(Author’s Note: Having attended a moving Service of Remembrance following my mother’s death on June 4, 2014 at Hospice at Home in Saint Joseph, Michigan, I am more mindful of Mom than I was before I went. It was good to cry and laugh with others who lost loved ones that year. And it will be good for me now, on the second anniversary of her death, to share this remembrance I wrote about Mom the Michigander for the Herald-Palladium two summers ago. Enjoy. Cry. Laugh. Remember. Always.)
When we moved my mother—the irrepressible Hannah McKelvy—to be near us at Woodland Terrace in Bridgman on October 30, 2010, we told her she was going to love living in Michigan.
Having spent her childhood in her native suburban Philadelphia and most of her adulthood in Chicago, Mom said she was ready to try a little tri-state living, and she recalled from the trips up to our Boy Scout camp near Whitehall/Montague that the so-called “West Coast of Michigan” is simply the most scenic stretch on the blue planet.
In fact, when I asked Mom a month before the move if she would like to live in Michigan with us, she said without hesitation: “Sure.”
And Miz Hannah, as she became known at Woodland Terrace, was surely in love with the Great Lakes State from the moment she established residency here until the day she died here, June 4, 2014.
In fact, Mom celebrated her 93rd birthday on May 29, 2014 by taking the family on a culinary and back roads tour of Berrien County.
She loved to take her three children on drives out to the forest preserves outside Chicago on Sundays after church, so we were ever so happy to return the favor and take Mom on motor tours of the most beautiful county in the greatest state in the Union: Berrien County, Michigan.
Mom loved watching the farmers work their fields and orchards, and, in no time flat, she was telling family members from Chicago: “Now those are soybeans, and they’re growing wheat there this year, and this isn’t going to be a good year for apples because—“
Well, you get the picture.
You take one sophisticated lady who grew up in suburban Philadelphia and raised her family on the south side of Chicago and plop her down in rural Michigan and you get one true-and-blue Michigander complete with watch and clock immediate turned to “Michigan Time.”
It got so that Mom wouldn’t bother changing her watch back to “Chicago Time” when we went to see the family over there on the other side of the pond.
And when we went to hear and see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, she would proudly tell her friends there: “Oh, we have wonderful music like this in Michigan too.”
Meaning, that Mom was totally at home at the Howard Performing Arts Center on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, and she loved nothing better than enjoying a Second Sunday concert in the garden at Fernwood in Niles in the summer.
Some people can’t handle the crowds on the 4th of July in Saint Joseph, but Mom loved having me wheel her down from upper Saint Joseph to lower Saint Joseph to thoroughly enjoy the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra in full holiday mode followed by what she considered to be “THE most fabulous fireworks display anywhere.”
And we’re talking about a lady who literally sailed the seven seas, set foot on six of the seven continents, and took yours truly on a cruise from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in Mother Russia in 2007. Mom was a worldly world-traveler, and for her to say that Southwest Michigan was really something was, well, really something.
Mom even liked going to the doctor here, and she loved her local doctors. When friends back in Chicago wondered why she didn’t keep her Chicago doctors, she told them the quality of healthcare here was as good as it gets. She was a model patient, and she fully expected a treat afterward at Panera Bakery out there near all her doctors’ offices.
Mom was all about Michigan wines and Tabor Hill Winery and Restaurant, and she worried when the weather was not conducive to good viniculture.
And, as we toured the back roads of Berrien County, she always commented on how neat and tidy the homes and farms were. Mom was a stickler for order and cleanliness, so she was thrilled that we had brought her to what she saw to be the tidiest county in all of Mid-America.
Having spent her childhood summers at the Jersey Shore on the Atlantic Ocean, Mom was a lover of really, really big water, and she thought our perspective on Lake Michigan was just perfect. In fact, she absolutely insisted on Tuesday evenings after we had dinner at her beloved D’Agostino’s Navajo Lounge in Bridgman that we take a drive down to Weko Beach and watch the sunset. “It doesn’t get prettier than this,” she would say.
And I would say that my mother’s golden years were polished to perfection by her closing chapter as a true Michigander.