They say you can never go home again. What they fail to tell you is, really, you can never go back to any place you’ve ever been…and sometimes, you’re lucky not to get a restraining order enforcing it.
Spring taunted Michigan. For two whole weeks, it was nearly 70 degrees…in FEBRUARY!! Flowers budded. Snow became a myth. Shorts and flipflops made a startling appearance. Basically, people went nuts.
Sadly, my son and I waste our moment in the sun by being trapped in the house with an unholy, viral crud and staring longingly out a window. During our plague ridden misery convalescence, my poor child begged: “Car Ride, Car Ride, Car Ride!” wheezing each word as if making a dying request. So, mommy, wracked by both guilt and fever, made a fateful promise: “When we are better. Cough Cough. We’ll go ‘car ride’ when we are better. Hack, ungh.”
Fast forward two weeks, just as we started feeling human again, the awful weather returns—like the damned zombie in a horror film that…JUST…WON’T…DIE!!
Unfortunately, you’d have better luck weaseling out of a gambling debt owed to a mobster than you would getting out of a promise to a child. So, on an especially snowy, slushy Saturday, we hit the road for nowhere in particular and, in doing so, we ended up somewhere familiar and yet strange.*
We set off, skidding on slick pavement, to destinations unknown. Almost an hour later, we hit the coastal town of South Haven with two goals: gas up the car for a return trip and find snacks to sustain our weakened, feeble bodies—preferably frosted with chocolate or sprinkles or both.**
South Haven is definitely a summer idyll along US Highway 196. It is a tourism Mecca between May and September. In February, however, it is like visiting a ghost town dressed in ice. My son doesn’t care. He wants adventures galore.
Phoenix Street is the main thoroughfare through town. Its name suggests cataclysmic rebirth in fire–but this day, it’s as though hell has frozen over taking the fiery bird with it. This doesn’t stop a hearty group of young people from braving the mercury shattering temperatures. We pass a huddle of students holding up signs, turning blue in the cold, but determined to raise funds for a local Heating Assistance Campaign.
I crank up the heater as our car crawls past the shivering beggars, I’d stop, but I’m on the look-out for a bakery I vaguely remember discovering long, long ago. I dream of a chocolate fairytale with a rich ganache happy ending.
[Insert your own cocoa-based orgasm joke here, if you must. I’ll wait.]
I search in vain. Perhaps I once wandered into a chocolate-coated Brigadoon? A city built of confections that melts away after one day? I spend the visit futilely trying to find out what happened to it! I ask everyone I meet,
“Do you remember it? There was a sign along Highway I-196, as you are driving back from Chicago. I swear it said “Visit the Chocolate Garden off Phoenix Road in South Haven.” No? You don’t know it? You’ve only just moved here? What good are you then?”
It was a cocoa lover’s nirvana and served a slice of chocolate cake so decadent, Roman Emperors would have wept and fiddled while they burned.
Apparently, however, I had not only the name of the establishment wrong…but the actual store changed hands years ago and stopped serving the cake. It subsequently went out of business. Coincidence? I think not.
In case you would like to know what the Death By Chocolate Cake looked like, I did
steal find the below image from Trip Advisor:
Though I am disappointed, I am not daunted. We grab cookies and drinks at a nearby establishment–The Golden Brown Bakery.
Restored and refreshed, we are ready to head back home…when curiosity strikes. And by this, I mean my son abandons the car, heading across the road as if drawn by a lodestone toward nefarious adventure.
My son could care less that the thermometer is hovering at 2 degrees Fahrenheit. He wants to explore!
I trot to keep up…and am just in time to keep my precious boy from breaking into three-story brick building called “The Asylum.” Now, the battle is on!
“No, you can’t go in there. It’s closed. It’s off limits. It’s forbidden!”
(Here is an artist’s approximation of me trying to drag my child away.)
I very rashly tell him we can come back in nicer weather and maybe stay there. (This kind of promise really bites you later when you Google the rates for a private flat in a tourist town.) Still, maybe they have off-off-season rates we could ask for?
The child would not be appeased and if anyone living near The Asylum Inn in South Haven asks, this is the reason I was dragging a hulking near-teenager away from the stairs leading to the second-floor suites.
