced their gloves with their fingers curled together to ward off the numbness a short while longer. They took turns petting Dickens with their fisted gloves, while Dickens huddled against them to stay warm.

Serenity filled the moment, yet in this serenity was an exhilaration surpassing yesterday’s anticipation of the storm. As the wind slowly died down with less frequent gusts, the boys felt proud to have survived the storm. Nature’s fury had left behind three feet of snow, broken tree branches, enormous snow drifts, hundreds of hours of snow removal work, and downed power lines, but it had also revived the courage of its witnesses; they were survivors like their pioneer ancestors who had fought similar storms a century before when snowblowers and electricity had not been imagined; the pioneers’ survivor spirit had resurrected itself, making the Vandelaare boys respectful admirers of Nature’s sublime power.

John’s spirits had been especially stirred by the wind, now no longer a screeching banshee voice wreaking havoc, but a simple whisper carrying the last twinkling fall of snowflakes that resembled confetti more than ice bullets. John recalled the Bible story of God’s appearance to the prophet Elijah. There had been a wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God had not been in any of them. God had been found in a gentle whisper. Now John felt he understood that passage. The wind had subsided to a whisper, a promise of peace and renewal as the snow cleansed the earth to create a new landscape. John felt a deepened sense of contentment, as if he had learned a secret about Nature’s incredible power, yet sheltered beneath the pine tree, he felt he would always be safe in the northern wilderness, no matter how fierce the blizzards might blow.

“We better go in,” Chad broke into his brother’s thoughts. “Mom’ll be worried if we’re not in by dark.”

“Yeah,” John reluctantly agreed, “Dickens looks cold.”

The boys and their dog trudged back out of the woods. Where before the storm had caused a blinding greyness, now a tiny pink streak in the Western sky promised a fine day tomorrow.

Ellen had seen her sons heading toward the house, so she had water boiling on the stove for hot chocolate when they came inside. She told them to change their clothes before they thawed out and were wet. Then, with the storm all but forgotten, the family sat down to drink hot chocolate and play Monopoly until bedtime.

But in later years, when John would live in a far away city where fierce Northern winters were unknown, the memory of that storm would come back to him. A strong wind would recall the powerful snowfilled gusts of his childhood, and he would imagine himself once more at home, hearing the wind wailing down the chimney, or sitting beneath a pine tree’s branches to watch Nature’s sublime fury. Then he would realize how impressionable he had been to his native land’s natural rhythms where he had formed a bond with the wind, the trees, the snow, Lake Superior, and the seemingly neverending Hiawatha forest that encompassed his childhood world. Wherever he went, John was branded with the knowledge that he belonged to this place; whatever majestic sights he saw, the serenity of a snowfall surpassed them all.

For more information about Superior Heritage: The Marquette Trilogy, Book Three, visit