catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 3 :: 2013.02.01 — 2013.02.14



I’m Dutch as can be and the Grand River runs in my blood, but I wasn’t born here. I’m a transplant from Minnesota, via a few other places in between, though I can recall summers on the lakeshore and sticky July days at Hoffmaster State Park from long before my family moved here.  In a transient childhood, never more than four years in one country, West Michigan became my center of gravity.  Of Indiana, Arizona, Wisconsin — all the states we visited on the annual family road trip — I loved Michigan most.  The friends here felt like family, and I couldn’t imagine anything better than sprawling on the hot sand, the latest installment of Harry Potter in my small, grubby hands and the rhythmic rush of Lake Michigan waves slapping the beach.

Sometime after Grand Rapids gained official status as home, in high school, I think, after the longest stretch of geographic stability I’d ever experienced, I got restless. Our largely Netherlandic churched community seemed overly insulated. I resisted my parents’ bingo playing, the small degrees of separation between me and the parents of every new classmate, everyone I encountered at work. They were all former colleagues of my parents, or graduated from Calvin College the same year, or had once dated Great-Aunt Dorie’s oldest granddaughter. This could be considered my rebellious phase, relatively speaking. I daydreamed about the pretentious and storied schools of New England. I wanted to take the quickest route to the Atlantic, not stopping till I hit the shore.  I wanted Connecticut, Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Williams, Yale. I ended up at my parents’ alma mater, just under four miles from their house in the Grand Rapids ‘burbs.

To compensate for my reluctant decision to stay, I’ve tried to get out of the city some: a summer in Colorado, a month in Paris, a semester in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon.  The irony of leaving, though, is that one comes to appreciate coming home.  When you’re out in the world, people ask where you came from, and the word “Michigan” takes on peculiar significance. Away from the mitten state, I took delight in encounters with other Michiganders. I enjoyed talking about mutual loves: the lake, the cherry festival, the Manitou Islands, Sleeping Bear Dunes.  When friends from New York or San Francisco scoffed at the Midwest, I rose to its defense with unexpected fierceness.  We may not be quite so metropolitan, cosmopolitan cool as your big city; we may have only small mountains in the very northern reaches, and yes, Detroit is struggling some. But don’t dare belittle such a beautiful state.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, has become home again, in a new way since I moved out of my parents’ house to the college down the street, since I moved from the dorms to a neighborhood in the heart of the city, since I’ve hiked the Manitou National Forest and driven to Grand Haven State Park all by myself. I may not have been born here, but I am a Michigander through and through, because I know Grand Rapids like the back of my proverbial hand, I can tell you the best beaches on the western shore, and every year I drink apple cider from fruit grown at a place I can point to on my hand. And you may complain about the wintry weather, but I’ll slog through the snow with frozen hair and frigid fingers for each sweet spring in western Michigan. Maybe everyone in this town is related, but that just means we’re family, and this is our home.

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