100% Backwoods Yooper

Last week Barry and I drove to a Baraga-Ontonagon high school basketball tournament, about an hour from where we live.  We found ourselves ‘way back in the Upper Peninsula (Yooper) backwoods, re-living a family memory from the early 1980’s. Barry kept telling me to write a blog about our experience. I kept telling him, “Please, YOU write a blog about it!” Finally, he agreed. Please welcome my latest guest-blogger, my dear husband, as he shares our latest adventure. P.S. He’s publishing it in his column in our local newspaper, the L’Anse Sentinel.


The Rousseau Bar

The Rousseau Bar

It was September, 1979. We young Lower Michigan emigrants landed plop-dab on the old Mustanen family dairy farm on the outskirts of Pelkie. The rented farmhouse was our first UP home. Landlords Ned and Toini Moberg watched over us.

I had won a tough interview process for a L’Anse Sentinel reporting job over a talented woman writer who chewed tobacco.

Kathy was hired for an office position at Baraga County Memorial Hospital. In our early 20’s we were unknowingly laying the foundation to becoming Yoopers.

Among Kathy’s family in the distant “Thumb” of the Lower Peninsula we were something of celebrity, or perhaps just nuts. Her mom and dad knew very well this region from their dear friends, Don and Ann McConnell. They visited the deepest, darkest, buggiest and snowiest woods of rural Mass City at least annually. Don is related to the Miilu clan there.

And so it was, we young upstarts were almost neighbors. K’s parents, Joanne and Dale, soon made the trip north with the McConnells. It wasn’t long before we were at the Miilu A-frame camp, playing cards flying across the tables, a barrel wood stove and gas lamps adding charm and heat. I have a distant memory of eating bear. . .

Inside the Rousseau Bar

Inside the Rousseau Bar

And for evening entertainment we went to the only show in town–the old “Art’s Bar” in beautiful downtown Rousseau. Art Moilanen, owner of the bar in the 60’s and early 70’s, had the whole place jumping, thumping out Finnish polkas and waltzes on his squeeze box. I think Don played, too.

Ann did her best to teach me the highly complex hop-1-2-3 footwork required of the polka–but it must have been some Southern Comfort and suds got in my way! It was quite a night a long, long time ago.


It's never too far...to the Rousseau Bar

It’s never too far…to the Rousseau Bar

Cheap date and a ballgame. . .

What goes around comes around–eventually.

Last Monday, March 9, 2015, I was multi-tasking again. (Read: Covering Sentinel assignment and taking Kathy on a cheap date.)

Your Dynamic Duo was off to Ontonagon to cover the Baraga Vikings-Jeffers Jets boys district basketball tourney game. (It wasn’t pretty for the Viking faithful.)

It goes without saying that K will accompany me on these long, tedious cross-country soirees if any of the above are included: dinner and a liquid refreshment; a stop at the food co-op; or a coffee shop. The more stops the merrier.

You can guess where we ended up for a pre-game dinner and pit stop, since we were headed in that direction anyway.

Note the snowmobilers.

Note the snowmobilers.

Angie Foley, new owner of “The Legendary Rousseau Bar”, has been advertising in the L’Anse Sentinel Dining and Entertainment section. Hence, we ambled around the snowy, slushy countryside of suburban Mass City searching for “Downtown Rousseau”.

I believe we found the industrial hub of the city–the railroad siding which was humming with log trucks rushing in load after load on the day before road restrictions went on.

“There it is,” Kathy said as three pick-up truck butts stuck out beyond the big snow piles. Snowmobiles were stacked up on the banks. The Legendary Rousseau Bar we had visited so many years ago. . .

Oops, someone left the door open and here's Rocko

Oops, someone left the door open and here’s Rocko

Out of place, me dressed in a leather jacket and black pants, and K in her tailored gray wool coat, we walked on in. The door was stuck half-way open on a frost heave. No one seemed to mind.

“What’d you do, leave your helmets on your sleds?” one of the boys joked.

We met Angie and introduced ourselves. It was a grand old time.

And we met “Rousseau Rocko”, the black lab-mostly dog who was our car-side greeter and dinner guest. Kathy slipped Rocko a french fry. “Everyone does that,” we were told. “He’s a pretty good dog–when he wants to be!”

The perch and cod were tasty, the company fine and the ambiance 100 percent backwoods Yooper.  It’s still The Rousseau Bar we remember.

Oh look, here's Kathy and Barry

Oh look, here’s Kathy and Barry


About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in March 2015 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

67 Responses to 100% Backwoods Yooper

  1. what an excellent writer–hit all the right notes–not a bad choice for a guest blogger Kathy

  2. A wonderful and fun story! Now I know about Yoopers, which I’ve never heard of before. Life as depicted in the ‘backwoods’ in this post reminds me of a TV show I used to love, Northern Exposure.

  3. Brenda says:

    Welcome Barry! Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories of you and Kathy at the beginning of your Yooper life ❤ I always love hearing about life in the northwoods because it has been my lifelong dream to live like that. You and Kathy are such fun northwoods people!

