A Son of Leelanau


“Mama, Mama many worlds I’ve come since I first left home.” – Hunter/Garcia



Fare Thee Well


A few weeks ago, I heard from my friend Dave, one of our own from our Leelanau Family had passed away.  The first thing I did was play some music for him, as he was one of the drummers in our music group.  I sung “Sing Me Back Home,” an old Merle Haggard song we had heard the Grateful Dead cover in our infinite encounters with the Dead as a tribe of firebrands in Leelanau County.  As I sang the song, I knew I had to go to his funeral.  A few days later, I received a call from my brother that our departed friend’s family wanted us to sing a song for him.  I asked him what song.  He replied, “Sing Me Back Home.”


On My Hands and My Knees


I chose to head up north for the visitation and funeral service the day before, as my brother was flying in from Florida the next morning.  While I drove north, I was not particularly reflecting on where I was going and who I might see, just feeling in every fiber of my being I needed to be there.  When I arrived, I visited a little with my parents, then had a video chat with a dear friend of mine from Leelanau County.  She asked me how I was being there, probably knowing way more of what would transpire than I did at the time.  Soon after, I went to bed, having woken up that day at a quarter to four in the morning, unable to sleep due to the coming weekend.




In My Time


The next morning, I headed to the Traverse City Airport to pick up my brother.  On the way, I scanned through the radio dial to find a Grateful Dead channel out of Petosky, Michigan.  It would become the soundtrack of our weekend.  My brother was a bit stressed when I saw him due to the rough landing of his plane, as he felt it could have resulted in a crash.  We headed to our parent’s house and visited, then sang the song we were to sing at the funeral.  We went to Good Harbor beach along Lake Michigan and reminisced about our friend, his family and the current events of our home County.


Sing Me Sweet and Sleepy


Both my brother and I shifted into a reflective silence as we approached Suttons Bay, where the visitation and funeral were to occur.  These moments were the most we had spent together in many years.  We crossed the threshold of the funeral home, greeted by several friends from our youth, many we had not seen for 20 or 30 years.  We visited in the company of the open casket, sharing our cherished memories.  As the visitation ended, my brother and I joined our friend Dave and our sister Rah for dinner down the street.  An animated history of epic hijinks and hilarity filled the bar with laughter for hours until we bid our farewells.


“Going home…going home, by the water side I will rest my bones.” – Hunter/Garcia




A Far-Gone Lullaby


On the morning of the funeral, we sang through the song a few times.  It had been almost 30 years since we sung in front of anyone together.  Time flew by, and we were once again headed toward Suttons Bay, turning north on a corner where our departed friend used to live.  I was moved to sing a song for him on our way.  We once again crossed the threshold of the funeral home into the embrace of many more from our Leelanau circle of friends.  For the half hour before the service, it was a flurry of reminiscent reunion.  Soon, my brother and I sat with our friend Dave in the pew as the Funeral Director began the proceedings.


River Going to Take Me


The funeral home was packed with family and friends.  Our friend Dudley took the podium for the eulogy, offering his heartfelt tribute.  When he was finished, he called up my brother and I.  Mark expressed his sentiments, and we both gave hugs in condolence to our departed friend’s brother Shawn, his wife and their children.  As I walked to where we would sing, I felt Shawn’s tears on my cheek.  For all the times we practiced the song, it would not prepare me for the emotion in the room and singing in front of our circle of friends for the first time in decades.  When we finished, we returned to our seats to the warm applause of our family and friends.



Going to Plant a Weeping Willow

While we were visiting after the service, our friend Dudley rushed up to ask my brother and I to be pall bearers.  We gathered around the casket and lined up together on one side.  Dudley in the front, me in the middle and Mark in the back.  It was a powerful bonding of brotherhood.  Mark and I followed the procession to the gravesite, a family cemetery on a country road a mile from Lake Michigan.  The early spring sun was beginning to set, and we joined the gathering of people around the grave to bid our farewells.  As we laid our flowers on the casket, the Funeral Director declared, “Today, we bury a Son of Leelanau.”

I Love You More Than Words Can Tell

Mark and I headed to the Town Hall in Cedar to share in fellowship with our family of friends.  We jumped back in the car, racing to see the sunset at the one place both of us had yet to visit during the weekend, Leland…home.  We walked onto Van’s Beach as though the decades of absence had never existed.  The sun was setting between the Manitou Islands in a cradle of distant clouds.  We reunited with our circle of friends in a celebration of homecoming against the backdrop of Lake Michigan.  As the stars began to shine, we returned to the car.  The Grateful Dead channel played, “Loose Lucy,” as Mark and I sang, “thank you, for a real, good time.



Going to Leave this Brokedown Palace


The next morning, I said my farewells to my Mom, my Step Father and my brother and headed south.  As I left Traverse City, I was listening to the Dead’s “Brokedown Palace.”  I could feel the strong pull of Leelanau County as I had decades before, singing through my tears, “Mama, Mama many worlds I’ve come since I first left home.”  All the memories with our departed friend emerged from the shadows of our history.  I could not recall the person I was just days before, as I was reuniting with the person I had been and the one I would soon become.  I was simply left with the understanding; I am and will always be a Son of Leelanau County.


“Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul.” – Hunter/Garcia









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