TRAVERSE CITY — Gregg Smith, his two younger brothers and mother spent several weeks every summer on Beaver Island during the late 1940s and 1950s.
To go to the island was to step back in time, he said.
He recalls riding on the running boards of his Uncle Johnny Andy Gallagher’s 1930 aging jalopy when his Aunt Lil took them and his five island cousins on picnics or berry picking. And then there were trips in the car to the South Beaver Head Lighthouse where his uncle was lighthouse keeper for several years before working as an engineer on the Beaver Islander ferry.
He remembers diving down several feet in St. James Bay with brothers Mike and Tim to see the shipwreck remains of the Hattie Fisher, a sunken merchant ship near his grandparents’ house. His grandmother never left the porch doorway whenever they swam or played around the homemade floating raft.
“We were regular Huck Finns and Tom Sawyers,” he said.
He still can see his grandfather’s net shed and the hundreds of wooden floats that supported the pond nets attached to them.
“It was dream place, but we didn’t realize it then,” Smith said.
Both his grandparents — Andy Mary Ellen Gallagher and Lizzie (Green) Gallagher — were first-generation Beaver Islanders born to parents who had emigrated from Ireland in the 1800s.
Andy’s name is an example of old Irish naming structure. Islanders sometimes added women’s names to distinguish their children because so many names were similar on the island. The Andy in Johnny Andy Gallagher’s name signifies that he was Andy’s son.
Smith never met his grandfather, who died in 1939 at age 61 of peritonitis caused by a burst appendix. The family couldn’t get him to the Charlevoix hospital in time to save him