Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

My Photo
Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Up North

You can't go home again -- Thomas Wolfe

Somehow I don't think Thomas Wolfe was talking about his first kiss when he wrote that. But his famous line has been bouncing around in my head ever since I got back from my trip to Michigan. Kelly and I were there for some book business. Or so we said. But mostly, we were there to go home again. See, we were born and raised Michiganders, but have lived in other states most our lives. And the lure to revisit old haunts was strong. Not just the places where we lived -- we had done that already and yes, the houses were all smaller than we remembered. No, we needed to go Up North.

See, if you live in Michigan, you go Up North. In the summer, the population of Detroit and its burbs did its mass migration to places like Houghton Lake and Charlevoix and the UP. It was a culture of sand-floored cottages, fresh lake trout, pontoon boats and dairy queens.

Our divorced dad Al would take his three little girls to Houghton Lake every summer. By the time I was thirteen, I had found a summer love -- a gorgeous lad named Larry Dusseau who lived up in Mio, a blinking light town on the Au Sable river. Larry had a Honda motorcycle and would drive down to meet me at the Music Box, a teen hangout at the lake. I was in love with that boy. Achingly so.

During the winters, we wrote letters, mine doused in Heaven Sent, his in Jade East. I was certain I would never survive without him. Until...I went up north a couple years later and found out he had gotten married at 18. To the daughter of the man who owned the drugstore. I went there. She was behind the counter. She was beautiful. I let it go.

But not really. I googled his name year after year. Nothing. Then, this year, when Kelly and I were traveling up north again, we stopped in Houghton Lake. It had changed, of course. But so much was still the same, thank God. The old Sand Bar where our dad used to sneak off to after tucking us in was still there. And the dairy queen was still standing. But the Music Box had been torn down not eight months before. They are putting up a mini-mall they say.

I asked Kelly if we could go up to Mio. It was bigger, new streetlights going in and a full traffic light where the blinker had been. The drugstore was gone. At breakfast, I asked the waitress for a local phone book. She didn't have one so I walked to a park ranger station where the old fellow behind the counter found one for me. But I had forgotten my glasses and couldn't read the small print.

"Who you looking for?" he asked.
"Larry Dusseau," I answered.
He looked. "Nope. No one living here by that name."
But then he paused. "Wait. Seems I remember Mary Jo was married to some guy named Dusseau. He passed on five years ago."
The name echoed in my head. Mary Jo.
"Yeah...Dusseau. I remember him now. He was with the sheriff's department. He died of a heart attack, I heard. Did you know him?"
"Yeah, a long time ago," I said.
"She's working over at the realty place now. You want me to call her?"
"No, no," I said.

You can't go home again. But sometimes you just need to try.


Anonymous bridesmaide said...

This one brought a tear to my eye.
I too, have tried to "go home" again. And even though it's a
healing sort of thing it can also
be painful.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous Mark Terry said...

Ouch. That is tough.

On the other hand, it's sure beautiful up there. My sister bought a condo on Higgins Lake a few years ago and I have to say, it sure is nice to have a generous relative with a condo on one of the most beautiful lakes in the state.

It never quite seems like summer if we don't go up north (I'm in Oxford, MI, just north of Pontiac), and we only made it up once this year because of a trip to Disney World. Next year, much time planned for up north.

Mark Terry

2:36 PM  
Anonymous --john-- said...

I've spent a lot of time in the Houghton/Higgins Lake area. Lots of pizza, ice cream and putt-putt golf joints. And a few decent bars. Over the years I've seen the stretch of M55 that goes through Houghton Lake/Prudenville, [basically from K-Mart to Wal-Mart,] devolve into bumper to bumper traffic regardless of the season. But I still love to go "Up north."

8:20 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I know that ache that tugs at your heart when you go back to where The Music Box was. I fell in love there too. I also worked at The Box from 1962 untill it closed the last time. I took care of the sound system and played records when the owner could not. From the 50s to the 70s that was truly an enchanted place and time.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Ken L. said...


Just wanted to correct some information you were given. The deceased Mr. Dusseau you refer to was Dick Dusseau. He was my best friend when he suddenly died of a heart attack in the early 80's. He was formerly Oscoda County (Mio) Sheriff. His wife's name was Mary Lou, not Mary Jo. She does work at real estate now, she and Dick were running an insurance agency when he died. I don't know if his middle name was perhaps Larry and he used that at a younger age, but I sort of doubt it. I rather think that the Dusseau you had sought was someone other than my friend Dick that you were told about. So your "Larry" might still be out there somewhere.

