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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Uncle Mich

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For Anne Magnan-Park, connecting with a place – its sheer physical commanding presence – is a process. Past, present, inherited, silenced, made-up, and dreamed-up experiences connected to that space compete in a mess of spontaneous conversations. This week, Anne reflects on her interaction with a place and an elder who may not be entirely unfamiliar to you.

Nineteenth Century French novelist Marcel Proust had tea and a madeleine to conjure up powerful, seemingly lost personal experiences in Remembrance of Things Past. What if we had collective madeleines to experience a place through multiple perspectives and time frames, inclusive of silenced narratives? As a Franco-Hoosier immigrant, I don’t indulge in madeleines, but I do have a lake. Or rather, I do stand by a lake. A lake as palpable as it is elusive. A sacred, ancient, mountainous, madeleine lake.

For the past two years, during which we have had to distance ourselves from our closest relatives residing overseas, my daughter and I have come to embrace Lake Michigan as an elder, a family member of sorts. We call it alternatively Aunty and Uncle Mishigami – or Aunty and Uncle Mich for short -- and visit regularly. In my husband’s culture, the young call their elders “aunty” and “uncle” as a sign of connection and respect. I imagine that for my daughter, Uncle Mich resembles my brother, the adventure-prone, highly protective, and avid storyteller Uncle Yéyé. Like this relative, Aunty/Uncle Mich possesses both an invigorating and a comforting presence. As you do with family members after you delight in interacting with them for a while, you grow curious about what makes them who they are and how their environment shapes them. You become aware of the mixed projections you cast onto them. They’re still family, but you start bonding with them through something more tangible than ties secured by blood or matrimony. Aunty Mich calls for more than just fun at the beach and the convenience of geographical proximity.

At first, I thought that visiting Uncle Mich in the dead of winter would shed light on a different facet of their personality. I would have them all to myself to enjoy their unadulterated crashing sounds, songs, and whispers. I was standing by the water’s edge when a black wetsuit and its surfing board landed on the freezing water, inches away from me. Whose death-defying uncle was that? As I photographed the stranger in the wetsuit, I thought of all the ways I was not experiencing or was unwilling to experience Uncle Mich, from grazing the water’s surface in a speedboat to freestyling in pancake ice. I mused on future potential interactions such as scuba diving. Over one hundred WWII-era aircraft lie at the bottom of this lake since Aunty Mich was a little-known safe training space for Navy and Marine Corps pilots. The Navy qualified over 15.000 pilots trained on two former excursion boats turned into makeshift, lake-bound flattops: the USS Wolverine and the USS Sable. I imagine, incredulous, the peculiar sight of the only two American carriers propelled by coal and side-wheels.

But I think I’ll leave the aircraft to my scuba-diving brother who, unlike me, enjoys everything military. I’m not sure he would take me with him anyway because the last time we dived together, I smiled uncontrollably when we fed sea urchins to a school of fish in the Mediterranean Sea. Because I have good cheeks, my smile caused my ill-adjusted mask to fill up with water. I had to go back to the surface to empty it out. I just could not help myself. But perhaps, we won’t smile so much at the sight of the invasive mussels that can filter the volume of the lake in four to six days and that have dramatically impacted its wildlife.

The one thing I know for sure is that my brother will laugh when I remind him of the only vision of Aunty Mich we were exposed to as children: the 1970s Japanese animated series Candy, Candy. The protagonist spends her childhood in Pony’s Home orphanage at the edge of Lake Michigan in the early 20th century. This series was hugely popular in the France of our childhood, but in the continental US, Candy Candy was released in video format in 1981. As a consequence, none of my American friends -- except those who grew up in Hawaii where they had access to a dedicated Japanese TV station -- share my first glimpse of Lake Michigan. This is too bad because they might get a kick out of the establishing opening shot in the pilot episode of Candy, Candy. It opens on a snow-caped view of the shores of Uncle Mich as the narrator sets the scene with this sentence, which I’m translating from the French dubbed version: “Nestled at the foot of a mountain, South of Lake Michigan, lies an old orphanage called Pony’s Home.” A what now? A mountain? When I snorkel in Uncle Mich after reading their vast and dynamic body from the top of the not-so-mountainous Warren Dunes, I confide in them: I did not come here looking for a fantasized mountain village, Lake, America. I made a commitment to learn your histories, but you don’t make that particularly easy, do you? I see makeshift flattops with sidewheels and landing decks too short and narrow where others insist on seeing majestic aircraft carriers. Perhaps, I was expecting a taller version of you, a more inclusive version of you. Some say the personal is political. The personal is a messy, multi-faceted process. It is a conversational process. I too come from a messy land of compromised Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. So, let’s keep talking. I’m listening, Lake. I’m looking.

And the water mixing past, present, fantasized, personal, and incomplete historical faces of the lake fills my mask as I swim back to shore. For Michiana Chronicles, I am Anne Magnan-Park.

Many thanks to those who have made the lake a place of joy over the years: Han, Nina, Peyton, Nathalie, Shayna, Emily, Stéphanie, Benjamin, Margot, Clara and the Park and Magnan families. Many thanks to Kyoko Takanashi for offering her translation of the opening line of the first episode of Candy, Candy in its original (Japanese) version.

Music: French theme song for Candy, Candy

Anne is a literary translator and Associate Professor of English at Indiana University where she focuses on Indigenous literatures of the Pacific. She has been writing for Michiana Chronicles since 2019.