My Middle Name Is Earl

My title is both a tribute to Tom Petty and is relevant to this story. He sings “My middle name is Earl” in the song Mind With A Heart Of It’s Own. 

I will mourn Tom Petty until my last days.

But I digress.

I took a trip this weekend with my mother. My mom and I have never taken a trip together, just the two of us.

My mom loves Michigan and wanted to visit the South Haven area. South Haven it was!

I know very little about Michigan. I found a small cabin and the listing said there was free fire wood across the street from Earl.

What? Free firewood? Who wouldn’t want to rent that cabin?

Mom and I talked about Earl off and on the entire trip.

We didn’t take off until I had worked most of the day on Friday. The five hour trip went by pretty fast. Mom and I don’t seem to run out of things to talk about even without Earl as a topic.

We stopped for gas about an hour before we got to our cabin. Just before we exited the highway, I asked mom if my driving worried her. She said it didn’t.

We got our gas. I wanted some food, because I was starving, but the restaurant was closing.

They offered me old discounted fried chicken. Which I bought because I was starving. Also, it was nine dollars for a three piece and 6 biscuits. For gas station chicken.

I have no idea what full price would have been.

Anyway, it was dark and I had been up since 5:30 am. We left the gas station with our overpriced chicken.

I felt like the GPS got a little confused and wasn’t at all clear about what I was supposed to do.

After a series of events happened, I found myself driving the wrong way up an exit ramp.

It was fine. I realized my mistake and pulled to the side.

I took a moment to freak out about the enormity of my mistake and how it ranked number one on all the traffic mistakes I had ever made by a damn sight. I turned the car around and got on the ramp that wouldn’t kill us.

I asked mom again if my driving worried her. Fortunately, she had not lost her confidence in me.

We made it to the cabin about an hour later. For the record, I’m still skittish about entrance ramps. My momma still believed in me, but I have lost my confidence in my ability to use entrance and exit ramps correctly.

It was pitch dark, freezing, and it took a few tries to figure out the key code.

It was like the keycode on the bat cave if the bat cave had been in the movie Deliverance.

And there was a cat. I walked around the cabin twice looking for another entrance, with my phone flashlight as the only source of light. I mean, other than the ridiculously large bonfire across the street that I could only assume was tended to by Earl.

I finally figured out that the lock, to which I had no key, also had a keypad that only lit up if you touched it.

So, I entered the code and we got inside.

This was also the only time it worked, but we’ll get to that.

We were tired and both used the word “sketchy” a weird number of times. The cabin’s heat had also been turned off.

There was a thermostat in every room of the cabin. A foyer, kitchen, bathroom, living room and three bedrooms. There was a sign under every thermostat that said TURN OFF THERMOSTAT!!!

So we turned thermostats on as high as they would go. We are furnace people. We understand a furnace. We listened for a click or a whoosh or some sort of noise that would indicate a furnace kicked on. I mean, we turned ALL the thermostats all the way up.


Nothing. We were certain we were gonna freeze. Or, maybe get murdered.

We were so fucking tired.

I emailed the cabin owner and asked how to turn on the heat.

He responded with “there are thermostats in every room?”

They were electric heaters and, about 2 am, my mother and I were sleeping in a sauna.

But we survived the night and no one froze to death. Honestly, we were probably in more danger of a heat stroke by the time all the heaters did their job.

I went out in the morning before mom got up to retrieve breakfast and coffee. When I got back, I couldn’t get the keypad to work. It just wouldn’t. I put the code in over and over. Mom heard me at the door and let me in.

We made the decision to leave the door unlocked while we were gone because we didn’t want to risk not being able to get back in. We didn’t have any valuables in the cabin or anything, so what’s the big deal anyway?

We proceeded to have an amazing day. The beaches were gorgeous.

The town of South Haven was adorable. We even shopped and we both hate shopping, unless the shopping is a series of antique malls. So many quirky things to see.


We also stopped at a blueberry store and bought a pound of chocolate covered blueberries. I was super excited about that. It turns out chocolate covered blueberries are very much like Raisinets. I paid a lot for what was basically Raisinets. I am not a fan of Raisinets. Raisinets suck.

