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Livin' out here on "The Leelanau": Where did ya come from, where did ya go, how did ya get here, Cotton Eyed Joe?

Before I get into today"s topic, I thought it might be appropriate to pass along a little bit about the word "Leelanau". First, its pronouned LEE-lan-aw, not Lee-LAN-aw. Sometimes a telemarketer might call, and in an effort to become chummy, will say something like "So, how's everything in Lee-LAN-aw county today?" I don't buy from these types, they probably don't have my best interests at heart.

Its generally believed that "leelanau" is a Native American word for "Land of Delight", however, there's never been any concrete proof offered that that is actually true. Michigan has many places with fanciful, Indian sounding names that were actually coined by land speculators and developers.

As a general rule of thumb, those folks living in "The Leelanau" probably accept "the land of delight" meaning. Those people living in Leelanau County probably don't care much where the name came from.

So, with that out of the way, I'll attempt to describe the different social strata here.

Like in most places, we're kind of cliquish out here. The further back people can trace their county roots, the more they are entitled to look down their noses at those who came later.

The first to arrive were the Native Americans, although they were transient by nature. Their concept of land ownership had more to do with using the land, and not actually taking title to it. Needless to say, once the white men arrived, it didn't take long for the interlopers to end up owning everything. About twenty-five years ago, The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewas was granted tribal status. They built a casino, and started buying back the area, one piece at a time. Its my feeling that the Native Americans have the ultimate bragging rights as to who got here first, but by nature, they don't make a big deal over it, verbally.

Next in the hierarchy would be the Natives. This segment is not the same as the Native Americans. The Natives are the folks who were born here. Most of these people live in Leelanau County, not too many would say they're from "The Leelanau". Natives grant themselves extra points, depending on how far back they can trace their descendents as county residents. The Natives tend to look down their noses at the more recent arrivals, say those from around 1970 forward. Natives are apt to say "so, who are you related to?" when meeting other county residents. If you can't claim at least a two generation lineage, you've lost points with a Native. Natives are also famous for averting their glances when shaking hands, and not giving their own names when meeting newer arrivals. The natives are a shrinking group. Like in most small towns and rural area, lots of kids move out when they grow up. There aren't a lot of economic opportunities out here.

Next would come the Newcomers, or those who weren't born here. I moved here thirty five years ago, but I will always be known as a Newcomer. What with the fact that the county has been "discovered' over the last twenty some years, Newcomers now probably make up the largest segment of the population. Lots of the Newcomers are senior citizens, and they just love to get elected and appointed to positions of authority. Many think, erronously, that serving the community in this fashion will somehow make them Natives. Nope, can't happen! The Newcomers weren't born here! Many of the Newcomers left urban or suburban lifestyles to move here. They like to announce to all who care to listen that its great to be away from the evils and problems of the city. These same folks then campaign for curbs and gutters, paved streets and sidewalks. They seem to like to ruralness of it all, just so it doesn't remain too rural. Many of the Newcomers would feel that this is "The Leelanau".

Summer Folks come to second homes in the summer, and maybe other times of the year as well. Many of them have vacationed here for generations. The Summer Folks are often "old money", and as such tend to keep to themselves, relying on Natives to take care of cottage maintenance and any other tasks that would require mingling with the general populace. These people identify more with Leelanau County...."The Leelanau" is not their world.

There are lots of "New Money" Summer Folks as well. They tend to be brash and overbearing, and build gaudy mansions on the waterfront, or on the top of hills. They seem to have little patience with any of the other groups, and are known to complain long and loud about how unfair the tax structure is here. Its always nice to look in the local newspaper and see that one of this group is facing mortgage foreclosure. The 'New Money" folks may give lip service to "The Leelanau", but only if it can somehow benefit them.

Fudgies are a longtime maligned group. They are the visitors here, either day trippers or cottage renters. They got their name from their tendency to buy boxes of fudge while on vacation. In other areas they may be called leaf peepers or (ice cream) cone suckers. The Fudgies most strongly identify with being in "The Leelanau". Upon meeting any local, a Fudgie may say "boy, you're lucky to live here". Sometimes I tell them to come back in February and see how they like it. That results in a perplexed look, like you'd get from a kid if you told him there are service tunnels under the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. To a large extent the Fudgies drive the local economy here. A lot of them are pretty clueless, but I do try to cut them slack, after all they're on vacation.

Sometimes we hear the term Perma Fudge. That's a derisive term used to describe Newcomers, equating them with the lower caste Fudgies.

Finally, I'd like to mention the Chicago People. As a rule, they bring an in your face, take no prisoners attitude with them. They are actually found in most of the above mentioned groups. Its unclear what it is they find attractive up here, it seems like a better vacation for them would be to stay in Chicago. And I must confess, I have relatives in Chicago, and they are planning a vacation up here this summer. I hope I can get them to behave like Newcomers, at the least, and embrace "The Leelanau". Oh, and bring their money.

Oh, please bear with me, just one more thing. I believe "Cotton Eyed Joe" is a traditional song, author unknown. Its a great old song, and one of its verses seemed to fit here, with a wee bit of reworking.

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Comment by D. D. Olson on June 16, 2010 at 9:45pm
I enjoyed your sociological study of Leelanau Land. Where I live, I'm a Native, and I try to be welcoming to the Newcomers who have been in Cannon Falls for 35 years. But sometimes it's work to stifle my attitude...
Comment by larry kremis on January 8, 2010 at 7:58pm
That's unusual Gary, you've become as proud to live in LEE-lan-aw county as the natives. It must be a great place with great people, even though cliqueish. I moved to OH 28 years ago but PA will always be my home. My hometown of Greenville is only a half hour away and I get there several times a year to see relatives. You should be a writer, you kept my interest and I get bored easily.
Comment by caseyjo on January 8, 2010 at 4:48pm
I enjoyed your piece on Leelanou.......I have Cotton Eye Joe on my MP3 player.

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