Leelanau is a Native American word that translates to ‘delight of life’ and I think that the residents of the picturesque county would agree that it’s brought a lot of delight into their lives. Over this past year I’ve discovered so many stories about how people found themselves falling in love with Northern Michigan, and something about Leelanau county has undisputedly captivated the hearts of all who have ever crossed its path. It’s sacredness is one that is unspoken and understood among visitors, residents, and visitors turned residents. It certainly has captured Scott Craig’s heart and as an ode to the place he calls home, he wrote Laughing in Leelanau, a book that encapsulates all the charm, fun, and oddities he loves.
Scott has been coming to Leelanau county on vacation since 1963. A campus minister from the University of Illinois that he was friends with took a job preaching in Northport. He inhibited Scott and his wife up for a Memorial Day weekend.
“I just liked this place so much. I remember the blossoms were out, the lakes were sparkling, the skies were blue and the temperature was wonderful.”
For three years he and his wife would leave the hustle of big city life in Chicago and rent a summer stay in Northport for a couple of weeks. Eventually, they bought their own summer place. As years went by they grew more attached to the region and in 1986 bought a bigger home in Leelanau before moving up to Leland permanently in the 2000s after Scott retired from a career in TV.
During his career Scott produced segments and documentaries for big network television and radio stations, and it was this experience in storytelling that helped him write his first book. A radio series he produced and broadcasted on Interlochen Public Radio was called The Story Next Door.
“The idea was that everybody you talk to has a story. They were all from local people.”
The series inspired his first book under the Stories Next Door, when he realized that all of the radio material he had was already written down and would make for a great anthology style storytelling book. In 2013 the book was published.
“I did 700 something shows, and it was on my bucket list to write a book. I thought it would be easy because everything was already written, but it turned out to be a tremendous pain in the ass,” he laughed.
Not enough of a pain to deter him from writing another, however. Laughing In Leelanau wasn’t all written down like Stories Next Door was, but he had been carrying it around for awhile.
“Since 1963 I’ve really gotten to know people here, especially after retiring. I belong to a little breakfast group that meets once a week. There’s about 8 or 10 of us, and one day one of the guys comes in and has a little book called Maine Humor. He read us some of it and it was stuff like the confused tourist asking the farmer how to get to such and such place and the farmer tries before saying, ‘Well I don’t think you can get there from here.’ I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
So for a year and a half Scott joined in on any coffee and breakfast clubs he could find in the county. He sipped, observed, questioned and listened as locals shared stories, jokes and lore about Leelanau. For a year and a half, he was everyone in the county’s neighbor lending an ear over the fence post.
“I was in kitchens, porches, bars, barbershops talking to people and collecting pages of stories.”
He combed through newspapers and other old documents through the Leelanau Historical Society Museum as well. It was through all of these stories that he compiled the material for his book.
Laughing In Leelanau provides the kind of anecdotal, passed down, ‘I heard that…’, kind of stories that paint American small towns with the color and community that keep folks proud and, well, laughing.
One story talks about the barbers from Jon’s Barber Shop in Suttons Bay and how they take a bunch of ‘good-natured ridicule.’
“One day a woman was at Barb’s bakery in Northport when she overheard a man tell his buddy he was on his way to Jon’s.
‘I’m going to tell him to cut my hair two inches above on the right side, on the left I want my hair to hang below the ear. I want him to leave the back full and take a few random whacks at the front.’
‘Why in the Earth would you tell him that?’ the friend asked.
‘Consistency,’ was his reply. ‘I want him to do it the way he did it last time.’”
He finds that other locals are indeed laughing with him.
“The first book did well, but this book has been just flying off of the shelves. I have to say that I’m very pleased with the reaction.”
And the people are pleased to have a collection of all of their favorite jokes and county stories.
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