Timeless Island

Washington Island is a little piece of heaven–packed full of memories. Kids have grown up, some have passed on. Each year I come back, I am older but the Island never changes and when I’m here, it has a way of feeling like we’re all together again.

Sam and me at the Ferry dock

Sam and me at the Ferry dock

On a clear blue day in June, my husband, Todd and I drove up from Milwaukee for a long weekend with my parents. We would be celebrating their 60th anniversary, and two birthdays–Mom’s and mine. After a three and a half hour drive you get on the Ferry. Sitting on the deck, the wind whips at your face and the waves either rock stress out of you or puts it into you, depending on the weather. In summers long gone, the old red Ford truck would be waiting with family greeters.

Gang hangin’

We had spent many summers on the waterfront having a great time with little more than a foldout camper, canoe, picnic table, port-a potty and make-shift shower. As my siblings, Ed, John, Joan and I got married and had kids of our own, additional tents would be set up at strategic points on the property, turning the landscape into a magical mansion of sorts.  Eventually, Dad designed a cabin for Mom.

Camper and the shell

Camper and the shell

Because of the shore-land and wetland setback laws on the Island, the build-able part of the land was a small area shaped like a triangle. Marsh was on one side and the lake on the other. Dad designed the house to fit into the land perfectly with open aired closed-in porches on two of the three corners and a deck across the front facing the water. By the time he was finishing the house, the lake had moved away about 50 yards. The area that had been beach was now sand, rock and wild grass. The water became harder and harder to get to from the house, particularly for my parents. The views were still beautiful but the lake just wasn’t quite as welcoming as it had once been.

Cabin complete

The cabin

We woke up on Saturday morning to perfect weather and sat on the deck drinking coffee.  The temperature was close to 80 but Dad sat with a sweatshirt and jacket on, shivering.  He had, had heart surgery two years before and his lungs had been weakened by the procedure. His doctor told him if he ever got pneumonia it would be over. When he couldn’t get up out of his chair, Todd transferred him to his desk chair, wheeled him inside and we convinced him to go with us to the hospital in Sturgeon Bay. The diagnosis was just that– pneumonia. He was there for days while we feared the worst but prayed for the best.

Dad checking out his pills

Dad checking out his pills

Dad’s pneumonia began to improve with antibiotics, he returned to the Island and everybody else had to get back to work. I stayed on, cooking and making sure he took the right pills at the right time. He had become unnervingly weak and I lived each day with the fear of losing him.

As Dad and I sat on the couch after dinner one evening, light danced across the living room, teasing for my attention. I looked out at the water and wasn’t sure if what I saw was a sunrise or a sunset. An enormous globe was edging its way up from the horizon, transforming in color and size from a fiery magenta to a big golden ball before finally becoming its bright white face staring down at us. “Moonrise,” Dad said, “that’s the moonrise.”  I had never seen one before. Most breathtaking, was the reflection created by the light on the water. Unlike the reflection of the sunrise which prances across the water’s surface, the moonrise creates a straight path from the shore to the sky, leading you to a place unknown.

I spent the next days on the beach resurrecting a path Dad had once made, hauling and laying rocks that lead from the top of the sandy beach to the edge of the rocky shore– reminding me of the moonrise. The path eventually covered all 50 yards of the rocky brush and filled in where the water had once been. By August, Dad was doing better and Mom had joined him back on the Island. They would walk up and down my path together. When the sun would set and the moon got ready to rise, they were often there at the water–side by side. I came home from work one night and Dad had left me a voicemail saying the path had connected them back to the water.

“We carried chairs down and sat at the water’s edge this evening.  We just love it!”



the path


You Gotta Have Faith

If I had waited until I had enough money in my life, I would not have gotten very far.  I call it the Red Sea rule. You have to step into the water before the sea will part.

I work at a nonprofit and there is never enough money.  My first year, I taped a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt on an old computer my husband’s office had donated for me to work on: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. My parents had taught me this long before I read the words but it was a good reminder. 

What they taught me was to have faith — the kind of faith that provides courage when you doubt and humility if you start to get too full of yourself.  At church on Sunday, Pastor Matt said faith is believing in and helping others believe in what looks to be impossible.  Mom and Dad started out their marriage with a little second-hand furniture and a truckload of faith. If they had waited until they had enough money, I probably wouldn’t be here. –Debbie


Mom and Dad in 1950 or so

I had been looking for a job in Champagne before we got married but was unable to find one.  I knew I could return to my job with Mr. Haeuser in Milwaukee so after the honeymoon, we ended up spending that first summer with my folks.

