WITH VIDEO: Rogers City couple finds joy in everyday, overlooked moments
ROGERS CITY — “We’re not the usual couple,” said a Rogers City woman last week, surrounded by a home bearing witness to two people’s passion for seeking and capturing life’s overlooked treasures.
In her not-quite-10 years living in Rogers City, Julie Brooks has snapped thousands of photographs of bits and pieces of the city, sharing her photos with other residents and submitting hundreds to a local television station’s “Hot Shots” segment.
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“People ask me, ‘How can you keep finding things to take pictures of?'” Brooks said, the walls of her home a collage of nature shots, grinning faces, and snippets of everyday life. “I ask them, ‘How can you not?'”
Brooks and her husband, Brian Brooks, make a habit of noticing what others miss, including opportunities that often go unexplored.
“Gretchen wrote me,” Julie Brooks said, pointing to a framed letter from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on a wall in one room of the house.
When Whitmer recently visited Rogers City, only select city leaders got the invite to join her at the pavilion at Lakeside Park.
Next time, Julie Brooks wrote in a letter to Whitmer after that event, the governor is welcome to visit the Brooks residence.
“You do know that you can write your congressmen and your governors and your presidents,” she said. “Doesn’t anybody know that they can do that?”
Another letter, to President Joe Biden, offered encouragement when people were putting the president down, Julie Brooks said.
Framed responses from Whitmer and Biden take places of honor on a “wall of fame” in one room of the home, but so do photographs of Brian Brooks grinning alongside well-known faces, from Billy Bob Thorton to Kevin Bacon to Sam Elliot — “The most perfect gentleman you’d ever want to meet,” Brian Brooks said
Sundance Film Festival aficionados, the Brookses said that, when they used to attend festivals, they’d linger longer than other guests for a chance for a chat with the stars.
“They are all just normal people,” Brian Brooks said, pointing to a photo of Robert Redford, who the couple said they met (“He’s a sweet man,” Julie Brooks said) after they sent the actor one of Brian Brooks’ carvings.
A modest card table and swing-arm lamp in the couple’s basement provide the workspace where the self-proclaimed woodcarver/spoon player creates practical and playful wooden items, some of which the crafter sends out into the world as gifts.
He designed numerous personalized batons intended for visiting conductors at the Utah Symphony and Opera and sent hand-carved crochet hooks to Vanna White, of Wheel of Fortune fame, with an autographed portrait on his wall as a reward.
To Redford, or “Bob” to Julie Brooks, the couple sent a whistle.
Other carved trinkets decorate the Brooks home, from a collection of wooden toys to miniatures of every bridge in Charlevoix.
Delighting in the tiny, Brian Brooks created a miniature Martian landscape, complete with scaled models of NASA rovers and rotund green aliens.
One Brooks special, not more than half an inch long, earned a nod from Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the world’s smallest whistle carved from the stem of a rose.
When not designing creations out of bits of this and scraps of that, Brian Brooks can be found playing the spoons.
Outfitted in a black vest and a natty bowler hat hand-made by an actual haberdasher, the spoon player taps out a merry rhythm on his leg, metal spoons clickity-clicking a rhythm Brooks says has accompanied many renowned musicians, whose names he lists with pride: Earl Scruggs, Gene Guthrie, George Strait, and more.
The couple shared stories of moves around the state and country, apartments and adventures in Charlevoix and Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City, never following “normal” patterns of “that one house with three-point-five bedrooms and two-and-a-half kids and the dog and the cat and the picket fence,” Julie Brooks said.
“We’ve had a very boring, mundane life,” Brian Brooks said dryly, describing the carvings he sent to governors and politicians and telling of rubbing elbows with bigwigs at a Christmas party. “We never met anyone. We never did anything.”