A WORLD FULL OF LIGHTHOUSES

WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE LIGHTHOUSE

 

We have always lived in the lighthouse,

here my daddy was the lighthouse keeper,

And though times were tough

And we didn’t have any close by neighbors

There was always enough to eat,

For daddy was a fisherman too,

And could catch something for mama to fry

For dinner,

To go with cornbread muffins.

We had clams and shrimp and oysters,

And even lobster a-plenty

And even had seafood for breakfast.

It was daddy’s job to light the lanterns

At the top of the lighthouse,

Where the Fresnel lens reflected the lantern light,

And made it brighter and stronger,

Able to reach far out on the ocean

My daddy took this job seriously,

And we were a happy little family,

Living in the little house alongside

The lighthouse.

Until one day someone

From the coast guard came to visit daddy

And said they no longer would need

A lighthouse keeper,

Because the lighthouses were going electric.

We didn’t quite know what this meant, going electric,

But we understood that daddy no longer had a job,

Mama cried, and I cried, and baby brother cried too,

But baby didn’t know why, he just cried because

We were crying.

Daddy said now, mama, don’t you fret,

I’ll think of something–

But you know, times were bad

And jobs were hard to come by,

Eventually, mama took baby and me,

And we got on a bus that took us a long ways away,

To a farm in a town in Missouri,

Where my grammy and grandpa lived,

And where mama came from,

And sometimes said she never planned to go back to–

But here was plenty to eat and milk to drink from the cow,

So baby and I never went hungry,

But you know, they never

Had clams or shrimp or oysters or lobster,

Out here in Missouri,

Only beef and pork.

I never did learn if daddy

Had thought of something.

We never saw him again.

Sandra Lee Smith, 2009 poetry challenge

One year—in 1986 I believe, I accompanied my sister Becky and her husband Bill on a trip up the coast, where my sister and her husband Bill were going to spend a few days with their son, David, who was stationed near Vallejo, and his wife Kelly—along with their baby daughter Andrea. I planned to spend a day in San Francisco with friends of mine and then I planned to fly back to Los Angeles. What made this car trip especially memorable for Becky and myself was the discovery of lighthouses. There were two we couldn’t get close enough to visit (and took some photographs from a distance) and at that time we knew nothing about lighthouses.

But now we were curious and in our talks about lighthouses, we discovered we both were very interested in lighthouses and had no idea why.

I had begun to collect cookbooks many years before, and it was right about this time that I started a fledgling collection of cookie jars—I have to confess, it was a girlfriend named Neva who started this collection on my behalf; Neva went to Auburn, California, every year to visit mutual friends. Auburn is famous for its antique stores-I didn’t know just how famous until I visited Auburn myself years later but back then, Neva would give me a wonderful old cookie jar every Christmas. Well, that’s how that collection started.

What would be more perfect than some lighthouse cookie jars? I didn’t stop there – I began collecting many different lighthouses until I just didn’t have enough room for all of the collections—lighthouses, cookie jars, cookbooks, and recipe box– and then another collection of lighthouse ornaments so that now those have a little tree of their own.

The best of my small lighthouses are purchases I made from Danbury Mint when I was still working and could afford them–high quality little lighthouse reproductions and on display in my lighthouse cabinet, where Old Point Loma is prominently placed. (A word about my lighthouse cabinet—it was originally a gun cabinet that my son Kelly and daughter in law Keara had in their home; Keara kept rolls of Christmas wrap in that cabinet. When they were remodeling one year—long ago, when Bob was still alive and we were still living in Arleta—they asked us if we wanted it. Bob said YES! – eagerly, in fact. Well, he made glass shelves to go inside the cabinet and found these ropes of miniature lights that last for years. My lighthouse collection went inside. (when K&K saw the renovated gun cabinet, they ruefully asked if we would like to give it back. We said no, but I figured it would be theirs eventually. Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus in 2011—and I turned 76 in September.

More important (to me, at least) was finding books about lighthouses – and then the occasional twofer–a cookbook about lighthouses—generally, about one particular lighthouse and frequently, these finds are most often groups trying to raise money for the restoration of their lighthouse.

(I suspect that, were it not for these groups throughout the country volunteering their time to save our lighthouses, we might not have any of them today). There was an interesting article that I read some time ago—and now can’t remember where I read it—but the upshot of the article was about FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) who wanted all the lighthouses closed down to save money (remember, this was during the Depression). There was an uproar over this declaration of FDR’s but he still managed to have many—MANY of the things inside the lighthouses destroyed before a public uproar put an end to it. FDR was puzzled that so many people LIKED all those lighthouses.