But I digress again.

I really couldn’t have asked for a better day with my mom. I am so grateful for the time with her and for the beautiful weather we had.

We were both exhausted when we got back to the cabin.

There were three guys sitting around a bonfire across the street. They all waved.

I told mom I was going to go over and get some firewood from Earl. At this point, Earl was sort of mythic.

The bonfire wasn’t quite as large as the night before, but still at least the size of the bonfires I remember in high school. There were whole trees in sections lining a patch of land and a mountain of cut firewood.

Me: Hey, so we’re staying across the street. Are one of you Earl?

Earl: I’m Earl.

Me: Hi Earl, I just want to get a little firewood. Can I just grab a few logs? We won’t be up long .

Then, Earl’s companions introduced themselves.

Dennis: I’m Dennis. We thought someone was over there. We saw the lights last night. I live just over there.

Over there was the cabin adjacent to ours. The super sketchy cabin with a white, windowless van parked in front of it. I’m not kidding. 

Me: Hey…nice to meet you.

Darrel: Hey, I’m Darrel

Me: Okay, so I’m going to just grab a few…

Earl: Dennis. Go take some wood over.

Then, Earl stretched his arm out and offered me the joint he was smoking.

Me: Dude, My mom is standing right over there.

Earl, Dennis and Darrel…

Earl, Dennis and Darrel…

Me: Ummm…no thanks.

I wasn’t going to explain the joke that I thought was hilarious. Also, trying to side step that whole “we’re in the middle of a fucking pandemic and no I will not be putting my lips on something you just had in your mouth” thing. I also really questioned our decision to leave the cabin unlocked all day. I was definitely going to be looking under all the beds once I got inside. 

Me: There’s a wheelbarrow over there, I’ll just go grab that.

So, I went over to get the wheelbarrow and by the time I got to the edge of our yard, Dennis was there with a wheelbarrow full of wood. Only, I forgot his name. I remembered Earl, because you know, he was Earl. And of course Darrel.

Me: Oh, okay. Thank you.

Dennis: Well, Earl told me to bring it over.

Me: Ummm, thanks to Earl, too?

Dennis took the wood back to the fire pit.

Me: I’m sorry, I forgot your name.

Dennis: I’m Dennis, but you won’t hear them calling me that. They call me Dirt.

Me: Okay, well, thank you Dennis.

He left and I went into the cabin with my mom and locked the door. Then, unlocked it and re-locked it. I wondered if Earl had the keycode.

Mom: Should we turn off the lights?

Me: I’m just going to leave the porch light on, And the kitchen light.

Mom: Sooooo…was that Larry, Darrel and Darrel?


Me: Earl, Dennis and Darrel.

Mom: Are you serious?

Me: Only Dennis goes by Dirt.

Mom: Yeah, leave the porch light on.

We ate our Italian take out. Then, we went outside and lit our fire.

Super funny side note. I noticed that there was already a fairly large pile of unburned wood between two of the camp chairs near the fire pit. But you know, live and learn.

Always check the fire pit before asking for wood from Earl.

That sounded way dirtier than I intended. 

Mom and I sat around the fire until we heard something rustling around in the woods near us. No way of telling what it was. Was it the tabby that was meowing at me when I was trying to figure out the goddamn keycode from the night before? Or was it an axe murderer? How were we supposed to know?

We went inside after about an hour and watched the final 4 episodes of Only Murders In The Building. My mom fell in love with Steve Martin from the early days when he hosted SNL. Her devotion has never wavered. We were both exhausted, but it was a good end to a great day.

I wasn’t super worried, but I was a little worried about Earl and his friends. I thought about finding a knife in the kitchen and keeping it by the bed while I slept, but thought “Really, and you’d do what with it? Accidentally cut yourself?” I decided I’d just go ahead and sleep for a bit and I was sure I’d wake up if someone broke in.

Of course, we were fine. It’s weird to get older and feel a sense of vulnerability I didn’t have even 10 years ago.