After we finished paying for the wedding and everything, Dolores had managed to save $300, which was quite a bit of money. She had a doctor’s appointment and I went along with her. She checked out just fine but the doctor took a look at me and said, “You don’t look very good. How do you feel?”

“Not so good. I have a backache.”

He examined me and would you believe it?  I had appendicitis.  He wanted me in the hospital immediately.  I had insurance in school and insurance from my Dad but lost them both after we got married. There went the $300.

We had enough money saved by the end of that summer to rent a house when we got back to school–well, half a house really.  We had to share the bathroom with the landlady.  So we had the first months’ rent paid and $35 left over.  Dolores’ Mother and Dad came down with groceries. We put them all away and Dad just shook his head and said,  “I don’t know how you’re going to make it. What if you need a dentist? How will you pay for it?”

I said, “I don’t know, Dad.  We just think this is what the Lord wants us to do and we’re trusting Him.”

We really enjoyed our little “house”. The only problem we had was that when you used the bathroom you had to hook the second door so the landlady wouldn’t surprise you. You had to remember to unhook it. If we forgot, she would pound on the door and start yelling “R R R R,” in the middle of the night.  Our rent was $50.  I got $10 off taking care of the stoker. So I wrote the check for $40 each month through the winter. When spring came the landlady said, “Wait a minute, you’re $10 short.”  So I found out that $10 deduction only applied during the cold weather.

I’d always pick Dolores up after work at the Institute of Aviation on my bike and we’d go to the grocery store. She would pick out what we needed to make supper. There was no shopping for the week in those days. We did it one meal at a time.

We joined a fellowship group at the church which met once a week. They were studying the C.S. Lewis book, Mere Christianity. Along the way, we decided to join the choir — we both liked to sing. One choir rehearsal the pianist wasn’t there.  We sang through some hymns then got to the anthem and the choir director asked if anyone could play the piano. Dolores said she could. She went up there and banged that baby out. She was excellent at sight reading. When we finished rehearsal, the choir director said, “Don’t you leave. Don’t you ever leave!”

That’s the way I felt about her too.

Unidentified Flying Object

My Dad and brother were both pilots. When my nephew got his pilot’s license at fourteen, I watched him land a plane and it brought tears to my eyes. We heard a lot of talk about Cessna 150s in our house growing up. I didn’t understand the fascination at first. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the idea of flying. I just wanted to be able to roll down the window.

Dad had me co-pilot once. With his instruction I took hold of the yoke, carefully turning it a little to the right and a little to the left to get the hang of it. He told me that you pull it out to go up and push in to go down. I yanked it out too fast then immediately pushed it back in to correct my error and made the plane into roller coaster ride. That was fun…


“Your Mom had worked at the Institute of Aviation in the Engineering building at school. She liked it, it was a good job and it was connected to the airport which was the part I liked. Around 1948, the Bonanza came out with its V-tail. I think it still is the best single engine plane you can get, at least it was for many years.The Institute of Aviation bought one—a brand new Beechcraft Bonanza—and they took your Mom along for a ride. Would you believe she got airsick and threw up all over the inside of that brand new airplane?

“My fascination with planes continued and years later I got my pilot’s license so I could fly to jobs easily around the country. To start out, I flew a Cessna 150 two-seater.  When I was properly licensed I flew a Cessna 172 which is a four-seater. My first cross country flight was to St. Louis. Because of the length of the trip I got checked out for night flying.

Cessna 172

Cessna 172

“Several trips later, I was flying back from St. Louis in a Cessna 172. One of the guys from the office, Jim McClintock, was co-pilot and both your brothers were in the rear seat. All of a sudden there was this disc like light out in front of us. So I woke up my co-pilot and told him to turn off his flashlight because I thought it was the reflection of the light in the window.

“The image in the windshield was about the size of a softball. I banked in different directions but it was always in the same location. So I called flight service in Milwaukee to report it and the operator said, maybe I was looking at fireworks from Summerfest. I said, this is not fireworks. The image was very crisp initially then gradually increased in size and got fuzzy on the edges. We all saw it.

“Fifteen years later, the Journal Sentinel did a story on UFOs. I wrote a letter to the newspaper reporting what I had seen. Shortly after that, the author of the article called me. I still had the report from my sighting. It had been sent to me by the US Air Force following my initial report.

“The Journal Sentinel writer asked me many questions and wanted a copy of the report. I sent it to him and he called me back in a week or so to say he had followed up on it. The incident had happened on August 15 but I don’t remember the year exactly—around ’67. Anyway, what the reporter had found out was that the Canadian government had been experimenting with night illumination. So that explained everything we had seen.”

“So, no UFO…”

“No UFO.”