WILTSE: You can’t go home again; nor do I want to

Recently, my kids threw a party for me to celebrate my 80th birthday.
Feb 27, 2014


They had some snapshots blown up to approximately 34-by-18 inches. There are six of them taken at various times in my life. I have since plastered them on my bedroom wall.

My favorite is a group picture of my siblings and cousins, 11 of us in all, which was taken at Higgins Lake when I was about 5 or 6. That means it was taken in about 1940. It’s my favorite because it was taken at the happiest time of my life.

During the period from about 1940 until 1946, my father took his vacation at the same time as his three brothers, always at Higgins Lake.

In 1945, life in the United States was of the highest quality that if ever has been. The war was over, soldiers were coming home, everyone had a good job and, most of all, the population was rather sparsely distributed.

Higgins Lake was sparsely occupied and there was plenty of wild shoreline. There were practically no speedboats on the lake because people simply didn’t own them.

The lake was pristine and clear. One could see fish on the bottom in 20 or more feet of water. 

I remember going fishing with my uncle on what we called The Cut, which is a trout stream between Houghton and Higgins lakes where one of them empties into the other. I don’t remember catching any fish, but I was impressed with the beauty of the stream itself. I was only about 11 or 12, but I was awestruck by the pristine quality of the stream itself.

I remember the drive up there from Saginaw. It was before expressways, of course, and we would meet a car every 10 minutes or so.

My dad stopped going to Higgins Lake in about 1946. I haven’t been back there since. I don’t think I want to go back for I’m sure it is nothing like I remember and I don’t want to see the changes.

I’m sure that the citizens of Higgins Lake are proud of their current community, but I don’t care to see the changes make in the 60 or more years since I have been there.

I read about people conducting campaigns to remove beer cans from various rivers and streams lately. I don’t think I would want to see what The Cut looks like now.

The same thing is happening here. The population is growing too fast. My wife will not travel on Beacon Boulevard except early on Sunday morning.

I avoid it, too, and take Ferry Street or Sheldon Road instead of Beacon. I’m not alone. Many of the locals take those streets when traveling north or south for various errands because Beacon is just too darn hectic.

It’s going to get much worse. The local politicians want to keep their boulevard, and it is nice and pretty, but I’m afraid they are going to lose their fight to keep it because the traffic is just going to be overwhelming. The bypass is going to do little to alleviate the situation.

I read in one of the e-magazines that the current generation of young adults (i.e., the children of the baby boomers) will not have as plush a life as their parents on the average. I hate to think what sort of life is in store for the current batch of infants.

I’m glad that I’m going to check out relatively soon because I don’t want to see what sort of life it will be in 50 or more years. Maybe something will be done about the traffic, but I doubt it and I don’t want to see it.

The problem isn’t only with traffic. California and the Southwest is having trouble finding enough water and no solution is apparent. This is going to affect the entire population since many of our foods are grown in California.

Saginaw, where I grew up, has also changed dramatically in the past 65 years — and not for the better, in my estimation. The old orchard where we used to play and build “forts” is now a massive church, the golf course where I learned to play bad golf is now a shopping center, and the woods where we used to hunt frogs is now obliterated and replaced with houses. Grabner’s dairy farm is now a Holiday Inn and a subdivision.

Ferrysburg, where I now live, is much like Saginaw was when I was a boy. I love it, but I hate to see what it will look like 65 years from now, and I’m glad that I certainly won’t.

I agree with Thomas Wolfe, who wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

— By Ralph Wiltse, Tribune community columnist


Former Grandhavenite

I was shocked to hear that ripping out the nice tree-lined median in the center of Beacon Blvd is under consideration. I could have seen them doing that twenty years ago as an alternative to the US-31 bypass, but now that the bypass is in the works it seems like it would make sense to wait until it opens and see how it impacts traffic through the middle of GH before ripping out the boulevard. I've got to believe a decent chunk of traffic on Beacon is longer distance through traffic running up and down the coast, and most of those folks will probably opt for the bypass.


Ruh Roh - The voice of reason. However, since Grand Haven has taken money from the Feds (through the State) they will have to dance to Piper's Tune.


Jeez Ralph ole buddy, sounds like you've already crawled into your pine box and are just waiting for someone to nail down the lid!

Kids today are generating memories of their childhoods, just like you did when you were a kid and although their's will be different than yours, when they're banging on death's door to be let in, they too will look back with fondness on the most impressionable period of their lives.

