This weekend, Cheboygan lost a wonderful member of our community. I met Kathy through the Key Ingredients/Michigan Foodways project at the Cheboygan Area Public Library. A coworker of two of our planning team members, Kathy came to an early planning meeting and also visited the exhibit with her daughter.
The biggest involvement for Kathy in the project, though, was at a program one year ago focusing on maple sugaring. Maple sugaring is one of the most historic and enduring food processes in our area. We invited community members to bring their stories of maple sugaring to a “Show and Tell” and Kathy led the program by talking about the traditions in her family. She brought equipment and talked about the process of collecting the sap and rendering it down to sugar. She even brought ice cream and served it with maple syrup for us to sample.
A group of siblings from another local family that has a strong sugaring tradition was at the program as well. Kathy’s presentation sparked some great discussion of the sugaring process and the characteristics of the syrup from the other participants. There was great debate over the best type of equipment to use and the color of the final product.
My favorite part of the program, by far, was hearing Kathy and the others talk about their family experiences. Before the program, Kathy talked to her daughters, now grown up, about their tradition and what they remembered. The other local family broke into laughter remembering their experiences as children and adults. Clearly, this food product meant far more to these people and this community than something sweet to put on pancakes.
Kathy’s obituary talks about her life as a woman, and a wife and Mom, and member of our community. It also talks about her love of maple sugaring and sharing the results. I am so grateful that I had the privilege of getting to know her and hearing her stories about her family. At the time, I was inspired to try and think of ways to create family traditions with my young children. Today, I am remembering her stories and thinking of her husband and her daughters, and hoping that the memories of those times will be a comfort in their sadness.
At the time of the “Show and Tell” last year, the library was undergoing a great debate about what to call new programming spaces that had just been completed. How about a center for culture and the arts? Some felt the use of these words was too inaccessible in this small rural community. I don’t think the term humanities was even mentioned. But that night, humanities and culture was exactly what was taking place there. We learned about a significant part of our local food culture and the meaning it holds in our lives.
Cheboygan is not a community that has a strong sense of self, especially in a positive way. Much of what happens here is within smaller spheres -- families, churches, community organizations, and social groups. But the Museum on Main Street project brought us together in a new way to look at who we are and what we do. Kathy and our other local families would have had maple sugaring traditions without the Key Ingredients/Michigan Foodways project. But as with most great cultural attributes in this small town, it would have been their secret. One of the greatest impacts of the Museum on Main Street project on this community was that for a short time, the stories of food and culture that make us who we are were part of a public conversation. Instead of reminiscing over the dinner table, we reminisced over exhibit panels!
To me, this is the point of all we do with history and culture and humanities. We help others to see who they are and where they have come from. We show them the meaning that is already there, but that they might not see. This is why it matters.
-- Lisa Craig Brisson, Cheboygan Area Public Library, Cheboygan, MI