Mackinac Memories: A Trip to Dance For

Today on our blog, Jolene Priest shares her family's experience while visiting Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island has always been a part of me. I grew up an hour away, visited Fort Mackinac on an eighth grade class trip (I have a photo of me in an 1880’s American solider uniform to prove it) and even worked there. So, in September of 2010, it was no wonder that, when I learned my father-in-law had never been to Mackinac Island, I needed—absolutely, unequivocally needed—to take my family there.

My parents-in-law drove up from Mt. Pleasant to our Cheboygan home the night before our visit. Early the next morning, my husband, three-year-old daughter, who only wanted to see the “horsies,” my parents-in-law, and I packed into our truck by 8:00 a.m. to catch an early ferry across the Straits of Mackinac to Mackinac Island.

Once there, and after we starred a while at all the “horsies,” we walked a short distance to the Mackinac Island Carriage Tour ticket booth and got our spots on a carriage. For the next hour and forty-five minutes, we enjoyed a carriage tour around the island to my daughter’s constant gibber-jabbering and the carriage tour driver’s amusing fast-facts about everything we saw.

During the tour, we stopped at Arch Rock, a beautiful limestone formation on the island’s east shoreline. It offers a majestic view of Lake Huron. I think the word “majestic” must have been conceptualized right here. During another stop, the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory, my daughter chased butterflies while we chased her.

Finally, the carriage tour stopped at our premier destination, the reason for our visit – Fort Mackinac, built 150-feet above the Straits of Mackinac during the American Revolution. Even in September, there was more to do than we had time. We checked out the Kids’ Quarters in the Officers’ Stone Quarters (Michigan’s oldest public building) filled with uniforms just my daughter’s size (recall my 8th grade memory), a giant, playable fife and a half-sized cannon with a pull-string for that original cannon blast sound. I may have played more than my daughter. The jury’s still out.

While my husband and parents-in-law explored other buildings (all original!), my daughter and I danced on the parade ground to live fife music and marched like—and with—the soldiers. When my daughter dances, I always find the courage to do it myself.  People may have gawked at me—in fact, I’m pretty sure they did.  I’m one of those who never really finds the rhythm, but it didn’t matter right then. There’s something about Mackinac that lets a person relax. And dance.

Lunch at the Tea Room Restaurant within Fort Mackinac was a special treat. We watched Great Lakes freighters slowly move through the Straits while we leaned against the white picket fence, cool September breezes bringing that scent of fresh water right to us. My father-in-law warned us not to stray too close to the edge of the bluff. We all have fears. Mine was missing the carriage that would take us back downtown.

So, as the time for the last carriage departure of the day neared, I stood guard at the Fort exit like the soldiers before me. My parents-in-law had decided to tour one last exhibit, the largest, “An Island Famous in These Regions,” in the Soldiers’ Barracks. As the carriage pulled up and I saw only a couple seats left open, I made a frantic cell phone call to my mother-in-law while pleading for the carriage tour driver to wait just a couple minutes longer. He did. They finally came rushing out, both wishing for an entire day at the Fort, and got on the carriage. They got the last two seats. But that was for the best because the walk back was like a dance. My husband, daughter and I held hands and took our final stroll down fort hill road to meet them back downtown. And, of course, to buy fudge.

Jolene Priest, her husband and their five-year-old daughter now live in Mt. Pleasant, not far from her parents-in-law. Priest is a marketing and communications specialist with the Department of Natural Resources in Lansing. Follow her on Twitter (@jolenepriest).