Friday, June 22, 2007


For the past three days our travels have taken us to the northernmost part of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. We spent the time at our uncle's summer home near the tiny Emmet County community of Bliss. Bliss is where my maternal grandmother and grandfather lived and are buried, where my father is buried, and where in my youth I spent every summer. It has become the most evocative place on earth for me, somewhere I cannot go without remembering the past with tears and reflecting on my life and what it all means. I stand on the pavement of Valley Road-- it was a dirt road forty years ago when I was twelve-- still feel the same cool breezes off Lake Michigan a couple miles West, and here so little has changed. The air is still fresh and clean. The skies are deep blue and crystal clear. Consumerism and technology have not scarred the land or people too much yet. I think: "Here is one place in America I could someday live."

Yesterday, I took the kids to "downtown Bliss." One store, one old schoolhouse and the cemetery. I visited the store, reveled in the wood floor boards and cramped feeling, and chatted with the storekeeper. She knew our grandparents and remembered our family. We wondered together where time had gone, and why they stopped making Frostie root beer, the best root beer in the history of the world.

So this morning we left Bliss, and headed south to meet up with my side of the family. As we drove down Valley Road, I wanted to make sure the kids experienced "Ticklebelly Hill," a dip in the road so severe that when traversed at sufficient velocity, one can experience temporary zero-G. It was a "must event" when I was a kid, and we always begged whoever was driving to floor it. As the hill approached, I made sure I had reached the appropriate speed. We braced for weightlessness and the sensation of our bellies being tickled.

Not much happened. It was a sensory and an existential dissappointment. Ticklebelly Hill was nothing more that a barely notable bump. In paving the road, the highway guys graded the tickle right out of the hill. I was sad because in the place of memories it meant a memory not available for reliving. So something has changed over the years in Bliss, and like in Liberia and everywhere, progress came with a price. It was sad, but ok. The sky was blue as ever, the air as clean and crisp as it was forty years ago. Throughout our stay in North America we've been saying everything is the same, but everything is different. In Bliss, some things have changed, but nothing has.