July 7 was a clear day in northern Michigan. Late in the evening, Jeremy Sheaffer climbed onto the roof of the cottage on Bluff Street, watched the sun slowly drop over Lake Michigan, and wept. Sheaffer’s grandparents and great-grandmother first came to Bay View, a picturesque summer community of some 450 Victorian cottages, in 1917. In the century since six generations of the family tree became entwined with the place: Sheaffer’s grandparents had five children, 20 grandchildren, and dozens of great-grandchildren. By now the extended family is scattered around the country; in the summer, cousins and nieces return to Michigan, renewing family ties and creating their own memories.
Sheaffer, now a 52-year-old father of two based in Maine, where he directs a conservation organization, doesn’t actually have a first recollection of Bay View, he said. “It’s just something that has always been there.” He made his first friends in the community’s youth club, spent glorious adolescent afternoons sailing on the bay, had his heart broken by the swing. “There’s a memory there on every corner, every lamp post,” he said. “I’m closer with Bay View than any other place that I’ve ever been.”
But recently Sheaffer was preparing for the possibility of severing ties. This summer, for the first time in memory, he didn’t bring his wife and boys to Michigan for their beloved annual trip. Instead he came by himself for a week, to execute the sale of the Bluff Street cottage that had belonged to his parents, who both died last year. More daunting, he was also considering selling his portion of the cottage next door that he shares with his siblings—renouncing his stake in the community that’s defined so much of his life. “To be completely out—I don’t know what that’s going to feel like,” he said. “I can say that without Bay View a huge part of my life, a huge part of the world that I grew up in and have known all my life, would be gone.”