It’s super weird to feel that while traveling with my 81 year old mother. Not that I should worry. She is a bad ass and a warrior. And quite honestly, pretty much kicked my ass at walking up and down dunes on the beach. Either way, we’d both be fierce in protecting each other.

Michelle and Martha by Lake Michigan

I am completely sure we weren’t in danger. I am also completely sure that we can never really be sure about that.

I’m not sorry about any of it.

We had an adventure. It was beautiful and funny and we loved all the moments. Mostly.

A few were a little scary. And cold. Well, then very hot. We turned all the thermostats down, but it never cooled down enough the rest of the trip. I guess there’s no pleasing me.

Randy was waiting for me at my mom’s when we pulled in Sunday afternoon. It was good to see him and it was good to go home.

I called mom about an hour after I got settled in.

Me: Hey. What’s up. Haven’t talked to you in a while.

Mom: I know. You never call your mother.

Me: Wonder what Earl’s doing.

Mom: Probably sitting by a really big fire.

Me: I love you.

Mom: I love you too.






24 Thoughts.

    • Yeah, I totally thought I had taken a picture of the bonfire and all the wood in the lot across the street, but I didn’t. I would have loved to include that image, without the people of course. I wouldn’t post a picture of strangers.

  1. This was both amazingly sweet and hilariously funny! I can picture it clearly. I’m glad you got this time with your mom. In the last decade of mom’s life we made so many memories like this and I’m so happy I have them. Love you sister!

  2. Hugely entertaining! Although I think I would have put a chair under the door knob, or a sofa – just in case. Less fretful than not knowing what you would actually with a knife.
    I’d would love to have heard your original description when you told Randy the story. And did you call the realtor and tell them about the faulty keypad?
    Also puts a whole new disgusting meaning to the term “Eat Dirt (and die)”.
    It must be wonderful to be able to enjoy a weekend with your mother who kept you grounded!

  3. I’m so glad your mother made a “Larry, Darrel, and Darrel” reference because that’s where my mind went too. And I’m glad you got to spend some time on the beach. Or a beach. Every time I’ve been to any of the Great Lakes they might as well be the ocean to me and I love being near the ocean.
    I also got curious about that lighthouse and looked it up and the first picture that came up was of it covered with icicles and being hit by a big-ass wave. I’m glad you were there when the weather was at least a little nicer than that.

    • I cannot believe how perfect the weekend was. And that I’d have this much material. And I fucking GLEANED. So much more. Some of which I could never write about, but it was awesome.

  4. Driving up the offramp is bad, but my friend Rob once got a ticket on the goddamn freeway on a forklift when he got on the onramp and couldn’t get off of it.
    So it could be worse.
    I miss outdoor fires. We sort of don’t do them in California any more. The atmospheric river storm dumped five inches of rain on us last week, and Friday I asked a guy in a CalFire uniform if that was it for the year. Hell no, he said, we had another fire this morning.
    More rain coming tomorrow, though.
    I’m glad you and your mom had an adventure. Briana’s off in Humboldt County having one right now.
    Zsuzs brought my Les Paul down here last night to get it safely out of the way of some work she was doing, and man, I hadn’t played that fucker in way too long.
    I met a guy named Darrell in stroke rehab. He was there for the fourth time. Yes, Darrell was a four stroke. He was in surprisingly good shape and did the robot at the dance party the week before I was discharged.
    There is a guy named Dennis who runs the Christian camp right up the road from here, and I used to work for a guy named Earl. Earl was a speed freak and a monster guitar player.
    I have no idea what has become of Earl and Darrell, but I see Dennis every once in a while, and three days ago I saw him down at the landing below the dam on the mill pond, running a log splitter and making a huge pile of firewood.

  5. Great story Michelle, and well told – you had me from “I took a trip this weekend with my mother.” Reminded me of the trip I took with my mom to Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC a few years before she died. The first and only trip we ever took, just the two of us. And priceless. Cherish your memories – even Earl and Dennis and Darrell and that faulty heater and all the other stuff. And do try to make more. Trips with moms are rare jewels, I think.

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