Papa’s camp, aka Camp Whiskey Jack, originally built around 1905 and acquired by the Potvins in 1944, sits on a couple of 40s (40-acre parcels) in the middle of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Every year since my dad was a kid, the men of the family have headed to camp for Opening Day of Deer Hunting Season (a holiday in the U.P.), and the women joined the following week for the days surrounding Thanksgiving. My parents continued this tradition with us, and have gathered at camp every year since, sometimes with kids, sometimes with other family and friends.
2017 marked a historic time at Camp Whiskey Jack, as documented by my dad in his journal:
When we found out my brother Marcel (Cel) would be making the trip for a week at deer camp, my sister Lynette (Net) encouraged us to join in, so I booked a last-minute trip for myself and Stephen and Avian, who hadn’t been to camp for Thanksgiving since they were 3.
With a lot of people in cramped quarters, my dad keeps it very neat and orderly with his “Camp Rules” – there’s a certain place for everything, and a system for doing it all. And he’s not afraid to tell you if you forget. I appreciate the Rules; without them, it would be a challenge to keep the place clean and tidy with 10+ people hanging out at any given time.
The camp has no electricity, running water, or other modern amenities, and so, life there is a unique experience. The everyday pace slows way down.
A woodstove is used to heat the camp when the days or nights are extra cold, but if it’s above 30 outside, the wood-burning cooking stove is sufficient to keep the place warm. My grandparents got the cooking stove when it was brand-new, and my dad has kept it in immaculate condition (there are at least 10 associated Rules that go along with the stove).
There are endless miles of dirt roads for hiking, running, or biking, and a lot of land for hunting or exploring around the camp. Before a run, I like to get a good fire going in the sauna, think about it almost the entire time I’m out, and then reap the rewards at the finish. Inside the camp you can usually find someone to play cribbage with, share a beer, look at old books or yearbooks (we have a collection from the 1970s-on), crochet, nap, or just stare out the window into the woods.
This Thanksgiving, our crew consisted of my parents, my sister, my kids, and our Aunt Maureen and Uncle George.
After a delicious breakfast of Swedish pancakes (with homemade maple syrup of course), my mom and sister began the preparations for the traditional Thanksgiving feast of turkey, cranberries, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy, all of which would be prepared from scratch (my sister’s influence) on the antique stove.
My mom and sister work hard all day preparing the meal, and in keeping with tradition, my dad arrives after hunting to pretend he cooked the turkey himself.
After the ceremonious carving of the turkey, we gather around the table to say a prayer and share what we are thankful for, and then enjoy the feast.
After dinner, the kids and Papa left to hunt and the grownups did the dishes, which took a good hour.
More hiking, saunas, a few glasses of wine and the sun finally set on our beautiful Thanksgiving day.