    • Kathy says:

      Brenda, thank you so much for your comment. (This is Kathy. I am acting as Barry’s Yooper secretary.) Glad to have given you another glimpse of Life in the North Woods!

  4. lucindalines says:

    Oh I love you guest author. He sounds much like the publisher of our local weekly, as he recounts his trips here and there. This was fantastic, I feel as if you took us all along.

    • Kathy says:

      Lucinda, thanks for taking the time to make this comment. Barry will appreciate that you liked his story. And I appreciate what you shared so much!

  5. Finding those touchstones to your past is fun when they turn out to be much as you remember them. So often they are not. But the search is worth it anyway. Thanks for a great story!

    • Kathy says:

      Esther, it took us a while to reorient ourselves when in the bar. We had to try & remember little details like “Where did Art play that accordion?” and “Where did we dance?” You are so right about when the remembering turns out to be good. Glad you liked Barry’s story.

  6. Dana says:

    Welcome, Barry, and thank you for the story!

  7. Debi says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  8. P.j. grath says:

    You guys look wonderful! I’d like to think Kathy was the tobacco-chewing writer but not that you two competed for the same job. 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Ha ha Pamela! I Swear I have never chewed tobacco. I did try to smoke a cigarette once or twice but never got hooked, thank goodness. Just think if we two young journalism graduates had competed for the same job! We may not be married all these years later… Signed, Barry’s secretary and General Manager

  9. Dear Barry via Kathy. Wonderful multi-faceted story of a young couple in love discovering the joys of living back woods and the bars, and the not-so-young couple in love who STILL love the back woods and frequent a funky Yooper bar (but this time, no bear). I loved reading about this part of the country that is romanticized here, but that’s because it centers around a loving couple.

    • Kathy says:

      Dear Pamela via WordPress. Gosh, this sounds so romantic! I think you must be a romance writer, aren’t you? Bare (bear?) with me. I love that you enjoyed this. Sincerely, Barry’s Secretary and General Manager and a Writer, as well.

  10. Susan D. Durham says:

    I loved this piece. Really captures the essence of some of my favorite places over the years. Yes, a combination of Sicily, Alaska, and some of the best sawdust-floor bars I ever visited in Texas. A talented, tobacco-chewing female writer, bar dogs, and truck butts — all had me laughing out loud.

    Then there is the tender story of two of my favorite Yoopers, and their journey from then to now, come full circle. Wonderful picture of both of you, and the other shots “take us there.” Thanks for this today, Barry and Kathy. What a treat!

    • Kathy says:

      Susan Dee, thank you for stoppin’ by to put some of your wonderful words (reminding me of floors sprinkled with peanuts in Lower Michigan) in this here blog post. I am now also very curious what tobacco-chewing female my husband is referring to. (Never end a sentence in a preposition, my mother once said.) Thanks again for the lunch last weekend! You are da best, you fellow Yooper!

  11. Christie says:

    Barry’s secretary, please tell Barry I loved his article. Makes me want to come up there and visit the quaint little place in the woods. Think I will wait for the snow to melt though.

    • Kathy says:

      Dear Maid of Honor, I am so happy you stopped by. What fun it would be to visit a backwoods place like that with you. Hey, shouldn’t you be in the Dominican Republic by now? (I am headed Down South this week.) Sincerely, the Wife

      • Christie says:

        Leaving in 10 days, looking forward to some sun and fun. Enjoy Florida and please tell the rest of the family hello…

        • Kathy says:

          Have a lot of fun, Christie! I’m back home now, but gave my parents your greetings. (And it was nice to see Pattijo and Jeff down there, too.)

  12. Ah -ha! Now you need to reign Barry in more often. You know for those times that you take an extended vacation from your blog. I very much enjoyed Barry’s writing and I got more than my fill, er, I mean feel for the yooper part of UP. That bar sounds homey especially with the dog and the door that was left open? I have no words except that all you UP folks are dyed in the wool snow lovers or maybe not!

    • Kathy says:

      You are so right, Yvonne! I TOLD him if he wanted to see a blog–HE should write one. And he did, thank goodness. Glad you enjoyed! I loved reading what he wrote, too. P.S. what he didn’t tell was that the dog kept eating his shoe. It’s a good thing he has a foot left!

  13. K says:

    Haha! I have a hard time picturing your adventure in 1979 with Nanny & Papa. Why didn’t you eat bear this time!?

    • Kathy says:

      K, thank you for commenting. What is so strange about this is that Nanny & Papa were younger than we are now! How could that have been? As for bear…none on the menu. I don’t recall eating it last time, but it was at McConnell’s camp, not the Rousseau Bar. We could go over to Rousseau when you’re home, wouldn’t that be fun? 🙂

  14. Kathy — I thoroughly enjoyed reading Barry’s post. The man’s got S-T-Y-L-E!

  15. christinelaennec says:

    Fantastic piece – I felt as if I were right there! Thank you!

