Vacations with a literary component, I've found, make traveling more interesting.
I'll never forget my first experience with this. I was about 8 or 9 years old. We were heading back to Chicago from a family trip to Kansas when Dad decided to stop at a town in Northeast Missouri. He parked directly across the street from a modest white house. Dad said a writer named Mark Twain used to live there.
A couple of years later, I read a book by this fellow Twain, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." My literary outlook would never be the same, and my fascination with Samuel L. Clemens, who spent his boyhood years in that house in Hannibal, immediately started to flourish.
While in college, I was joined by two other literary adventurers from the Southern Illinois University School of Journalism — Jim Murphy and Robert "Sage" Mau — on a vacation jaunt in search of more Twain lore. We departed Carbondale and headed straight to Hannibal, arriving after dark. A kindly police officer escorted us to Huckleberry Park, where we spent the night on the ground next to the car in sleeping bags. We toured the local Twain sites the next day, soaking up all the literary aura we could.
Then there was the time my brother Matt and I spent a week in the Boston area. We made a special stop at Walden Pond, the place made famous by author Henry David Thoreau. Seeing the glimmering pond and the quiet woods where Thoreau lived a simple life in his self-built cabin made his writings more meaningful and enjoyable.
On several recent vacations, my wife and I took our two kids on pilgrimages to some former home sites of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the "Little House" books. These were actually side trips while heading to our primary vacation destinations in Missouri, South Dakota and Minnesota. However, the stops were always worthwhile and broadened our appreciation for the author's life and work.
Our latest literary quest involved Ernest Hemingway. This adventure surfaced during a vacation trip in July to Traverse City, Mich., at the northeastern corner of Lake Michigan.
Hemingway, it turns out, was well acquainted with that area. He spent his boyhood summers at a family-owned cabin on Walloon Lake near Petoskey, where he liked to fish and hunt.
Hemingway knew many of the small towns in that region, including Charlevoix and Boyne City. Several served as settings for some of his early short stories. Notable among them was Horton Bay. A general store in that tiny community served as the backdrop for Hemingway's story "Up in Michigan."
Between our visits to beaches, cafes, shops, lighthouses and mountainous sand dunes with eye-popping views of Lake Michigan, we searched for Hemingway connections. We had lunch at Jesperson's, a Petoskey eatery where Hemingway hung out. We paid a quick visit to picturesque Walloon Lake, discovering in an instant why Hemingway held it so dear. We even stopped at the Horton Bay General Store, now basically a shrine to Hemingway.
The general store was closed when we got there. So we sauntered over to the Red Fox Inn next door and had a pleasant visit with the proprietor, James Hartwell, a local historian and writer whose shop is crammed with Hemingway books, photos and memorabilia.
Hartwell, whose grandfather reputedly gave Hemingway some fishing tips early in life, was a fountain of information and enthusiasm for anything connecting Hemingway with northern Michigan.
As we headed back home, I realized my view of Hemingway would never be the same. From this point on, whenever I see the author's name, visions of sand dunes, lakeside vistas and Michigan cherry orchards will spring to mind.