Just out of Marquette, past Northern Michigan University’s wooden Superior Dome, there’s a turn to County Road 550. That’s where I’d move to the back seat of the van to sit next to Noah and hold his hand. Mike would drive and we’d pass Phil’s 550 Store, cottages, homes and the occasional rustic resort cabin complex while a Jimmy Buffett CD played to make the mood lighter. Noah loved going to camp and being there would be the highlight of his year, it was something we’d talk about for months before he went and after he returned. But leaving him at Bay Cliff Health Camp and saying goodbye for the summer was never easy and even after five years of camp, drop off day was hard on me. On Noah, not so much. He was stoic, solemn but the minute we drove up the camp gate, he was wiggling with excitement.
Bay Cliff is a therapy camp, designed and operated since 1934 for children and teens with a variety of disabilities. The camp focuses on therapy, physical, occupational and speech as well as programs for the blind and hearing impaired. Each summer session is eight weeks, designed to accomplish a camper’s therapy goals.
As tough as it was to part from Noah at camp, he always came home better than we left him. He was stronger, more independent, talked with more volume and was more observant.
Picking him up each August, Mike and I would rise at 4 am (we stayed in Big Bay the night before) and be first in line for pick ups. Over the loudspeaker they’d call each camper’s name, “Noah Miesch come on down!” and we’d anxiously scan the grounds waiting for Noah to wheel his way to us. After the first summer I expected him to be consumed with loneliness and longing for us.
“Can I come back next year?” he asked.
I was almost speechless.
Where was Mom, I missed you and Dad so much or I’m so happy to see you. He’d separated from us so cleanly.
“Well, can I?” he asked again.
“It was that much fun?”
“I love Bay Cliff,” he said.
“Then, I guess we’ll have to work on getting you back next summer,” Mike said. “What did you do all summer?”
“Therapy. Swimming in the pool. Had a parade. Ate goulash. Motorcycles came up and Indian dancers,” said Noah.
He started chuckling out loud. “I told a joke,” he said.
“My therapy group. I told them,” he said.
“Tell us,” Mike said. “Noah has a joke.”
“Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?” Noah said, trying not to laugh and mess up the joke.
“Why?” Mike and I said in unison.
“Because they taste funny!” Noah grinned.
We laughed loud and hard. It was a big accomplishment for Noah to tell an entire joke.
Every June now I remember the ten hour drive from Muskegon to the middle of the Upper Peninsula and the solemn drive up County Road 550 holding my son’s clammy hand and how I tried to make sure he didn’t see me cry.
I think of Noah, now dead, with a bits of his ashes spread near his old Bay Cliff cabin and I rejoice for the Michigan summers and happy memories of days at camp.