The journey of a native son

It goes so fast. They come, change your life, then they’re gone.

My Father said his job was to teach me to walk, then walk away. As often happens a son follows his father’s parenting philosophy. I did.

I think the old man would be pleased with the results. Both my sons were able to walk away.

My younger son, Matthew, and his wife and children came back this summer. After he returned to his home in London, England, he took time to look back — back here.

I believe he gives a good accounting of himself. I am certain he gives a good accounting of us.

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“This past August, I returned to Alpena from my life near London, England. It was the first time in years that I returned to the sunrise side and the first in almost a decade where I could stay more than a couple weeks. I’m lucky to have been able to visit as long as I did: it’s quite the journey from England — especially with three young children – but definitely worthwhile.

“One surprising thing I noticed is that I had forgotten how active the community is. There was always something happening: from a poetry reading in Art in the Loft to a pretty impressive Triathlon at Hubbard Lake. Our children frequently made full use of the many parks, playgrounds, museums, and beaches around town, and I think I heard the phrase, “I’m bored,” only twice during our lengthy stay: a record low.

“I spent my first twenty years in Alpena, and only by leaving and coming back again have I learned to appreciate how lucky I was. Alpena has clean freshwater sandy beaches; England has the sea — which I am much less likely to swim in due to wandering jellyfish and sharks. My area of England has an impressive scattering of small parks, but Alpena has thousands of acres. There’s just no comparison.

“In addition to the excellent surroundings, there was also the schools: especially Long Rapids School. The excellence demonstrated by the staff and community there remains unmatched even after the nearly ten years I spent being a teacher myself. I owe a lot to the teachers of Alpena Public Schools and ACC — too many to name here — for helping me get to where I am today. Excellent schools are rare, and even rarer now that Long Rapids School has closed.

“The quality many of us found in Alpena was the reason so many of us could leave. The children of Alpena have since spread themselves around the world. I am not even close to the farthest traveled person in my graduating class. I know of fellow Alpena natives who have lived in India, Germany, Peru, China, and nearly every state in the USA including the remotest parts of Alaska. We became nurses, bankers, teachers, musicians, designers, professors, film directors, artists, builders, authors, scientists, and IT professionals. We all come back to Alpena occasionally and tell our new families about how much we liked watching fireworks on the beach on the 4th of July, about our failures at the Gus Macker street basketball tournament, or how many tried to get parts when Die Hard was being filmed at the airport. During our brief visits, we try to give our families a tiny piece of what we had back when we lived here.

“It all comes back to something a professor once said to me in a linguistics class during my time at the University of Michigan. I, a recently-turned twenty year old, asserted that Alpena was an isolated and declining town. He surprised me when he angrily responded that Alpena was one of the least isolated and more important places in Michigan. He was, of course, correct. Alpena is an increasingly global city in an ever shrinking world. Its story has just begun.”

Matthew Pugh

Doug Pugh’s Vignettes run bi-weekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached via email at pughda@gmail.com.