1:21 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Dear Mr. Anonymous,

I am so glad you wrote. Not only to clarify my misunderstanding but to, well, give my heart a small lift. I have tried for a long time to find my friend Larry so when I was given this erroneous news on my last trip to Mio, I was very sad, as you can imagine.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write. And I am so sorry about the loss of your dear friend. Even though it was a long time ago, I am sure you still feel his absence.

Best regards,

PJ aka Kris Montee

3:38 PM  
Anonymous darlene said...

i decided to google the music box to see if it might still be there...and found your website. the last time i had driven by the box (during the 90's) it was sad to see it so rundown but at least it was standing. wow....the music many memories for me. i lived "up north" in lake city and went to the box every weekend i could...even during the winter months. i live in colorado now but i still have all the wonderful memories. thanks for sharing your story.

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Marc said...

I was playing some old tunes on the computer and it reminded me of the Music Box. I tried Google and found your story. I did not know it had been torn down, that makes me sad. I went to " The Box" every chance I got from 1957 - 1961. As soon as I arrived I would go up the stairs and ask Lee to play Chuck Berry's Reelin'and a Rockin for me. Do you know if the owners are still with us? Wouldn't a reunion be fun?

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Leslee said...

Oh, how my heart turned when I read your blog. I spent my early summers at Higgins Lake waiting till I was old enought to go to "The Box" and instead went to the trampolines next door while my older sister danced the night away. I finally scored a fake ID where I had to memorize the information because there wasn't a picture on the old style driver's licence. I finally became of age and you couldn't keep me away from the place. Lee & Shirley were always welcome to visitors in their booth upstairs and regularly played our requests.
Oh, the summer romances!

4:29 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Thanks for writing Leslee and sharing old memories. My heart broke when I found out they tore the place down.

5:49 PM  
Blogger D Ward said...

Some of my fondest memories are of the weekends spent at "The Box" in the '70's.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to change the topic (too much), does anyone remember a roller rink located about 1 mile north of the box on E. Houghton Lake Dr.?

2:53 PM  
Blogger larryd said...


My name is Larry Dusseau from Flint Michigan and I used to go up north to St Helen in the mid 1950s and to the Music Box in the late 1950s, when I was in high school. Lots of summer loves resulted and your article brought back many fond memories.

The only other Larry Dusseau I knew was my cousin in Bay City, MI.

7:42 PM  
Blogger larryd said...


My name is Larry Dusseau from Flint Michigan and I used to go up north to St Helen in the mid 1950s and to the Music Box in the late 1950s, when I was in high school. Lots of summer loves resulted and your article brought back many fond memories.

The only other Larry Dusseau I knew was my cousin in Bay City, MI.

7:43 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Hello, Larry D.

How nice of you to write! I doubt you are "my" Larry since I was at the Music Box in the 60s. But I can't tell you how good it makes me feel that other Larrys were dancing the night away under the stars there long before I found it.

Summer loves...

7:51 PM  
Blogger skisby said...

I Googled "The Music Box" just for fun to see what might pop up after all these years. I doubted that it still existed and comments posted here confirmed that sad fact.

I enjoyed the Music Box scene starting around 1959. I'll never forget dancing under the stars and those huge speakers! I met some neat people there although names have been forgotten. There was a "John" from Milwaukee, I think. He was a hitchhiker headed for the Box and we picked him up on one trip and met him there at least once after that. He was a good guy.

We always rode from Mt.Pleasant, MI with a buddy we called Moose, who drove an orange and white 1955, customized Ford convertible. What a great car and what great times we had there.

I live in Florida now, but visited Michigan last September after being away 20 years. I didn't make it to Prudenville, but drove around Higgins Lake so my wife could see its beauty. It was good to go back home.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Terry and Joanie said...

