By Steve Hawn
ESCANABA - White picket fence-check, big covered porch-check, view of the water-check, historic home on a quiet street-check, raising our two young daughters where my wife had a magical childhood-check. Lastly, I can't forget our two lovable golden retrievers especially because that was the only part of the equation we already had checked off the wish list as we sat on our deck last Labor Day 2012. The rest of the "checks" were what we dreamt of as we sipped our Saturday coffees from our West Bay home in Traverse City as dream time became reality with a single phone call.
Fast forward through a steady climb up the IT corporate ladder reaching CEO in 2009, beautiful house overlooking the aqua waters of Traverse City and two incredible daughters blessing and completing us as a family. Life seemed to be as perfect as anyone could ever pray for and for a while it was. Inevitably something began tugging at me inside and having grown up in an incredibly small family, the allure of having our girls getting to know all their cousins and extended family was extremely enticing. Adding to that was a chance to "reward" Granny and Papa the opportunity to watch their grands go to school in Escanaba where they joyfully saw three daughters graduate and then go on to NMU. The seed was planted in my mind and when the "dream" job started getting to the nightmare stage I knew the winds of change were blowing from south to north and a troll would soon begin the transformation to Yooper in training.
Steve Hawn had his eye on this home near Ludington Park even before he decided to move his family to Escanaba.
The phone call was straight out of a movie reminiscent of those scenes where a split second decision leads to life altering changes. Preceding the magic call was a very simple and short conversation on that sunny Saturday between my wife and I. As we had done many times before we were discussing the future and I casually asked why she'd never asked why her going back home was never a coffee subject. "I never thought you'd even consider it," Cammy replied. The moment of truth was upon me and my response was simply we're moving to Escanaba, get your folks on the phone.
"Listen to me, you can't tell them we are moving and not follow through with it." I knew this and was already planning my surprise as I freshened up my coffee and summoned our five and nine year old girls. I grabbed the phone and dialed the Escanaba house which went unanswered - not the type of news you leave on voicemail. Remembering they were out in Isabella we called the cell phone and got the distinctive Yooper "Hullloww."
Knowing we had visited many places in Florida that could end up being home I think they all feared the worst when I asked if they were sitting down. Granny and Papa were in fact sitting down along with a couple other relatives when the bomb was dropped. "We're moving to Escanaba over the holidays," I said.
Silence. Such silence that the familiar phrase, Can you hear me now was said more than once. Then an eruption of babbling set in and I distinctly remember yelling, "Stop...Everyone." The conversation was a blur but I think we all can remember Papa Ivan saying repetitively, "You better not be pulling another prank this time, this is serious business." Family in the UP is serous business and more than anything else was the main reason to make the move. Knowing we were truly planting the stake in the ground soon ushered in a feeling of indescribable joy for all in the family that was present, mainly for the best Grands in the world. When I've retold the tale hundreds of times the only adequate description I can use when trying to mimic Papas' voice is "Permagrin." The happiness that came through the speaker was unmistakable and hasn't stopped in the year since. While the Escanaba crew dreamt of holidays and nights of Disney instead of ESPN, Cammy and I were facing the enormous task of moving 5,000 square feet of memories.
Moving stinks and leaving friends and familiar hangouts isn't for the weak. The saving grace was the future and finding new friends and I figured maybe we should find a house too. My days in technology have made me pretty savvy on the Internet and even though I'd done some browsing we had no leads on a home. Having been a regular 4TH of July visitor for many years we've always made the trek three blocks away to Ludington Park for the fireworks which was very convenient for the most part.
However, when you're toting along 10 cousins under 10, chairs, coolers and other necessities it is quite adventurous. We had always sat in the same area near the soccer nets and many times we'd gazed enviously at the houses lining Lake Shore Drive thinking of comfortable chairs, ice cold beverages and of course, bathrooms not shared with thousands of other "unfortunate" souls. One house in particular always stood out and managed to be the backdrop for many family pictures - 710...and that mysterious and inviting green park bench.
Stalking isn't usually an enviable trait but in the case of 710 ownership and the history she held I think it was forgiven in the end. The home wasn't for sale when I found it online and luckily I snooped out an email address for the owner-who shockingly lived in Los Angeles. Not good, I thought while visions of a rich two week per year summer-home recluse flashed warning signs to look elsewhere.
