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The Green Grass of Home
by Don Wilhelm
For the first 16 years, give or take a few, life was as it should be. There was school with your friends, basketball practice, home for dinner with your parents, then out with the friends again. Then one day that word, again, took on a whole new meaning. Seemingly over night, someone had stolen all the fun out of living in Northern Michigan. The most overheard statement was, "Once again, there's nothing to do around here!" At this age, living in the North was less of a privilege to be enjoyed, and more of a sentence to be served. But, thankfully, graduation from high school ushered in a new sense of reprieve.

The long awaited move to college came at just the right time. My destination was Western Michigan University. I left town giddy, taking with me some advice an older cousin had given to me. He said, "Enjoy it while you can, because you can never go back." At the time these words stuck with me about as long as it takes Bill Gates to make $100. After all, a gigantic scholastic world of opportunity awaited me at Western, as well as the wonderfully unexplored city of Kalamazoo itself. Just think, a taco bell that was open until 4 a.m. Well, you can probably guess that coincided nicely with the abundant social functions that one could attend just about every night. Ok, let's be honest, EVERY night! So the rock star-like partying continued, as the years slipped away. Freshman... Sophomore... Junior... Senior... Miscellaneous... and finally, graduation. In spite of all the fun and frolic that was had in Kalamazoo, I couldn't wait to get out of this boring, little town. For the second time in my life I hated where I lived and knew it was time to move to a "real city." The new city had to be bigger and better. The choice was obvious, Detroit. I left tire patches as I squealed out of town racing towards "the real world." As I drove, I pondered my cousin's advice about never being able to go back. "Who would want to, I thought. I can still party with my friends, but now I'll have a real job with real money. It'll be great!" I assumed that I must have misunderstood what he meant.

Detroit, or its western suburbs to be more specific, for those who don't know, was one of the greatest places in the world to live. No joke! Anything you wanted to do was just 25 minutes away. Gambling in Windsor, Red Wing hockey at the Joe Louis Arena, Lion's football at the Silverdome, Piston's basketball at The Palace, and baseball with some team that played at the corner of Michigan and Trumble. For non-sports fans, there were operas and musicals at the Fox Theatre, comedic improv at Second City, and various outdoor concerts at Pine Knob. And don't even get me started on the great restaurants and hundreds of nightclubs that were available. Yep, at the time there was no question, Detroit had everything! But after 6 years, I started to wonder what "everything" really was. How many times could I go to the bars in Royal Oak? How often could I afford to pay $100 for one Red Wing ticket? How many times could I get caught in a traffic jam on 696? Another accident, another shooting, another break-in. These were all the Hyde parts of Detroit's Jeckyl. I often found myself wondering how long I could put up with all this. Day by day, I became more and more homesick. Then it hit me. The grass in Detroit was no greener than the grass in Kalamazoo, which was no greener than the grass that I grew up on in Petoskey. I realized what's important is quality of life, not quantity of activities available. And since quality of life was, and still is, synonymous to me with living up north, I promptly packed up and moved home.

As I drove up on I-75, for the first time in my life I really saw the immense beauty of the north. My time in the big city had removed the biased lenses that I saw the world through. And to my surprise, the North welcomed me back with no hard feelings. The lakes, the trees, the wildlife, and yes, even the Fudgies were a sight for my sore eyes. The air had a funny smell to it, or should I say a lack there of. Crisp and clean, it conjured up memories of nostalgia from my high school years. Once again I thought about my cousin's advice. Although it's true you can never go back in time, I know now, you can always go home.

Don Wilhelm currently owns Twinkle Teeth, Inc. in Empire. You can visit his website at, or reach him by email at

Copyright 1999 Manitou Publishing Co. & Don Wilhelm • All Rights Reserved.

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