"Dimmick's Point was probably one of the most beautiful places I've ever lived and I don't think anyone who ever lived there realized that fact. I'm sure I did not and I don't remember anyone in our family ever wanting to return to Dimmick's Point because it was so beautiful there. It was beautiful and it's a shame really that myself and others who write or tell of any incident they have experienced in connection with Dimmick's Point will elaborate on the difficulties rather than its beauty." (My Point of View, by Glenn C. Furst, April 1992)
Those of us who have never had to struggle to survive in a difficult landscape may be forgiven for forgetting that an appreciation of nature is a leisure activity - not easily entered into under duress. My Point of View, by Glenn Furst is an old man's unromantic yet elegiac narrative about his memories as a boy on North Manitou Island. Glenn Furst's stepfather was the keeper of the North Manitou Lighthouse Station between the years 1918 - 1928, while Glenn was between the ages of 5 and 14. Although a love of the island and a tenderness of description infuses this narrative, there is no sentimentalizing, and no rose-colored lenses for viewing the past.
The last chapter is the hardest to read. Furst revisits the island in 1990, sixty-two years after leaving, and is overcome with memories too painful to share. The lighthouse has long ago washed away, and all trace of his earlier life is gone with it. He is unable to convey his clear childhood memories to his companions. He feels strangely unable to explain anything as all of the past seems to come rushing in on him - mother's clotheslines, the places where the kids used to play, the missing sidewalks, all gone now: "This was the little flat topped hill where I had watched my mother hang up clothes with tears on her cheeks because discussions on how her kids were going to get to school that year weren't coming out right. I was beginning to swallow quite frequently now and I was blinking my eyes to hold back the tears. I knew it was time to go. (p.112)"
Glenn Furst's writing is simple, sometimes rambling, but ultimately eloquent and unvarnished. He quotes his stepfather's sad dictum at the end: "The biggest mistake I ever made in my life was when I accepted the position of keeper of North Manitou Lighthouse Station." In his epilogue he gently apologizes to the reader who may have been disappointed to find out how unromantic the life of the lighthouse keeper was, and explains how closely intertwined the happy memories were with the "hurts, the fears and the tears."
There is a deep wisdom and sense of patience that infuses the story, and a clear feeling for the closeness of family. Humor is abundant in the retellings of some of the more earthy mishaps associated with smells of an earlier time. A cyclical feeling for the seasons and our dependence on them pervades the entire story; again, there is no romanticizing on this theme. Much of the young boy's life was spent near a stove, looking out the window at a frozen lake, waiting for better things to happen. There is also a sense of tension between the duties of husband and wife.
My favorite descriptive passage is of young Glenn's venture onto the newly frozen lake with his stepfather, and their viewing of a sunken ship in the clear, sunlit water below. This sort of small beauty stands out in the old man's memory, like a shining golden ring in a dark border ballad.
"As I remember all the activities that happened during a summer season at a light station in order to maintain the station's efficiency and to pass the strict inspections required, I am saddened. I am saddened because I realize that future generations will never know just how hard it was to maintain them. (p.67)"
Thanks to the efforts of this modest writer, I feel a clearer understanding of the actual day-to-day texture of a long-ago life on a remote island in Lake Michigan. As the saying goes, "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger." Certainly this is a touching story from a strong-spirited character.
|Mark Smith is a teacher at Leland Public School. Among other things, he edits and webmasters a journal of student and teacher writing, The Beechnut Review.|
Photo courtesy History of the Manitou Passage & Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.