Where the Heck is Beckley, Michigan?

ice cream parlor

I’m just going for ice cream. And that’s not a euphemism for ‘stealing your boyfriend’ or anything else. Literally: Ice. Cream.

—Heather Harris,
Healing Heather

Beckley Michigan is Fiction

But it's based on fact. When I was growing up, my retired grandparents lived in a cottage on a lake a few miles west of a tiny town in the middle of the Manistee National Forest. That town isn't called Beckley, but if you're really looking at the map, you probably won't have any trouble figuring out which tiny town is my inspiration.

The summers I spent in 'Beckley' with my grandparents had a huge impact on my life. My grandmother had to sell the property after my Gramps died. I was in grad school in Arizona at the time, and I haven't been back to 'Beckley' since. I zillow-stalk the property on a regular basis, hoping one day to see it listed for sale (and that I've got a pile of cash ready to go).

Walkaround Lake near Beckley

Walkaround Lake Summer

Early autumn in Beckley

Starbrite Lake Autumn

So Is Bowdon

If you've located the town you suspect is Beckley, then you won't have any trouble finding the inspiration for the fictional town of Bowdon. Bigger than Beckley, it's got an actual stoplight. However, as a kid I was only interested in two specific places: the books and the ice cream. I had a borrower's card, and read my way through most of that little library over the course of several consecutive summers. Conveniently, the ice cream parlor was (and still is) less than half a block away.

But Johnson's is Barely Disguised

The inspiration for 'Johnson's Homemade Ice Cream' still exists. It's there, right where I left it when I was twenty-one. The summer I graduated from Michigan State, I spent a long weekend with my grandmother before heading off to grad school. It was the last time I had a double scoop of homemade lemon custard in a sugar cone. My grandmother had a single scoop of butter pecan. If you ever do get to 'Bowdon,' you won't have any trouble at all finding the ice cream parlor. Pretty sure they still serve the lemon custard.

Homemade ice cream in Beckley & Bowdon

Let Your Taste Decide

Let me re-state, one last time and for the record: my towns are fictional. Although Beckley and Bowdon are strongly inspired by memories from my childhood, the characters who inhabit them are figments of my imagination. Entirely. I like to imagine that the real people who live and work there would be amused by one or two of my characters, but they wouldn't recognize themselves.

Interested in getting to know the folks of Beckley and Bowdon? You can read an excerpt from Healing Heather by clicking here.

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