Light house books fall into several different categories

There are books about lighthouses in the USA—frequently those in Michigan;

There are also books about lighthouses in Canada;

There are books about lighthouse families, including one about the WOMEN who kept the lights;

There are lighthouses that double as a cookbook (Often—but not always)—a fund raiser.

Perhaps I should start out with the historical history of lighthouses—ours as well as Canada’s. When I visited my girlfriend Sharon in Ontario, Canada, in 2009, the highlight of my visit was a trip we took to see Point Abino (sic) Lighthouse, a National Historic Sit on Lake Erie, Canada. We had to take a tram ride TO the lighthouse, as all the territory in and around Point Abino was privately owned. Sharon had to get tickets for our tram ride and it was a big surprise, a gift from her to me. The weather began to change when we were at the lighthouse which, I hasten to add, was in very poor condition. This was seven years ago and perhaps restoration has been underway or completed by now. Even in a dilapidated condition, Point Abino is one of my favorite lights. (Thank you, Sharon!)

MICHIGAN LIGHTHOUSES is a nice booklet, featuring 75 color pictures covering Michigan’s Most Scenic Lighthouses. Included are photographs and a short history of the lighthouses at Lake Michigan.

In 1999, my sister Barbara (aka Becky to the family) rented a car and with nothing more than a color map of the 99 lighthouses around Lake Michigan, and off  she and I went; we were like Where’s Waldo but in our case, “WHERE ARE ALL THE LIGHTHOUSES AROUND LAKE MICHIGAN”. We had no idea what we were doing—I didn’t even go to Triple A for information and I have been a member for decades. We decided to drive up the EAST coast of Lake Michigan, then go around the top of the lake, to continue down the WEST coast of Lake Michigan.

One of the first lighthouses we visited was the Mackinac lighthouse that is landlocked; the weather was drizzly that day so we opted not to go out to the Historical Mackinaw Island—At the time, I think we had it in our heads that we had plenty of time to make more than one trip to visit Lake Michigan’s lighthouses.

(I was so sure that we would make more than one trip around Lake Michigan that I gave my lighthouse photos to our Aunt Dolly to have for inspiration; she was, after all, a fantastic artist). We did find a wonderful homey type of restaurant there in Mackinac, where we both ordered a wonderful chicken pot pie.

Mackinaw City is the perfect vacation destination at the base of the Mackinac Bridge on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac, where the Great Lakes Huron and Michigan meet. There is something for everyone in Mackinaw: Mackinaw City is rich in history and four historic Michigan state parks preserve Mackinaw City’s heritage, while the natural beauty of Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island captivate your senses. Unique shops and restaurants can be found in downtown Mackinaw City to pique your interest and satisfy your appetite.

We eventually discovered that not all lighthouses are listed if they are privately owned. What was amusing to both of us was finding people, other tourists, at ALL of the lighthouses we found. It was raining when we found Point Betsie but that didn’t deter us or the other tourists; we walked around taking pictures and collecting some shells and interesting rocks. My sister collected rocks. Now I have taken up where she left off.

I think Mission Point was particularly interesting to Becky, where I took her picture. Built in 1870, it stands on the 45th parallel halfway between the Equator and the north pole at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula Grand Traverse County.

Several days later, when we reached Holland Michigan at the end of our trip around Lake Michigan, we drove around futilely trying to find the famous Big Red Lighthouse. We contacted our brother Jim who was living not very far from Holland, and said he would meet us at a local Frisch’s restaurant. He met us and we talked while eating breakfast. We told him of our lack of success finding Big Red. He didn’t think this was plausible so he asked our waiter if he knew how to find Big Red. “No, sorry,” said the waiter, “I haven’t lived here very long”. So, then Jim asked the cashier when he was paying our bill. “No”, she said, “sorry, I’m not very familiar with this area. By this time Becky and I were in stitches.

My brother, Jim, was SO miffed, “I am going to FIND THIS LIGHTHOUSE” he roared, and we all three drove around for a while—And then what do you know? There was Big Red with the pre-requisite assortment of tourists walking around and taking pictures. Jim couldn’t resist asking someone if they had a hard time finding Big Red.

“uh, no,” said one man “It was all in our Triple A travel guide”.

It was our intention to return to Michigan, maybe the following year, so we could explore the Upper Peninsula (we DID drive across the big long bridge to the upper peninsula, that made my sister very nervous. We located one lighthouse but I don’t remember which one that it was. Well, you know what is said about the best laid plans; we never made it back to the Upper Peninsula. The following year, my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. I took an early retirement from my job and spent the next four years going to and from Nashville, where my sister lived. She passed away in October, 2004.

