Thursday, July 31, 2008

For the love of South Haven

I’d wanted a book signing in South Haven, because after all, my novel is partly set there. I figured folks there might like the connection. What I didn’t anticipate was the intensity of the connection.

When did I first go there—1988? The first time, I went because a friend invited me and some other girls to her aunt’s cottage. Why did I go back the following year? And the next? And some years twice? I don't know. Now, 20 years later, I still eagerly anticipate my South Haven pilgrimage and all its simple rituals, from walking (savoring hometown ice cream) down to the lighthouse to watch the sunset, to picking blueberries and peaches, and everything in between.

Each year I like to visit, at least mentally, places I have memories of. The road leading to the cottage I rented the summer a niece and nephew came up for the first half of the week and 11 friends came up for the second half? Hey, it’s still a dirt road. I love glancing at the blue stained glass window of our honeymoon room in a lovely B&B as I drive by. Oh, and here’s where we sat to watch the drawbridge go up. And there’s where the Tall Ships were the year we camped with friends at the KOA. Oh, and that picnic on the bluff above the beach was such a beautiful day. Certainly there have been changes to the town and some of its traditional sights. But the feeling of the town remains.

I have no words to describe that feeling. But I know I’m not alone in feeling it. At the book signing, people approached my table on the sidewalk outside the bookstore, sat down, leaned forward with an elbow on the table, and poured out their falling-in-love-with-South-Haven stories. One couple drove up once from Indianapolis and have spent 3 weeks a summer here ever since. One woman came once on a fluke, came back every year for 15 years, and finally bought a house here, where she commutes on weekends from Toledo.

The day of my book signing was a grand day. The rain was relentless. Streets and sidewalks were slick and shoppers soaked. Car tires sizzled by and flip-flops slapped against the sidewalk. Umbrellas of every color and design and shiny yellow ponchos bobbed along as people moseyed from shop to shop. Rain dripped from awnings, benches, and branches. Crystal droplets hung from Italian lights, which themselves looked like crystal droplets. The South Haven scene I saw from my little dry spot in front of the bookstore was wet, wet, wet—not exactly an ideal day in a beach and boating town. Yet people’s faces were all smiles, smiles, smiles. I guess any day is a good day to be in South Haven. Although I can’t explain this, I’m very glad to have heard the stories of others who share the feeling.

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