My cousin Joanie and I would spend hours getting ready to go to "The Box" so we could dance under the stars and hopefully find a summer romance. Kids would flood the area during those days (the 60's) It was an innocent time and I remember the dress code was strictly enforced at the entrance, no pants, shorts, skirts above the knee! I was so sad upon a return to Michigan a couple years ago (I now live in L.A) to find it demolished. I walked the site and found a piece of the slate roof on the ground and picked it up, a piece of history, a memory of magical summer nights, something to keep forever. From time to time, I take the piece of slate from my cabinet and hold it in my hand and just for a moment, I am back! Remember the last song played every night, "Goodnight Sweetheart" and "God Bless America"! Cheers to all who remember those days!

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Terry and Joanie said...

My cousin Joanie and I would spend hours getting ready to go to "The Box" during the summers of the 60's. We obeyed the strict dress code wearing our pedal pushers below our knees. We had many summer romances during those nights of dancing under the stars. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to return to Prudenville for a visit and promptly went to the site of the Music Box only to find it demolished and the land cleared for a miniature golf course. So sad but as I walked around I looked down and found a piece of the slate roof. I scooped it up and it now sits in a cabinet in my L.A. home. From time to time I take it in my hands and remember those magical times so long ago. Life was simpler then. Remember the last songs played every night? They were "Goodnight Sweetheart" and "God Bless America"! Cheers and happy memories to all of you who were lucky enough to be a teenager then!

3:32 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I live in the Denver area, but I am originally from Michigan and our family owns property in St. Helen called Hall's Haven, on which sat a main house and three small cabins. When I was 14 and my friend, Karen, was 18, we traveled up for a summer vacation with my dad, who had been divorced from my mom only months earlier. Karen was from Houghton Lake and said we HAD to go there and see some friends and go to the "The Box". Dad gave me his car for the long day and evening ahead, as long as, he said, Karen drove. Being 18, he just assumed she had a driver's license, which she didn't. My deal with Karen was, as soon as we were out of sight, we'd switch and I'd drive, which even at 14 I knew how to do... since Dad had taught me in a barely developed subdivision (paved streets only) in order to further ready me for Driver's Education Class. Little did he know. Anyway, off we went to Houghton Lake in the morning. We entered town and decided to fill up with gas BEFORE the day began, so we stopped in front a station (Clark maybe?), waited for oncoming traffic to clear then swung in. I had to manuever a u-turn into the station in order to slide up to the pumps. Except that I didn't quite make it. I hit the tall cement block that the owners had WISELY set on the corners of the gas pumps so that driver's like me wouldn't actually hit the pump and blow up the place. The two cute guys sitting outside waiting for customers simply stared with their mouths open as I rammed into that cement block. The car was still in drive and attempting to move over the block. Karen yelled to reverse it and I backed up. The front quarter panel was completely damaged. We could barely look at those two guys. After a long day of visiting friends, we went onto The Box to dance that night, intending to honor the totally lenient 1am curfew he had placed on us. We danced and laughed and I met a guy named John Thompson (whose name I cannot believe I still remember 411 years later). At the close of that (innocent) evening, off we went to return to St. Helen. We parked the car, flopped into bed and talked in the dark. What a fun night. At noon the next day, Dad rapped on the cabin we were staying in. Using my full name, he summoned me to step outside NOW. The car...the post...the damage. We had forgotten. "What happened here?" he said in the sternest voice he could muster. Out of my mouth came a total fabrication and the speed of which I thought of it has never been matched again. "We were inside at The Music Box, Dad," I said. When we came out, the car had been hit. It wasn't our fault. "This is house paint on the car," he noted, "not car paint." What?!??! I was prepared for this development. "Well, I'm just telling you what happened, Dad," I asserted. "Are you SURE you didn't hit a house?" he said with complete sincerity. I reminded myself of my older sister's recent advice: "Never admit it or they have you." I persisted with my story and Dad relented. He paid for the damages through his insurance company, who promptly raised his rates. We didn't admit to him til years later and bless his heart, he still laughs about it now. I'm so sad The Box is no longer there. I remember the tree under which I danced and I remember looking up through it to the stars, capturing the image in head and heart. I'm going back to Michigan in a few months and I'll have to remind Dad of this evening and we'll have another good laugh. -Susan

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, a bunch of friends would rent a house every Memorial weekend for many years when we were young and we always went to the Music Box... many memories.... One thing I will always remember was the guy at the door that would smell your breath to see if you had been drinking....Late 60's to early 70's. Much fun...

1:56 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home