What I Did On My Summer Vacation

The highlight was the Polish Festival in Boyne Falls, which featured a beer tent at which was served only Budweiser, hot dogs that were labeled “kielbasa”, golabki covered in tomato soup, cold perogis, and, for music, not polka, but a band which played oldies from the 60s.

Northern Lower Michigan is filled with people of Polish extraction—my high school yearbook could have been produced in Warsaw—so it was hard to figure out what happened.

Luckily, for those wanting real Polish food, there is Legs Inn, a not-to-be-missed Polish restaurant, all the way at the tip of mitt of Michigan. There is nothing else nearby in Cross Village except for that restaurant and a small gas station.

That Legs Inn survives is easy to see once you taste the dishes. Genuine. And real beer! They even truck the waitresses in from Poland. A new crop arrives at the start of every summer. They stay in a bunkhouse next to the restaurant, serve food until Labor Day, and sail away back home.

My parents have a cabin in Gaylord, Michigan, the town in which I did the majority of my growing up. It turns out that Claude (Elwood!) Shannon, the founder of information theory, which is, as we all know, probability by another name, was born in this wee town.

I never knew this when I was a kid; I only discovered it after the town erected a bust of Shannon in a new park created on the footprint of an old building was torn down. It’s tucked away behind a chiropractor’s office, strangely perpendicular to the street and not facing it.

Rumor had it, too, that several scientists from the Manhattan Project took out a cabin at the south end of Otsego Lake. This cabin is on a hill which overlooks the state park. I lived about a few hundred yards away from the park.

When I was a boy, the cabin was overgrown with trees and weeds and open to the elements. Squirrels lived there. But there were, as I recall, old photographs on the floor of people who looked scientist like.

High school graduation was in 1982, and I don’t get back to Gaylord often. Each time I do, I peer into the faces of men and women who look about the same age as I am, trying to see if I recognize anybody. Sometimes I receive funny looks back, but that’s probably because I start staring first. I have yet to see anybody I knew from the old days.

Except in New York City, where once I was in a meeting deciding whether or not to have our company buy some software, when one of the sales reps remembered me from a biology class we shared. I have a shockingly poor memory and did not recall who he was.

There wasn’t just reminiscing: there was plenty of swimming in salt- and shark-free Lake Michigan. Water was just right. Clear, and containing the occasional, now hard-to-find Petoskey stones. Whenever anybody sees one of these fossils, they snap them up. Tourists—which we in the North call fudgies, i.e. southerners who come up searching for fudge, the shops of which are in every town—will pay actual money for Petoskey stones.

My next important vacation move was to do as little work as possible. In this, I succeeded beyond all measure. Hence, I am behind in everything.

I’ll start working on answering emails and comments to old posts later this afternoon. Thanks to everybody who read and wrote in.


  1. Ken

    When I was a kid we used to stop at Gaylord — the Call of the Wild Museum — on our way to the U.P. We used to vacation at Brevort Lake.

    I recall seeing Petosky stones pretty much lining the shore & out a ways…pretty much nothing but those things so its hard to grasp that they might be pretty much gone. They were great for skipping & I probably tossed a thousand of’m. Only kept a dozen or so to add to a turtle acquarium when I was a kid.

    Going home (outside Detroit a bit) I usually don’t see anyone from school…though once I bumped into a guy in San Francisco bay — on the shuttle boat from Alcatraz. Once I met a guy at a USAF school in Alabama & it turned out he went to a rival school, and, once I met a guy from the same Jr. High & High School in the lobby of a hotel in Majorca, Spain (its an island just off the coast, in the Mediterranean). Just a while ago, in Baltimore, MD, I got to talking to a guy on an escalator & it turned out his parents & my grandparents lived on the same street in Detroit….

    It must be a Michigan-Thing — to have an impromptu reunion with an old classmate (or near-classmate) or neighbor go somewhere else, the further away the better.

  2. DAV

    When I was growing up we had something called “kolbasi” which is quite different from the 7-11 hot dogs called “kielbasa” which used to be called “Polish Hot Dogs”. Maybe they aren’t Polish enough to be labeled such? I prefer warm perogies myself. I don’t noticed these little differences after a gallon or two of beer.

    it’s not just a Michigan thing. I’m originally from Pittsburgh and sometimes I feel the entire city moved when I did.

  3. DAV


    Your vacation essay promises a (maybe not-so-famous) writing career when you grow up. Now if we can just work on those book reports of yours …

  4. Claude Shannon AND Manhattan Project scientists in a small cabin in the woods? That’s gotta be a WWII novel waiting to be written!

  5. Now that you’re rested and fit we shall soon expect statistical miracles. Disappoint us at your peril.

  6. SteveBrooklineMA

    Hillshire Farm Polska Kielbasa… pretty good says I. There is really no excuse for serving hot dogs in lieu.

    I was wondering the other day, if I were to join my wife in her vegetarianism, what would I miss most? I have concluded it would be the humble sausage. You can keep your steak! I’ll take bratwurst, salami, summer sausage, pepperoni, keilbasa, etc. Even the Chicago-style frankfurter, with the works. Them’s good eating.

  7. Steve E


    Where I come from–Polish/Ukrainian heritage–we had kielbasa, kolbassa, and kolbasi, none of which could ever be mistaken for hot dogs. They weren’t links, they were coils and they were largely based on ham (big chunks of lean) with lots of garlic. They were an inch-and-a-half to two inches in diameter in natural casings and were amazing cold, sublime when steamed. There are still local sausage shops around me in Toronto and Hamilton (Canada) that make it commercially for regional customers. You would eat it sliced in rounds because it was too big to put on a bun–besides physics says increase the surface area and increase the flavour.

    I agree with your comment to Ken. I grew up in a small town (village) of less than a thousand that has since amalgamated and grown into the centre of city of over 600,000. In my case nobody believes that I “came” from there since so few people did, so just try and find someone you grew up with. 🙂


  8. bob

    Those Petoskey stones look like good stuff. Wonder if I can get one of those Petoskey turtles between the plastic flamingo and deer in the front yard?

  9. dearieme

    Back in the autumn I was in my home town briefly – family funeral. I’d forgotten how bright the light is by the seaside; magnificent mountain views across the firth and, the surprise, a very decent Italian restaurant. Since I left school I have lived for fewer consecutive weeks “at home” than in England, Australia, NZ and even the USA. On the other hand, one of my cousins settled in France and became a Frenchman. Of the cousinage who scattered around the world, everyone else is back in the country, except one in Arizona and one in South Africa. We didn’t have Poles when I was growing up; we had a few children who’d been sired by the Free Norwegian forces during the war, and some “Ukes”. The Norwegians had been well liked, unlike the Quebecois troops stationed nearby – when those buggers got into a fight at a dance, they didn’t “fight fair” but stabbed; that was not at all comme il faut in rural Scotland.

  10. Adrienne Snavely

    This is why attending your high school reunions is so important. You can see how people age, what they do, where they live now and you don’t have to guess.

  11. Briggs


    I think my high school burned the records during the period in which I was in residence.

  12. Lady Jane Perdue

    Small world. We’re in an even smaller world across from Cross Village, namely Beaver Island, until winter floats us down-lake to Traverse City.
    Here on the beach we relish your excellent articles & share them far & wide.

  13. Briggs

    Lady Jane,

    Love Beaver Island!

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