Nothing ventured nothing gained has been a motto and reaching out would be a huge understatement so I emailed and pestered and persisted and finally had a conversation with "Mr. Big."
After many talks and mails we met the owner, toured the house and he knew he had us hooked. We could have been held for ransom in this situation but we found a very kind and likable seller who knew the home needed life full time and was willing to see that to fruition.
With the deal consummated the act of moving stared us smack in the face as winter was upon us soon so trucks were packed and trips were made over the course of October through early December, but how will Santa know we've moved?
The move-in date was to be around Jan. 3 so we had the holidays to contend with and we moved in with my in-laws around the 15th of December for a wild couple of weeks that saw many family gatherings and surprisingly, truces on Lions/Packers viewing. Santa got our letter and knew the tree and presents would be needed a little late and made sure that 710 was ready when we finally moved in. I pulled a big surprise and got us in a day earlier than expected so when the kids and family came over for fictitious hot chocolate and cookies Cammy, Aunt Joan, Uncle Mike (RIP) and I opened the front door yelling "Welcome Home!!"
The first place in the house that is toured when everybody Cammy went to school with is the patched hole in the wall next to the staircase. Back in the late 80's there was a high school party when the LeMire family owned this gem and this well known community pillar of today who was walking by, had apparently put his fist through the wall somehow.
Being the daughter of Escanaba's greatest drywaller, Cammy ran home returning with some tape and drywall mud and set about on repairing the crater. Somehow by the grace of God that patch lasted all this time and we are still searching for the perfect frame. Dozens of other reminders of Cammy's youth are evident in the house and one other is particularly fascinating.
In the first days of settling in our oldest daughter, Violet, had me look at something carved into the ornate woodwork at the stair landing. In very nice buck knife penmanship is a simple "Pat." You can bet the surprise on Pat LeMire's face was camera worthy when Cammy connected with him and said, "guess what I'm looking at?"
Moving into a home built in 1894 changes your tastes in decorating, especially coming from a 20 year old place in a progressive city. The address 710 is represented by many different eras ranging from the early 1900's to the 50's, 70's and early 80's. Slide-out toasters and wall-scales blend in seamlessly with turn of the century leaded glass windows, stunning stairs and tall ceilings and a surprisingly modern open floor plan.
The kids and their cousins and friends have spent countless hours in the "Harry Potter Room" under the stairs and have turned the third floor into different theme rooms that easily satisfy the mood of the hour.
As with many U.P. homes, the kitchen serves as the nerve center as days are planned and coffee is churned out in incredible amounts serving the many visitors we are blessed with. Spring was never more anticipated as we outfitted the 46 foot covered porch with seating for 16 and many times needed reinforcement seating from the giant basement.
Parties ranged from us four to over 100 for the 4TH of July and the fireworks from the sesquicentennial celebration which we happily lucked into when planning our big move. We've made a lifetime of memories in this blink of an eye and already celebrated many triumphs and grieved in sadness more than once. Thankfully though that is why we chose to move here so that we could be here to share in the good and comfort others in times of pain.
Many occasions were only shared via phone in the past and the angst you feel inside when not physically present haunt you and leave you empty inside.
As I finish this tale of our family's journey and our transformation from troll to Yooper in training, I am lounging on an early Sunday morning from camp in Isabella. I'm so thankful that I have a loving wife who believes in me as I chase my new venture trying to resurrect our company, SGT'S Recycling through some hard times, but that was part of the moving promise.
We could move to Escanaba and she's in charge of creating memories while I deal with the present and hopefully, build something for the future. My brother Dave who has been a lifelong Detroiter for 50 years seized my offer to leave and become another Yooper in training and now works with me at my recycling company.
We've accomplished a heck of a lot in our first year in the U.P. and feel quite settled and content but we still have many more goals to complete.
Did I mention my football coach brother-in-law Craig and sister-in-law Kelley and their three kids? They live in Texas and say they're never leaving the state for the U.P. except to visit. I recall a certain someone saying the exact same thing not too long ago. Let's just say we keep an eye on the classified jobs section because you know...they need coaches here Uncle Craig!