Editor's note: Devon Henry is this year's winner of the Bruce Catton Historal Award. The essay contest is held annually in honor of Catton, a one-time resident of Benzie County. Catton won a Pulitzer Prize for "A Stillness at Appomattox"; his book "Waiting for the Morning Train" is about growing up in Benzonia.
Just as Bruce Catton did, I sat in the cold, poorly lit basement of the Mills Community House. My head was down as my sporadic sobs and cries overpowered most of the noise in the room. Most of my family members were sitting beside me, feeling the same as I did.
The monotonous voice of the minister was lost in the background of my mind. So many things were being said; there were so many memories. He spoke great things of her as though he knew her, as if she was next to him, telling him her life story.
I felt trapped in the prison that was my thoughts. The feeling a younger child gets when he knows he no longer can see or feel the love of someone he has loved so dearly is incredibly overwhelming.
The pastor explained to me and my family how love is never lost. After what seemed like a time so far away, only these words stick in my mind from that day: Love is NEVER lost. Although I was inspired by his message, all I could think about was the beauty that had been taken from me — my mother — as I saw everyone mourning around me.
Her memorial was in the basement of the Mills Community House. At any time before this day, this building was of no significance to me. It was just a building sitting by the park that I so often went to play hockey and ice skate with my old friend, and to meet new people as I played. This seemed like such a weird place to memorialize my deserving mother.
She had passed in her nightly slumber. Drugs racing through her body shut her system down as though she had nothing left to fuel her. The heartless men she was with disgracefully laid her broken body in a field to be burned and desecrated.
Her passing left my life seemingly over. It made me think profusely about what happens when one dies, what happens to his or her loved ones? There were so many thoughts, so many life-changing events in this building that was so unknown to me.
From this day on, I grew in this wonderful county called Benzie, experiencing things I never have experienced before, like the beaches, courtesies one does not receive in city settings, and acceptance from random citizens. I also had some bad times: divorce, fighting between loved ones with scandal and corruption — but in all this there still was time for love.
Knowing that almost anyone in this town would help me set my heart on fire made me want to give back something to the community along with benefiting myself as needed, and provided me a kind of therapy.
I needed some hobby to keep me away from feeling anger toward people I had not gotten along with, mostly the men who unrightfully placed my mother in such horribly bad conditions.
A turning point came in my life.
My birthday was coming and, as always, there was the wish that my deceased family members would knock on my door with a giant hug waiting just for me. Knowing that this never would happen killed me inside. Holidays became hell to me. For my birthday, my grandfather took me to a downtown Frankfort music shop called Miranda Music. This became my main place of study. He bought me a guitar, of course with the official "parent" warning: "If I buy this for you, you better use it ... and you better get to doing some dishes." Being the spoiled kid who I was, I laughed at his unserious face.
At first this instrument was something to do and was fun, but then it became an addiction. There was so much to learn, but I was allowed to work at this shop and, unusual for a teenager, I wasn't worried about money. In fact, I didn't make much money at all, but the chance to be around all these smiling, delightful musicians from almost everywhere was amazing. I felt that I learned so much every day, not only music but life skills; I began to love people again.
Every time I pass the Mills House, I think of that day and the things I wish could happen but never can. I want my mother to be proud. I want to sit with her and sing, dance, laugh, love once again. I want to show her my talents, my personality.
Through all of this, I feel a connection, not really personally but more historically. It's so interesting to me how, over time, this building was used by so many great people for so many different reasons. Maybe someday I can be great and show off the incredible roots this community has sprouted. I want to be like Bruce Catton. I could not tell you his personality, but I could tell you he made a difference in the community and even the whole country, perhaps the world.
Recently, I have been informed that I may get a chance to play a musical show at the Mills Community House. It's exciting, almost as if I will get to officially start anew in the same place where everything ended.
Devon Henry is a junior at Frankfort High School.