I grew up during the late 50's, early 60's and when my folks moved us from a city environment in the Kalamazoo area to a new home, out in the country, I was devastated, for about 3 months and then I discovered the joy of running over the fields, thru the woods and playing in the creeks with my faithful companion.

Those years from 8 to about 15 were the best times of my life. My parents were either very understanding of my new found love for the outdoors, or were hoping I would get eaten by wolves. Either way, I had a large amount of freedom to come and go and at the ripe old age of 10 I built myself a mini-cabin out in the field of our 20 acre plot and literally spent my summers out there, surrounded by cornfields and meadows, sleeping under the stars, hanging around the campfire while my companion slept at my feet.

The point to this "back in time" romantic interlude Ralph ole buddy, is that, to quote an old Jefferson Airplane song (from the 60's), "life is change, that's how it differs from the rocks". Even though you sound like it, you're not dead yet and you should be spending your remaining time making more memories, for those around you, if not for yourself, so that those left behind can remember you fondly, right up until the end.

Yes, You were lucky you got to experience what you did, when you did. I was lucky to experience what I did, when I did and my oldest daughter has recently shared with me some of her favorite times growing up, when we went camping up North as a family every summer. She too considers herself lucky to have had the experiences that she had.

I'm a good 20 years behind you on the age scale, but I hope I never get to the point where I'm afraid to drive down Beacon Blvd, or feel compelled to go out of my way to avoid simple tasks. When you stop making memories, you stop living and then it's just breathing.....You need to get up and get busy living the rest of your life, quit avoiding stuff and worrying about stuff you can't fix, or I'm going to come over there and nail down the top of that pine box myself!

Gimme a call if you have a change of heart and want to go up to Higgins and see how it looks in 2014. I'd be happy to drive ya and I'd love to hear about what things were like back then....and make a new memory for both of us. You could be the main character in my next photo essay.



What a great post and story. I need to remember your attitude; I'm 30 years behind you and already wish my son's childhood could be like mine was when I was growing up. Now I just wish my childhood could have been like yours!


Thanks for the kind words. I've been trying to find my way back to those fields and streams ever since I left home.
My dad told me before he died a couple years ago that he wished he'd spent more time out at the cabin with me instead of up at the house, (He'd come out once in awhile to check on us, make sure we were OK and then go back to the house). I wish he had too, but I'm grateful at least that he gave me the tools and the know how to build that cabin and many other things since then....

Maybe Ralph will shoot me an email and some fine day this spring we'll take a day trip up to Higgins lake for him to look around. I haven't been up that way in quite awhile myself. Could be a real good time. Sounds like Adele will have the coffee on if we can get him up there......

Adele W

Mr. Wiltse,

I live just a couple of miles from the Cut River and let me assure you that it is just as pristine and unspoiled as it was back in the 40s. The properties around the lake are more built up, but it calls many people back to its beauty. Marl Lake is still a non-motorized lake the Cut flows into, and it offers the tranquility many seek while fishing and canoeing. Please come back for a visit.


Thank you so much for your sincere and honest tthoughts on your loving respectful memories. It is obvious that you had a wonderful and loving childhood, filled with sincere respect and admiration for your parents, marriage, and christian values. That are sadly today being not only ignored but attacked, religious freedom and Western values such as hard work, determination, and being self-relient are no longer the norm. But replaced with an expectation of entitlements, and hate toward the very basic foundation of what made this nation "Under God" strong and independent.
These are the very values that the "Worlds Greatest Generation" believed in, and died for, these are the morals that gave us strength and the respect we so lack today. Today, once again we face a terrible threat to our freedom and values of a once great nation, for way to many Americans no longer honor the Heavenly Father. Many have lost faith and today believe more in big government and liberal selfishness then values that support respect, and rewards for success.
But punishment for those who are financially successful, or those who choose to follow and honor there religious beliefs. Religious freedom today is being threaten, and we have only ourself to blame. Is it no wonder that we dream of yesterday, is it no wonder that our childhood, or youger times of the Baby Boomer generation is so respected and ttreasured. I ffor one, as a proud Christian Baby Boomer, and Patriot, Veteran do wish that this nation would remember its own foundation, restoring its Faith in God, and not man. Thank you once again for a very heartful and sincere article, it is sad that today, these values are no longer treasured, or learned. May our Heavenly Father forgive us, for what we have done. God Bless.


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