What was behind our joint love of lighthouses? I don’t know. Maybe we lived in one in a previous life, together.

Years before, my significant other, Bob, and I drove up the California coast to visit the light house in Monterey Bay, and had a nice tour of this lighthouse that I have photographed extensively with black and white film. When we traveled farther north along the California coast in our old Chinook camper, we visited a wonderful lighthouse. Point Arena, far up the California coast, also very scenic.

It was very dark and damp when we reached Point Arena. We spent the night at a connecting camp ground and cooked our dinner on a propane stove, (salmon patties and macaroni & cheese, from a box) – but we ran out of propane before our dinner was fit to eat, but we ate it all anyway, al dente!

Forever after, whenever I made salmon patties and macaroni & cheese, Bob was sure to say “This is a good dinner but you know what your best dinner of salmon patties and macaroni & cheese was the one you made on the propane stove one night in August 1990, at Point Arena”

The lighthouses in my life haven’t been that many, but the ones I did visit have been memorable. Another was the lighthouse at old Point Loma, California, that my brother Jim and I were able to visit after I had taken the train down to San Diego and met up with my brother after he had attended a seminar. After the seminar, he checked out of the hotel where I met him and we headed for the lighthouse on an overcast morning.

We were enchanted with this old lighthouse that had survived earthquakes; I was really into photographer at this stage in my life and took a lot of pictures with black & white film. I photographed my brother from behind as he walked towards the lighthouse. I made 8×10 prints of this lighthouse and shared them with the family. What is perhaps a bit more noteworthy is that I submitted the photo to the Lighthouse Society and sometime later, discovered MY photograph had been printed in the Lighthouse Society’s quarterly magazine. I didn’t mind that they had done this – what I objected to was not being credited as the photographer.

I had to dig through dozens or hundreds of my negatives to prove to the Lighthouse Society was that I most assuredly was the photographer of this print and was able to prove it. Subsequently, the magazine credit me as the photographer. Not a big deal, you might think but it does matter for photographers or authors to receive proper credit.

Another memorable visit to a lighthouse occurred in 2003 when Bob and I flew to Ohio for my inlaws, Dee & Dick’s 50th wedding anniversary, which I photographed for them—then in a rented car, we drove up Ohio to visit my niece, Cindy (Dee & Dick’s only daughter), and from there drove across Ohio to visit my brother Bill, and his family, and then in a diagonal lined drove back to Cincinnati to spend the remainder of our visit with my nephew Russ & his family.

However, it was during our visit with Bill that he and Bob and I went to visit a lighthouse in Fairport Ohio, Fairport Harbor Lighthouse, built in 1871 to replace the 1825 structure. We climbed to the top of the lighthouse and each received a ribbon stating we had climbed to the top. Connected with the lighthouse is the Fairport Marine Museum; there is a cute little town that goes with their lighthouse all of which is just one of the lighthouses that Ohio boasts of having.

(it mortifies me to admit I did not know ANY of those Ohio lighthouses existed prior to this trip with my brother. I grew up living close to the Ohio River which, to the best of my memory, doesn’t lay claim to any lighthouses. Goes to show how much I didn’t know!)

One other lighthouse I have visited once or twice, was close to my Aunt Dolly’s and her daughter Diane’s homes in Port Orange. Florida. My cousin took me to visit this lighthouse, the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse. I have not returned there since my aunt passed away a few years ago.

On a trip to Oregon, my long-time penpal, Bev, and I visited three of the lighthouses on the West Coast; we saw Haceta Head in Florence, Oregon, then Yaquinta Bay in Newport, Oregon, and finally Yaquinta Head north of Newport. It was a two hour drive each way from where Bev and her husband live so that was it for one day.

For those who enjoy reading about the people who took care of our lighthouses, there is a book titled WOMEN WHO KEPT THE LIGHTS/An Illustrated History of Female Lighthouse Keepers published in 1993, and LIGHTHOUSE FAMILIES BY Cheryl Shelton Roberts & Bruce Roberts, published in 2006.

Another book in my collection is LIGHTS & LEGENDS. Focusing on Long Island Sound, Fishers Island South and Block Island Sound, by Harlan Hamilton, published in 1987.

I may owe my enchantment with lighthouses to the authors of CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN and RINGS ON THEIR TOES, written by two of the Galbraith dozen, who wrote about going to their lighthouse home during the summertime—it was a story that stayed with me throughout the years.

Now, living in California and not very far from the coast, I have been able to visit a lighthouse or two—or three. It’s an enchantment that stays with me, despite the rugged turmoil those inhabitants suffered with.

So many lighthouses, so little time!

–Sandra Lee Smith