• Jenny Dupre

We're Island People


"My family has an island" is one of those statements that always needs explanation. Most people say "your family has a WHAT?" And then I have to explain that it's been in my family a long time blah blah blah. My dad was a teacher and school administrator. My ma is a school administrator. That school just happened to be a 200+ year old traditional Connecticut prep school that I was fortunate enough to attend for free because they worked there and we lived on campus. We had a good, solidly middle-class upbringing. But also... we have an island.


Goat Island sits about a mile off-shore from Hessel, MI in Lake Huron. My father's grandparents purchased the un-settled island in 1949. They built the first of two cottages - the Tall Spruce - in 1950. With three bedrooms and two bathrooms, the Tall Spruce was the perfect size for my great-grandparents and their three children (my grandfather Charles and his two brothers Donald and Dallas.) The second cottage - the Anchorage - was built in 1960 to accommodate the growing boys and, later, their growing families.

I hadn't been to visit Goat Island in over 10 years when we arrived on August 1. I am not waxing romantic when I tell you that nothing had changed. Not a single thing was out of place from when I said goodbye to the island over a decade ago. It was surreal and incredible.

My family is one of traditions. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a pretty common saying from my childhood, and I think one of the main reasons I am attracted to a more simple way of life. When you're on the island, you become a little more traditional too. The women make sure everyone is fed. Then men do projects in the morning (this year my dad, step-dad, brothers-in-law, teenage nephew, husband and second cousin all repaired 30 feet of rotten dock.) And, without any TV or internet, the kids have to play. Outside. Using their imaginations. But, once 2 p.m. rolls around everyone gets to crack a beer and jump in the lake. Hard work followed by hard relaxation!

When you live on an island, you learn to use everything to the end of its ability and then figure out how to turn what is left into something else. A good example of that is our boat the Island Queen. She is a WWI era Johnson lifeboat. Built in 1919, she is nearing her 100th birthday, which I think is friggin' awesome. This year, she won Best Unreconditioned Boat before 1970 in the Hessel Antique Boat Show. This 98 year old boat has been meticulously cared for - I'd say it is as beloved to my father (as it was to my Granddaddy) as his own kids. My husband drove it for a short time during a sunset cruise this summer and I'm pretty sure it's safe to say he's got the Island Queen bug. I think she's in good hands for years to come.


When I first turned my daydreams to homesteading, I found myself undeniably attracted to a saying that was popular during the Great Depression - "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." Stepping onto an island that has been basically unchanged since 1950, I see this way of thinking everywhere I look. My great-grandparents had enough money to buy an island and build two houses on it, but they were no frills people and instilled practices (called sanctioned activities) that persist to this day. You guys... there are dish towels in use that are older than I am. They might be older than my dad. Because why get new dish towels when these dish towels still dry the dishes?

I feel so unbelievably lucky to have this magical place as my own, and to be able to share it with my husband - who took to island life like a fish to water. We're already thinking about when we can go back. Until then, we're preparing to hunker down for the fall and winter (my favorite times of the year!) I've got a lot of projects in mind to make my house cozy and I can't wait to share how I survive the winter blues. I'll close this out with a few more photos of the island itself because you have to see it to believe it!


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