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My Encounters as a Michigan Lighthouse Keeper-Pt 2

by Colleen Kilpatrick

In Part 2 of a three-part series, guest writer, Colleen Kilpatrick. shares some of her experiences as a volunteer lighthouse keeper at Little Sable Lighthouse in Mears, Michigan. (Read Part 1)

Dream Come True

When I first saw the elderly woman, she was standing near the entrance of the lighthouse with her three grown daughters.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the top with us, Mom?”, they asked. She shook her head with a smile and said, “I’m sure. You go ahead and I’ll wave at you from down here.”
 
After her daughters disappeared into the lighthouse, she made her way over to a framed image near the entrance. It was the lighthouse in its heyday, before the oil lamp had been replaced by electricity and the keepers quarters had been torn down.
 
Every now and then, I thought I saw her wipe a tear from her eye. A fellow volunteer saw it, too, and asked if she was ok. She assured him she was, then asked if he would share the history of the lighthouse with her. In so doing, her own history unfolded.
 
She was 84 years old. For 45 of those years she had travelled from Illinois to West Michigan with her husband so he could hunt. On every one of those trips she had asked him if they could visit a lighthouse. Each time his answer was the same: “No. We're not here to visit lighthouses. We’re here to hunt.” But the pull of the lighthouses never waned.
 
Today, her husband lives in a nursing home, his memory of his wife and hunting trips and lighthouses erased by dementia.
 
As her 84th birthday approached, her three daughters asked their Mom to create a list of the places she had always wanted to visit, but never could. Right at the top of her list: lighthouses.
 
A 3-week Mother/Daughter road-trip was planned to include a stop at every destination and lighthouse on their Mom’s list. And on her 84th birthday, our paths all crossed at the lighthouse.
 
When the daughters returned from their lighthouse climb, and before the 4 of them headed down the road to their next stop, we - volunteers, visitors, daughters and anybody within earshot - broke out into a lively round of “Happy Birthday” to celebrate this woman's life and her lifelong dream come true.
 
 
Lost Bride

On Friday afternoon the beach below the lighthouse was alive with activity as preparations were made for a romantic sunset wedding. Unfortunately, the bride and her maids got lost on the way to the lighthouse leaving the poor groom more time to anxiously ponder his pending nuptials while the groomsmen got drunk and the ring bearer rolled in the sand. A motley looking bridal party they turned out to be. Good fodder for my entry in the Lighthouse Keeper's Log that evening. 

 
Old Soul

A little 5-year old boy showed up at the top of the lighthouse with his Grandmother. He was beyond excited to be there and asked an endless stream of questions about the lens and the light, the distance and the height. Then he turned to me and said, "Do you know about the Edmund Fitzgerald?" I said, "I do" and began singing the song penned by Gordon Lightfoot to commemorate the tragic sinking of that ore-hauling vessel. He joined in and sang right along with me. Knew the lyrics. When we stopped singing he told me all about that maritime disaster. The date, The location. The cargo. The crew. Every key detail, he knew. 5 Years old. His Grandmother said, "We have no idea how he knows all that and why he's so fascinated by that event."

Makes you wonder...

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When she’s not playing the role of consultant/speaker/blogger, Colleen Kilpatrick is enjoying one of her many and varied interests, all the while collecting stories that remind us of our shared humanity and inspire us to live with gusto. A resident of Livonia then, and Milford now, Colleen confesses to leaving the state for 10 years to travel the world and experience life in a handful of other more southerly states. But, in time, the lure of the Great Lakes State pulled her back. 
 
Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series. Read Part 1 or Read Part 3
 
Photo Credits: Colleen Kilpatrick--used with permission

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