By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Back, and Forth: Some things stay the same, some are just 'meant to be'

##Wayne Young, center, and his son, Larry, both Upper Peninsula residents, with News-Register Managing Editor Kirby Neumann-Rea, at a local restaurant.
##Wayne Young, center, and his son, Larry, both Upper Peninsula residents, with News-Register Managing Editor Kirby Neumann-Rea, at a local restaurant.

Connecting flights were all part of the fun in the trip Lorre and I took to Wisconsin and Michigan last week, by way of a visit to relatives in Chicago. It was a long-awaited journey that imbued the adage “old home week.”

Our primary destination was Shag Lake for a stay in the cabin my grandpa and grandma, George and Anna Neumann, bought on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But it was not our only sentimental destination.

I came away renewed by family and place, and reminded in a big way of the magic of human connection.

It is difficult to list highlights with a trip like this, given how much it encompassed in terms of family, place and history.

Certainly the highpoints included two conversations with my 100-year-old uncle, Sid Wallach, including his World War II service in Greenland.

Certainly the dip in Lake Big Shag with Lorre and our cousin, Harlan Wallach, and the cooling waters and calm lake surface. I didn’t even mind the biting horseflies.

Certainly the tour of the YMCA’s Camp Manito-wish, strolling under the same pines as my parents did in 1951 and visiting the former camp office, now a heritage center, where my parents first met.

It was my first visit ever to the YMCA camp. And it was my first visit to Big Shag — aka the camp, aka the cabin — in 43 years.

From the deck of the cabin, we viewed the vivid night sky. The aurora borealis was not visible, not this trip, but we enjoyed a splendid celestial view nonetheless.

Walking along Lake Superior, and wading in both its waters and later those of Lake Michigan, was another highly. It gave us a sense of  the gentle expanse of the northern territory.

All these stimuli created new memories and brought back old ones: staying at the cabin as a kid, boating around the lake by myself at 13, and enjoying grandma’s hospitality. She died in 1981, and the last time I saw her was at the cabin in 1979.

Among the many photos I saw there was one of me from 1962, picnicking in front of the cabin with my mom, my older brother Matt, and my grandpa, who died later that year.

Last week I sat at that table in the center of the cabin and strongly felt my one memory of George Neumann — looking up at him as I sat on his lap.

Memories naturally intersect with the new, and something like that happens between people. I’ve written about these intersections in this space several times before: numerous, often highly surprising encounters here in McMinnville and other places with people from my past or people who knew people from my past.

In Michigan, at Shag, I would experience one more amazing intersection, one of those barely believable small-world encounters.

The Shag cabin had been in the family since 1956, and families grew close in those summer months as they shared a road or a lakefront dock, swimming and fishing and dining and fending off mosquitoes together.

The Dompierres, on the neighboring property, have figured large in days at the cabin for the Neumann-Wallach-Rea clan for all those nearly seven decades.

On our second day at the cabin, Lorre and I returned from a walk and Harlan hailed me from the Dom-pierre place. We met Cathy Dompierre Young, whose mother graduated from Negaunee High School with my mother, and her husband, Larry, a retired shop teacher building a new house on the property.

Harlan remarked, “When Larry heard you were here, he said, ‘Have I got a story for him!’”

Had Harlan not encountered the Youngs at that moment, it’s possible Larry would not have mentioned the memory, and the connection might never have happened.

The story was told to Larry years ago by his father, Wayne, “and I’ve never forgotten,” he said. And it was a tale of remarkable intersection, and it led Wayne to make a trip out to the lake to meet me and tell me the tale himself.

I have it on video and will quote from it. This is the essence:

In 1997, Wayne worked out west fighting fires. He was at Portland International Airport, on his way back to Negaunee, population 3,000, when he fell into chance conversation with a couple also waiting for a flight.

“Three weeks sleeping on the ground, dirty, I was in the farthest seating area I could find,” he said. “I just wanted to be by myself.”

The couple “looked kind of lost,” he said, and “literally sat right next to me.” They asked him where he was going.

It was my parents, Elizabeth and Donald Rea.

“Home,” Wayne said.

“Where’s home?” they asked.

“No one knows my town in Michigan,” he told me, “so I just said, ‘the Upper Peninsula.’

“Your mom said, ‘Us, too. We’re going to Negaunee!’

Wayne recalled, “I got the crick in my neck from spinning so fast when your Mom said ‘Negaunee!’

“I asked who she knew there, and she said her brother, Sid Neumann. I said, ‘Well, I know Sid Neumann.’

“And we got to talking about the Dompierres and Big Shag. I said, ‘I don’t believe this, I’m in the Twilight Zone!’”

They joined back up at the airport in Chicago and had lunch together while waiting for a 5 p.m. flight for the UP. But an electrical storm cancelled their flights, along with many others, and motel rooms were hard to find.

Both parties were eager to get to Negaunee, so Wayne offered to rent a car and take my parents.

“But I said, ‘Here’s the thing,” he recalled. “I’m tired. I’m beat. You’re going to have to talk to me and keep me awake’.”

Wayne laughed at the thought.

“I never saw a woman talk so much in my life,” he said. “The time just went by.

“They probably talked about you and your families and I told them about my family. It was a good trip, they’re good people.

“I dropped them off at Sid’s on Lake Street, and they really appreciated that.”

As Wayne told us this, we were all tearing up. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

“I was home a couple of days later,” he said, “and a knock came at the door. It was your mom and dad, and they wanted to meet my wife (Marlene, since passed), see where I lived and see pictures of the kids.

“That Christmas, we get a Christmas card, and I open the card and at first didn’t recognize the return address.

“Your mom had written, ‘To my guardian angel.’ I thought, ‘Guardian angel? I’ve been elevated!’

“Until the day your mom passed, she would send cards. And after that, your dad sent the cards faithfully every Christmas.”

My mom died in 2014 and my dad in 2020. Wayne said, “I never saw them again, but I always thought of them as really good friends.”

It is a little like Rod Serling was standing on the PDX concourse:

“Three total strangers: they meet in Portland, a seemingly normal encounter, but these weary travelers are about to learn what they have in common, 2,000 miles away, on a lovely lake in the middle of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan … ”

I like to refer to the meeting of Wayne and my parents as coincidence, because the word imbues the essential mystery of such intersections. But Wayne left us with his belief that “our meeting was meant to be.”

Contact Kirby Neumann-Rea at or 503-687-1291.


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