Growing Up in a Water-Winter Wonderland

by Kelly Flynn

Though I was born and raised in Michigan, I did not see most of my home state’s tourist attractions until I was in my 30s. Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes, even the Mackinac Bridge — which my dad helped build in the summer of 1957 — were places other kids went.

I grew up on one of Michigan’s 11,000 inland lakes where, according to my parents, every day was vacation. So while other families packed up the travel trailer and headed north, we just — stayed home.

In 1969, when my family moved to Lake Fenton, it was not the busy, high-end neighborhood it is now. Then, mostly modest, unassuming boats traversed Lake Fenton’s 845 acres, and there were still pockets of vacant shore. It was a water-winter wonderland.

Kelly Flynn at her home on Lake Fenton, near the public access, circa 1971. (Homemade surfboard floats near the dock.)

Kelly Flynn at her home on Lake Fenton, near the public access, circa 1971. (Homemade surfboard floats near the dock.)

Our house, like most, was once a small summer cottage. Homely and plain, finished with an odd assortment of paneling and mismatched molding, it was completely without insulation.

The house wasn’t much, but we didn’t care. We lived for the lake. Summers we swam every day, all day if we could, begging our mothers for five more minutes as they took turns watching over us. Hours of swim lessons culminated in Basic Water Rescue and we swam from the Fenton Township Beach to Case’s Island, escorted by the marine patrol.

We were on water skis by age 10, slalom soon after, and by 16 my boyfriend was skiing around the lake with me on his shoulders. My dad built a surfboard and pulled us behind the pontoon boat as we balanced on one foot. We learned to sail on Sunfish and competed in the Canusa Games on Butterflys. On Sunday mornings we watched colorful spinnakers unfurl like fancy bright dresses when the Lightnings turned south during the Lake Fenton Sailing Club races.

The lake was a marvelous, hands-on biology class. We found thrillingly ugly, prehistoric-looking mud puppies, gathered clams and crayfish, caught bluegills off the dock, watched muskrats dip and dive around the seawall, and tossed handfuls of corn to a gaggle of geese.

Winter did not disappoint. We raced home after school, changed into our snow clothes and headed for our ice rink. When there was no snow we skated for miles, visiting friends on far shores. One windy day I nailed two boards together like a cross, tacked on an old plastic tablecloth, and convinced my dad to pull my sled upwind with the snowmobile, and let me sail home.

Kelly Flynn skating on Lake Fenton, circa 1972.

Kelly Flynn skating on Lake Fenton, circa 1972.

Water can be treacherous, and no one knows that better than the people who live on it? Holding tight to my dad’s waist as we raced across a just-frozen lake on our snowmobile one December, I watched water rise up over my boots until, suddenly, my dad was standing chest deep in water and lifting me onto the ice.

At the age of 12, I learned to drive on the frozen lake, tutored by a 14-year-old friend of the family. In her dad’s Opel Kadett I mastered a stick shift and learned to turn into the spin. My sister took a shortcut home from school every winter day her senior year, driving her titanic Delta 88 onto the lake where it came up to Torrey Road, and getting back on land at the public access near our house.

Winter nights we laid in bed and listened to the frozen lake creak and groan. Summer nights the tantalizing scent of water and fish and seaweed wafted through our open windows; the scent of home.

I live on Ponemah Lake now, five miles southwest of Lake Fenton. And, currently, most everyone I know yearns to go somewhere, anywhere to escape this arctic winter.

But not me. I’m going to go lace up my skates.

Kelly Flynn is the author of The Teachers’ Lounge (Uncensored): A Funny, Edgy, Poignant Look at Life in the Classroom.


6 thoughts on “Growing Up in a Water-Winter Wonderland

  1. What a great idea – your blog about Michigan. Michigan is such a diversified state with its wonderful lakes and forests, but also its industrial history. Kelly Flynn’s article was of particular interest to me.

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