Of Crazy Clothes and Campers, Fish Frys and Fair Trade Festivals: A Love Story (Part 10/10)
(for Part 1, click here)
One of our favorite family travel memories is such a little thing that it would be easy to overlook, but it has stayed with both of us over the years. We were on a vacation in Michigan, where I am originally from, in the summer of 1999. Passing through Sault Ste. Marie early one evening, we needed to find a place for dinner. Scanning the town’s main street for restaurants, we spotted a hand-written sandwich board sign outside what appeared to be a fraternal lodge of some sort. “Fish Fry Friday 6-8 PM,” the sign promised. The door was propped open.
Andy and I looked at each other and grinned—it was Friday. We knew Lake Superior whitefish was a local specialty and we could think of no better way to get a feel for the local community than going to a whitefish supper at a fraternal lodge. Granted, we had never actually been inside a fraternal lodge before and we didn’t know who or what we would find inside, or any of the protocols that might come with an event like this, but we didn’t even need to discuss it. The dinner decision was made.
After a couple of quick double-takes from the locals, surprised to see someone they didn’t recognize in the dimly lit hall, we and our towheaded two year old were welcomed in like family. We chatted it up with the friendly folk at the long tables for an hour or so, then shook a few hands and said our goodnights before stepping back out into the late summer sunlight—all smiles. It was a simple meal at a simple price in a simple place surrounded by simple folk, and we couldn’t have been happier, both at the experience itself and at the fact that we both felt the same way about it—happy to try something new and strange and completely out of the ordinary. It was like our little secret—we might look “normal” on the outside, but compared to most people we know, we are a little weird, both of us, and we like it that way.
Fast forward to this past December, 2021. Andy and I had just enjoyed a dinner at a local brewery a few towns away and decided to walk around the charming little Main Street afterward before driving back home. We pulled our hats down over our ears, zipped our coats up to our chins, and strolled arm in arm, admiring Christmas lights and small town storefront displays.
Other than the handful of restaurants, we didn’t expect to see any businesses open on a Friday night in a place like that, so we were surprised to see a glass door propped open under a striped canvas canopy. It was a former retail store that had been turned into a church a few years back. A sandwich board on the sidewalk advertised “Fair Trade Festival and Concert Tonight.” Curious, we glanced inside. A warm glow of light shone upon a handful of tables set out with jewelry, art, colorful articles of handmade clothing, satchels, and bags of coffee. Further in, we saw buffet tables spread with food, and beyond that, several rows of chairs, about half full. All the way to the far end of the narrow room was a stage, set with a full band and a woman talking into a microphone, perhaps between songs. Just like that Friday in Sault Ste. Marie, twenty-two years prior, we grinned at each other in silent agreement and stepped inside.
After buying some coffee beans, we sat and enjoyed the concert for over an hour. It was a simple band in a simple church playing simple music to a simple crowd from a simple town, and it was absolutely perfect. We left there smiling from ear to ear--reminded of our fish fry dinner long ago, reminded that we are a little different when it comes to embracing the unfamiliar and unplanned moments, reminded that we are two of a kind and belong together.
We have each had more than half a century to get to know ourselves individually and we have spent thirty of those years together, so it wasn’t that hard, after our experience at the fair trade festival, to sit down and write out our values—what is important to us, what brings us satisfaction and joy. We each made our own separate lists, then compared them, revised them, and agreed upon the following twelve values, in no particular order:
We value exploring places and experiencing things—slowly and at our own pace
We value story-telling—written, visual, and verbal
We value balancing frugality and creativity with generosity and even whimsy, when it comes to our finances
We value the history, culture, language, and wisdom of local people—particularly in places we don’t know well
We value artistic expression in its various forms, at all levels of expertise
We value taking care of our physical bodies—good food, plenty of exercise, and rest
We value finding joy in simple pleasures
We value adventuring into unknown territory, be it geographic or otherwise
We value spending large blocks of time outside
We value doing hard things, being challenged to problem-solve and persevere
We value learning, even when it makes us reconsider what we thought we already knew
We value sharing fellowship with other followers of Jesus, wherever they may be
So here we are. This is us. We know what has brought us to this point and what we want to do now. We are working on building out both the truck and the financial backing to carry us to faraway lands. We are taking the steps necessary to launch our journey. We know who we are—individually and as a couple—and what we value most in life. It is time to step forward into our future. The door is propped open, beckoning. We are right on time.