Wednesday, August 24, 2011


The good citizens of Germfask put people in one of four classifications, not based on any socioeconomic parameters you understand, but according to their connectedness to the town.  They called the year-round residents “Originals.”  While at one time it meant a descendant of the original eight homesteaders, over time it became to mean anyone who had put down roots. Sharon and Arnie were good examples. They were certainly called “Originals” and they had moved up from Chicago only three years earlier.  They had no prior roots in Germfask but simply read a Realtor’s web page listing for the Liberty (which they officially renamed the Jolly Inn and Bar) and moved up and bought it. They wanted to get as far away from the streets of Chicago as they could.

The next, and smallest class, were the “Transients.” Greg Landis was one of those. These were people, often writers, artists and, sometimes criminals, who just wanted to come up and live in the woods for a while.  Some of the Transients, of course over time, evolved into Originals.

One odd group of Transients was the one that Sharon also called the “Hemingways.”  She could recognize them a mile away. They were typically men in their forties or fifties, wearing Filson clothing and speaking quietly. They also had beards. They had driven from LA, Houston, or New York City.  Their secret destination was to retrace Ernest Hemingway’s footsteps in his short story “Big Two-Hearted River.”  In that story, and in his real life, Hemingway got off the train in Seney, just north of Germfask and fly-fished for steelhead on the Two-Hearted River all the way up to Lake Superior.  The funny thing was that each of these “Hemingways” assumed that no one else in the world had thought of recreating the angler’s adventure. Sharon enjoyed bursting their bubble. The Transients would come through the big spring-loaded wooden doors of the Jolly Bar wearing the famous dark green waxed-cloth rain coats and Indiana Jones hat.  Sharon would look at them and smile, “Are you looking for the Two Hearted River?”  Almost without exception the men would blush.

The third, and largest group, were the Seasonals. These were made up of three major subgroups, the summer vacationers, the deer hunters and the snowmobilers.  Each of these groups came year after year, coming virtually the same week and usually stayed one or two weeks and then leaving on a Friday. But because they were repeaters they were like a De facto Original. Everyone knew their names, where their cabin was perched and where they hunted (or snowmobiled).  They were so regular that if they didn’t show up at their given time, Sharon would start to worry about them in the same way people in Angangueo, Mexico would worry if the monarch butterflies didn’t return one year. Sometimes she would call their homes down in Gaylord, Traverse City or Cleveland to see what was wrong.  Sometimes she did find that one had died, been killed, had a nervous breakdown or had run off with their lover since their previous visit.

The “Visitors” were the final class. These were simply people who had wandered off M-28, ten miles north or Highway 2, ten miles south, and came through town like the Apostolic Lutherans with the bonneted women and covey of children. However, most were simply the indecisive travelers who, like the rivers, couldn’t make of their mind which direction to go in or which one of the main two east-west corridors was the best to get them to Marquette.  They often bounced back and forth between them crisscrossing through these small and forgotten villages.

One Monday morning a visitor came through the door. He was an interesting-looking fellow. He was very tall and extremely slim. He didn’t just have a low body fat but his boney structure seemed unusually narrow for a man. Immediately Sharon thought about Abe Lincoln.  If you added and Abe-styled beard and about 20 years to the strangers face, they could have passed for brothers.  His skin was dark as were his eyes and hair, with an Italian or Eastern Mediterranean look.  He was dressed in fashionable blue jeans, dark tee shirt and silk blazer.   With his neatly trimmed, graying-in-the-temples hair, Sharon had the feeling that he was someone special, maybe a writer or from Hollywood.

The visitor was very polite with a warm smile. He ordered a cup of tea, hash brown potatoes and a large bowl of fruit.  As he ate he watched intensely as people entered and left and wrote on a yellow legal pad.  Sharon’s curiosity got the best of her, so she intentionally went over to the table next to the stranger and wiped it down (although she had just wiped it down thirty minutes before and no one had sat there since).

“So, are you just passing through?”

The stranger looked up with a big smile, “Oh, not really. I’m planning on staying for a while.”

“Really,” she said with a big smile as she put the rag down on the table.  “You do know that this is an Inn and we do have two rooms upstairs if you are looking for a bed.”

“Oh, thanks. That would be nice, but I do have a place out on the lake.”

“Which place might that be?”

“Do you know the lake well?”

“Pretty well, especially the western end.”

“Well, my place is easy to find. It is the most northern cabin on West Manistique Lake Road. Just take the Curtis Road, turn north on West Manistique and take it about nine miles to the very end.”

Sharon seems to ponder deeply.  “You’re on the part of the road that’s still dirt?”

