Apigian-Kessel: The Big Green Houseboat Arrives

We spent the winter of 1968 shopping for a summer retreat in case Detroit erupted in a riot again, like it did in 1967. I was expecting our second child in July and we were seeking a calmer atmosphere for all of us.

With our 18-month-old in tow clad in a white snowsuit, we decided on a two-bedroom cottage in Commerce Township’s Mandon Lake near the City of Union Lake. It had a large living room, dining room, and window-filled sun porch with the most comfortable cot for naps, which we still miss.

The toddler was now walking and his high-top shoes caused him to lose his footing on the slippery linoleum floor. Carpet soon solved that problem.

The cottage was completely furnished and located at the end of a narrow private dirt road. It was about 20 miles from our store and a comfortable daily commute back to the party store for Bob.

He loved the early morning fresh air drive into town, and he could now have a boat like he did during the summers growing up on Elk Lake in Lapeer County.

I could hear the loud crackling of tree branches breaking as the limbs fell to the ground. Something mighty big was rumbling up the winding road leading to our place, and I had no idea what it could be. Our two sons were in their cribs napping so I went out onto the back porch to find out what was causing the disturbance.

The phone then rang and it was Bob. “Is it there yet?” he asked. “What are you talking about?” I shot back. “It’s a surprise for you. Bob Draker located a pontoon for us, and I told him to go ahead and buy it so you could cruise the lake in comfort. The boys can take naps on the screened-in room while you lay on the top sun deck and I can fish from the aft.”

A man got out of the flatbed truck and threw open the big wooden gates marked “private” leading to our summer retreat. He got back into the vehicle and the canopy of the huge old willow tree swept across the top of his cab as he lumbered through the gates and onto our back yard heading down to the water’s edge.

Somehow the driver and a helper slipped the new arrival into the water’s edge, mooring it to the dock on the other side of the outboard and rowboat.

It was Paul Bunyan Days in downtown Union Lake with a parade, and somehow the flat bed bearing the pontoon boat got caught in the middle of the celebration with folks thinking it was part of the annual festivities in the lakeside community.

The behemoth green pontoon became an object of curiosity for our neighbors, as their boats slowed down in front of our place to view the new addition to lakeside living.

The cottage hosted many family cookouts and lamb kebab dinners. It is amazing how popular you become when you live on a lake. We were sure to stock plenty of food and drink for visitors. Thinking back it was a marvelous part of our lives.

Our toddlers learned to fish. My father was in his glory days, with his private stash of fresh tender grape leaves he spent hours picking for my mom. My mother would relax on the sun porch facing the water, babysitting while I explored the yard or kept up with chores, which are constant with little ones.

A brand new stove and refrigerator arrived courtesy of a tall old grizzly ex-marine called “Barney,” who managed the Bloomfield Terrace Apartments near our store. Bob supplied the beer, Barney the new appliances.

With snow on the ground, country Thanksgivings were celebrated with extended family and friends in the cozy warmth of the cottage. Bob would go there early in the morning and fire up the stove with logs. I baked the turkey and dressing in the apartment and made the pilaf at the cottage.

It involved a lot of planning and hauling along with two youngsters. Others would bring all the trimmings Armenians would need to fill the huge dining room table, turning it into a real groaning board. What wonderful memories.

I now sit in amazement at how we always pulled off these gatherings. I remember one time my parents arrived with a surprise Keghetzi pagharch, and how we all dived into it temporarily ignoring the lamb kebabs.

The glory days of Mandon Lake remain a happy memory, reminding us how great it was to be young and surrounded by so many loved ones now passed on to their reward.

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Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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