  16. Debbie M. says:

    Writing runs in the family! What a nice surprise that the Rousseau Bar brought back some of the same old feelings. Too often, that isn’t the case. The last time we stopped at the Drive-In at Baraga, I asked for my old favorite of a peach yogurt cone. The perky carhop looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently, they stopped serving that who knows when. I felt old without the good feeling! 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      I remember eating those peach yogurt cones at the Drive-In, Debbie. But then I grew to like the pistachio cones there. Mmmmm! Sorry you weren’t able to get your old favorite. That can be so disappointing. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kathy

  17. susanblake says:

    Best guest blogger ever! Gosh, Barry should be a writer! 🙂 I’m so impressed y’all can take those northern (I mean REALLY northern) winters! But it sure gives you time and space to brew up the best writing!

    • Kathy says:

      SuZen, we both enjoyed reading your words! I just got back from Florida yesterday and this morning we got at least five inches of wet heavy snow. Maybe I’ll come back and visit ya’ll! Smiles, Kathy

  18. Lori D says:

    Cute. I’ll bet those memories came flooding back when you walked in the door. It didn’t look like it changed at all.

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you, Lori (this is Kathy, not Barry.) I just got home from your state of residence and am kinda wishing I was back there as it snowed at least five inches this morning and it’s below freezing. Alas…

  19. Dawn says:

    Awww…look how cute you guys are! Isn’t it fun to go back to places you visited so many years ago. I moved to Houghton in 1979! But I left in 1985, you were stronger and stayed. What great memories you two have of a lifetime of adventure.

    • Kathy says:

      Ha, ha, Dawn–thanks for thinking we are “cute”! Yes, it is fun to visit some of the old haunts. Hey, isn’t it odd we moved up here in the same year? Not sure we’re a bit stronger than you, though. Maybe more stubborn? lol. Fondly, Kathy

  20. I enjoyed reading your post, Barry. It’s always an adventure wandering down memory lane…

  21. Stacy says:

    Funny story, great writing, and best of all – a happy ending! xo

  22. I Wilkerson says:

    Wow, I never realized you guys weren’t natives! Of course this made me want a fish fry and it’s just breakfast time…

    • Kathy says:

      Yep, Inger, we’re not “real” locals. Although once you’ve lived in a place over 35 years, you should be, right? Hope you’ve enjoyed a fish fry since you commented. 🙂 Kathy

  23. Tammy says:

    How terrific was that! Great job Barry and great suggestion Kathy!

  24. Colleen says:

    Hi to you, Kathy and Barry 🙂
    Agreeing with Laurie on the subject of style. It so very obviously runs in the family xox

  25. Late to the fish fry, but that’s no problem. Barry- so good to meet you here in first person, rather than the oft’ referred to and much revered in Kathy’s posts. xoxoS

  26. I missed this update from a couple months back, so glad I checked in! Love these spots full of character and charm, with no pretense.

    • Kathy says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Kat. Glad you checked in, too. These little out-of-the-way places can be so much fun. We had a blast a couple months ago when we visited. Aren’t we lucky to live in places with surprises like these? –Kathy

  27. sonali says:

    I miss you so dearly! God alone knows how the lake superior shores look like nowadays and the woods? I can only dream….. 😦

    • Kathy says:

      How kind of you to say, Sonali. That really warms my heart–that you enjoyed this blog so much. The woods are filled with beautiful shades of green, and purple plants called lupines in blossom. The lake roars some days and lays back and shimmers other days. I have not been inspired to take out the camera very much for months and months. Right now the interest in photography seems to have waned. A couple weeks ago I met a tame chipmunk near the garden. It would have let me feed it out of my hand, except was nervous about getting bit! Thought a bit about taking pictures of this little fellow so close-up, and maybe even writing a blog post, but he never showed up again. Don’t know if I will be inspired to write/photograph again or not. But know I always think of you and so many others with such love. In spirit, Kathy

  28. I Wilkerson says:

    Just wanted to stop by and wish you a great summer Kathy (it will get warm someday 😉 )!

    • Kathy says:

      Inger, you are so thoughtful. Thank you for stopping by to say hello. You are 100% positive it will get warm–and stay warm? I hope so! It is pretty comfy today at 70 degrees, but I would like to place an order for the upper 70’s or low 80’s for a spell. You too?

      • I Wilkerson says:

        It has been sooo nice to get a little real summer this week. They were joking that Summerfest is now selling logo sweatpants, it has been so cold in recent summers 😉

  29. Nice writing, Barry! Fun story! Looks like you have taken some time off, as well, Kathy. I’m trying to return to blogging, so stay tuned. Going on a two month RV trip with my nearing 90, former flamenco dancer Godmother this summer in a 37 foot RV. Kid you not. We will be in the Upper Peninsula, but not near you, I don’t think. Maybe we will see you. Maybe we won’t be close enough. Either way, take care, my friend.
    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • Kathy says:

      Why Kathy McCullough! How nice to see you! You’re returning and I’m backing out. (Well, have been backing out since last fall…) Sounds like a fabulous RV trip!! Oh my goodness, it would be so fun to see you if you end up in the U.P. Please keep me informed where you might be. If you were in some near vicinity, might even drive over to say hello. Happy travels my friend!

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s