“That’s right.”

“I haven’t been out there in a couple of months but I knew they were building a few more cabins on that end.”

“Yes, mine is the very last one.”

“Yours? So you purchased it?”

“I did.  It is brand new. I had it built.”

“So, are you going to be living out here for a while?  Oh, (Seeming to catch herself in a social blunder) I didn’t even introduce myself. I’m Sharon Saunders. My husband over there (pointing towards the kitchen) is Arnie and we own this joint.” She reached out her hand to the stranger.

“Oh, my name is Tom . . . uh Tom Hans.”  He stood up from his chair half-way and shook Sharon’s hand.

“Hans? Now that’s an interesting last name. I don’t think I’ve heard it before.”

Sharon noticed a very subtle accent with the man but she couldn’t put her finger on it.  It was like a soft hum that would come at the end of some words . . . but she hadn’t pick up the pattern yet.

She continued, “So where’re you from?”

He smiled, “I’m from a little country that you haven’t heard of.”

“Try me.  I know my geography pretty well.  I worked for Sprit, you know the phone company, in Chicago and I was always helping people call internationally.  Let me guess, Herzegovina? Kyrgyzstan?”

He chuckled but then said the oddest thing. “I wish I could tell you, and hopefully I can sometime, but for now I prefer to leave my country of origins as a private matter.” Then he smiled big.

Sharon smiled too and then returned to the kitchen.  Although she felt a big socially snubbed, she was obsessed with the mystery of the man.   She loved a good novel and this was as close as she could get to the real thing at least this side of Chicago.  Her brief offenses would drift into an obsession by the afternoon.  She just had to know the man’s business. Arnie was scrubbing the grill with a pumice stone. She looked at him and whispered, “That’s strange but that guy won’t even tell me where’s he’s from.”

“Maybe he thinks it’s none of your bees wax.”

“Well it isn’t but he said it in a strange way. He said that he wants to tell me where he is from and hopes he can later but couldn’t right now.”

“That means he is probably a sex offender running from the law.”

Sharon rolled her eyes, “And somehow he can tell us later?”

“Sure, or maybe you find out when he sexually offends you,” Arnie smiled, not being serious at all.

Sharon hit him in the head with her dirty rag.  Then she was startled when Mr. Hans cleared his throat standing at the cash register.  Her face blushed as she hoped that he had not overheard them.

“Oh, are you all done?”

“Yes mam I am. It was a great breakfast, one of the best I’ve had.”

“You should try our omelets, Arnie makes some dandy ones.”

“Hmm . . . I’m not much of an egg man.  I mean, I’ve never have eaten one and I’m not sure want to start now.  But the other things were great.”

“Never eaten an egg . . . are you serious?”

“I am, but that’s a long story.”  He hands her a twenty.

Sharon punches some keys on the register and hands him change.  “So, will we see you again?”

“Oh sure.”  Then he paused.  “Can I ask you some questions?”

Sharon’s eyes lit up, “Certainly. Anyway we can help a newbie to town.”

“Thanks. You see, I’m up here doing some research and writing.  I was wondering . . . where would be a good place to start?  Someone told me that the Inn was where a lot of the locals hang out.”

“Well, I thought you might be a writer.  Are you writing a book about Germfask?”

“No, I’m doing research about Americans in general.  I’m really interested in what they know about their creator.”

“Their what?”

“You know, the great creator?”

Sharon was puzzled by his terminology.  For the first time it dawned on her that the guy might just be nuts . . . or a psychopath.  Then, the way he used the term creator made her think that maybe he was Native American. She had heard Ojibwe’s talk like that.  “Do you mean God?”

“Yes . . . God.”

“Why would you come to Germfask to do research on God?”

“Why not?  It seemed like as good of place as any.”

Arnie is now mopping the kitchen floor and works his way in their direction so he can hear the conversation better.  Now even he has caught stranger-intrigue bug.

Sharon continues, “How can I help you do your research?  I’m not sure what you are asking for.”

“Who are the best people to talk to?  Who in Germfask knows the most about the creator?”

Sharon seemed to move off topic, “Any chance you are from Newberry?”

“Newberry?  Newberry where?  I don’t know what you mean?”

(Newberry, besides being the closes town of any size is was also home to the state mental hospital.  This stranger wouldn’t be the first escapee to come though the Joy Bar.)

Sharon shook her head, “I wasn’t sure. Never mind.”

“You see, I came in here today because someone told me that a group of clergy met here. I just thought that would be a great place to start.”

Sharon couldn’t help herself but laugh out loud. “Oh . . . you’re talking about the Posse! (using Arnie’s term instead of her own.)”

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