Day Nine: Swimming Lessons and Fudge Ice Cream
Mackinac Island: The land of Bicycles, Sunsets, and Ice Cream Smiles
When: Sunday, Aug. 21
Where: Joliet, Ill. to Mackinaw Island, Mich.
Miles Traveled: 423
Best Thing We Ate: Mackinac Island Fudge Ice cream
Song of the Day: Sunday Type of Love - Etta James
I wore tall boots and a white leather jacket.
My heels tapped the sidewalk beneath me as I scurried around behind photographers, toting lighting equipment and nail kits. I helped seven-year-old models in and out of their cheery Matilda Jane outfits and kept them fed with vegan snack bars and organic apple chips.
It was one week after my fourteenth birthday.
Those were the days when I spent more time sewing bear costumes and building boats for commercial photoshoots than I ever spent doing sit-ups in gym class. Kim Adams, a long time family friend, had scooped me up as a miserable pre-teen condemned to the torture of middle school, and took me on adventures across the country as her young set-styling apprentice.
Ironically enough, I even modeled a bit. Five foot two inches is actually a pretty decent height when you’re 12.
On this particular adventure, I’d spent a week with Kim and her team in Michigan where we were shooting for the fall 2013 catalogue for Matilda Jane Clothing. The company had covered tickets and housing, and they’d even prepared trendy little gift bags with stationary, souvenirs, and a neatly-bound, color coded itinerary for the week.
Although we spent the majority of the trip at the company owner’s four-story mansion in the woods, the little time we spent on Mackinac Island a short ways away was simply magical.
Mackinac Island is a 3.8 square-mile island in in Lake Huron. It’s one of the only places in the states where cars have been prohibited, taking it back to a 19th century vibe with horse drawn carriages and colorful bicycles.
As soon as I’d stepped off the ferry I’d been so consumed with the colors, the energy, and the people that I nearly forgot that I was “working.” A girl in a ruffled white sundress sped past me on a pink and yellow vintage bike, an ice cream cone in one hand and a chocolatey smile plastered across her face.
I was pretty sure I’d found paradise.
I’d stood there, holding a bag with 14 pairs of shoes and 926 bobby pins, completely in awe. After Kim had helped me scoop my jaw off the wooden dock, we set up in a presidential suite in an illustrious 1890’s Inn that the company had rented out for the weekend so that “the models would have somewhere comfortable to get made up.”
Like what the heck? They were seven years old — the team of hair and makeup artists literally put their hair in pigtails, threw on some lip gloss, and sent them out to be photographed. It was a different world.
The last day of our trip was a free day on the island. We’d all rented bikes and set out to play tourist. I spent hours staring into the lake, trying to put a name on the exact shade of blue that twinkled up in me face. I’d popped in and out of shops with the photographer’s daughter, Emma, and I’d eaten ice cream with my toes in the sand.
When I’d made it back home to reality, my mom hardly knew who I was. This trip was the longest I’d been around other artists, and it had been the first time I’d been able to say how I really felt about things, without the farm girl/tom boy filter I’d always felt compelled to hide behind.
It was like I was a fish trying to climb trees my whole life, and suddenly I was with other fish, and all they were asking me to do was swim.
Ever since I came home with colorful photos and my “Mackinac glow,” I’ve wanted to show Mom the place where things had changed for me. So when planning the route for this New York road trip adventure, it seemed only fitting that we squeeze Mackinac Island in.
As I stepped off the ferry and looked up at the same “Welcome to Mackinac Island” sign that had stared me in the face three years ago, it hit me just how much has changed since then.
When I was 14, I was making and selling my gowns out of a closet in a two-bedroom rental outside of Scio, Ore. I had wires on my teeth and acne like chickenpox, and when I wasn't sewing I was keeping the bench warm at basketball games. I didn't know what fashion week was and had never heard of Coco Chanel.
Now I was standing there as a young adult, about to settle into a 400 square-foot apartment in Manhattan to launch a career in fashion design.
I’d booked our place to stay sight-unseen and over the phone, with a gift that our good family friends, the Swiggarts, had thoughtfully given us for the trip. When we got to the Inn, I about fell over when I discovered that it was the same stately Inn that Matilda Jane had rented out for the photoshoot three years ago.
So it wasn’t the presidential suite, but with its white jacquard bedspreads and iced lemon water in the lobby, it was definitely one of the most restful places I’ve ever stayed.
Most touristy things were closed by the time we’d checked in, but Mom and I were happy to wander the shoreline. We chit-chatted with passers-by, ice cream cones in hand, and delighted in the sun on our backs as it disappeared over the pastel victorian homes dotting the hillside.
“I love watching people walk by here,” an older man responded to our greeting from a cottage balcony, wiping ice cream from his mustache. “Everyone on the Island has a smile on their face.”
The silver layer of ripples on the lake blossomed into a light rose gold as the evening progressed, making it impossible, still, for me to determine which shade of blue lay beneath the surface.
It felt good to be there. It felt good to remember the freedom that I’d first experienced there. I couldn’t help but wonder where I’d be today if Kim hadn’t taken me under her wing there, or fin, rather, and taught me how effortless swimming can be.