Looking around in desperation for something to distract my son from his meltdown, I spy a similar structure around the corner on Center Street. It’s brick. It’s at least two stories. It has some giant letters scrawled across the front, but from where I’m standing, I can’t make them out.
“Oh look,” I cry. “Let’s go check out that building.”
And this is how I and my son came to break into the inner sanctum of the Masonic Temple in South Haven, Michigan.
In my defense, I was convinced there was no way José that the building would be open. It was a miserable Saturday morning in February. Who would be holding a super-secret masonic rite at this hour?
Picture it, if you will:
You find yourself clambering up narrow stairs of some aged wood—probably oak or maple based on the deep brown stain—All the better to hide the blood?—to a short platform between floors. You are greeted by a hand-lettered sign that mysteriously instructs visitors: “While you are here, remember to check the bucket!” Eureka! You think you’ve discovered a clue:
“Finally! We are about to learn the mystical truths of an ancient brotherhood–forbidden to outsiders for centuries, until now!”
Then, in smaller script it much more prosaically says: “Use the smaller dipper to scoop the water into the sink until empty.” Apparently the roof leaks.
As it turns out…a meeting is taking place today—to discuss the roof fund in fact. Unfortunately, I don’t figure this out in time to stop my son from careening up the very loud and squeaky steps and announcing our presence by bursting into an antechamber to the main hall.
Around a table, a group of men jerk upright as if collectively stuck with straight pins. I stutter my apologies along with a plea to allow my son to explore for a few minutes to satisfy his curiosity.
One of the men kindly offers to show us around—I am sure he isn’t doing it to prevent us from making off with the secrets of the lodge. At least…I’m fairly sure he isn’t.
Our guide proudly shows off a truly amazing space. The building was erected in 1913 and it shows the elegance of the era. It’s a bit worn around the edges, but you can see the kind of architecture reflecting an august heritage. The main room looks like you could hold an old-fashioned trial there—with balconies for spectators to throw cabbages at the accused.
I’m eyeing a podium in the center of the room, cloaked in velvet with some curious objects positively crying out for a tomb raider to explore them. (Just call me Lara Croft!) Our guide distracts me from the goods, however, by telling us to “Hold on, I want to show you something!” before he ducks back to fiddle with some switches.
He turns on a row of spooky blue lights and shut off the rest to illuminate the background of the proscenium stage at the other end of the cavernous space. The wall is painted to reflect a blue sky with puffy clouds–which would be calming if not for the giant eyeball floating in the middle as if to signify wisdom, eternal vigilance, or maybe the unblinking Eye of Sauron? I can’t be sure–maybe it’s all three. Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien was a Mason?
Though the man never shows any impatience at the interruption, we don’t stay long. Before we go though, I ask what is the name of their…group?*** He tells me that their organization is called the Star of the Lake and they can be found on Facebook. Apparently, the Masons are not quite as secretive as they once were. But they definitely found a place in my heart this day for the kindness and courtesy they extended to two interlopers.
As if we haven’t found adventure enough, the base of the Masonic Temple houses one of the neatest ‘jumble shops’ I’ve ever seen. I even risked a few glass antiques by dragging my son in for a look-see. If you love digging through piles of stuff to find treasure, I highly recommend you visit Murphy’s Mall! I found a $7.00 leather purse that only needs a new strap.
“Victory is mine!”I shout at the cashier…or words to that effect. She just smiles, rings up my purchase, and gives me a button commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Nancy Drew series–in 2010. Perhaps I will re-read the collection in time for the 90th celebration in 2020? Perhaps I will write a mystery to honor the day’s bizarre events: Break-in At the Asylum? A Murder of Masons? (Death by Chocolate Cake has already been done–to death!)
We depart South Haven in high spirits, passing the same blue-toned do-gooders we met coming in. Perhaps it was a memory of the greatest cake I’ve ever tasted? Maybe I am inspired by the generosity of the masons! Reveling in my new purse? I don’t know…but whatever the reason, I roll down my window to let in a last breath of frigid air…and give a couple of dollars to the cause. The chattering smiles they gave back are thanks enough.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*But not strangely familiar. Odd that.
**The snacks would be frosted and covered in sprinkles, not our bodies. This isn’t THAT kind of blog.
***What is the collective noun for Masons? A Trowel of Masons? Or is it more ominous sounding–like a murder of crows? A Scaffold of Masons, perhaps?