Color a Memory

I have a faded picture of myself (stuck in an old photo album) on a Mackinac Island ferry.

Megan SwoyerI have a faded picture of myself (stuck in an old photo album) on a Mackinac Island ferry. My little straw handbag, cut-offs, and pastel pink-blue-and-white-striped top were likely carefully selected and laid out the night before. 

When I look at that smiling 15-year-old girl, I feel summer — splashy water, vacation fun, and carefree bike rides. I was about to embark on a journey to a very special Upper Peninsula place where a bounty of water encircles you, history is everywhere, magical gardens enchant, and horse-drawn rides are the mode of transportation (no cars allowed). There are also photos of my younger brothers and my mom enjoying views of Fort Mackinac, carriage rides, and climbs to the island’s renowned Arch Rock. Lots of pool shots, too, taken at a Mackinaw City motel. As I turn the album’s pages, I hear my mom pulling into the motel, asking, “Does it have a pool?” We never stayed overnight on the island, and I always wondered what it would be like. 

My husband and I made sure to keep that Mackinac tradition alive in the next generation. Summer vacations on the island with our boys were filled with joy. Scenes pop into my mind like vibrant Fourth of July fireworks. When they were really young, they’d ride around the island in bike trailers that my husband would haul and, as they grew, they’d climb cannons, march with toy rifles and three-corner hats pretending to be Mackinac soldiers, beg for another slice of fudge, and plead for more time in the hot tub at Mission Point. Of course, we’d have to stop at the trinket shops just as I did as a kid.

As our sons grew older, they’d bring friends to the island. Their grins on the ferry were in anticipation of long bike rides, skipping stones, T-shirt shops, and watching sunsets from behind the Inn at Stonecliffe. We often had no idea what our sons and their friends were doing or where they were — nor did we worry at this safe oasis.

As 20-somethings, they’d join us with or without friends, and toast with us at my husband’s favorite bars  — the Jockey Club or The Pink Pony — or they’d meet up at the Ice House, tucked behind The Island House, or the Watercolor Cafe for a picnic lunch.

Decades later, photos of me on the ferry show the same smile. It’s that grin that signals the joys of summer will soon welcome me with island breezes, drinks enjoyed waterside, and slow walks along the shore.

I recently met Lori Weitzner, a renowned fabric/wallcovering designer and author of the book “Ode to Color.”  As a presenter at the Michigan Design Center in Troy, she shared with me how color is also scents and music.  

As we compiled this issue, I thought about Weitzner’s color theory. Mackinac Island is the perfect example of how those three elements can meld together as well as caramel and salt churned into dark-chocolate fudge. Mackinac’s palette is aswirl with Cerulean blues, earthy greens, chocolate browns, brilliant pinks, geranium reds, shades of lilac, and creamy sands. There are also the colors of history — crisp clapboard white, snappy yellows, Colonial greens, toasty sepias. The palette also includes the faded tints that still hint at the girl on the ferry in her striped T-shirt and denim shorts. These colors evoke scents — lemonade, the Great Lakes, horses, chocolate. They’re the music of our summer. Notes of sunshine and splashing water; welcome repeats (yes, we have our favorite fudge shop!); a chorus of bending, bowing, bright flowers at every turn; and hushed pauses between these sounds when we slide into an Adirondack chair and watch a silent freighter slip across the Straits of Mackinac. 

Dazzling or discreet, tranquil or thunderous (that cannon!), it’s all music to my ears. 

As the worn photos in my album become more tattered over time, the colors are just a hint of what they were. But through those muted colors, I remember that girl on the ferry and the details of the day. I can’t wait to board the island-bound ferry once again this July.

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