Monday, July 28, 2008

One Day I Moved to Detroit

I really don't remember much about it. I mean, there was not much to remember. I moved to Detroit from the womb. Now there was a dark place.

But I digress.

9976 Vaughan Street, Detroit, Michigan. I remember the address because, well, because it was written right there on the front of my house. Little kids might not be smart but one thing they do is notice things. And before I moved away from there I had it memorized. Don't ask me about the phone number. I could not reach the phone so there really was no reason to concern myself with it.

I had a tricycle. And from it I eventually graduated to my brother's BIGGER three wheeler. It was shaped like a policeman's motorcycle. Decals and everything. Yeah, policemen in Detroit must have ridden three wheelers. Can't prove it by me. I was between zero and six, remember?

What I do remember is a "ribbon" driveway. That means that the places where the wheels went were paved with a grassy strip between them. There was a front porch with an awning over it. The backyard had a concrete porch too. It also had a sand box and a brick barbeque grill that my dad made. Very cool. I don't remember anybody ever cooking on it so maybe it wasn't such a big thing after all.

There was a basement with a workshop for my dad. He took me there one day and showed me a gallon jug full of a green liquid. He told me that it was not kool-aid. It was poison and if I drank it I would die. He really didn't have to mention the kool-aid part. The drinking and dying was quite sufficient to get my attention.

There was an upstairs too. It had mahogany paneling with closets with doors that blended into the walls and, to a little kid, was shockingly awesome. I never understood why we didn't live up there instead of down stairs.

I went to Horace Mann Elementary School. That is where I attended Kindergarten. I'm not sure but I think we moved away from Detroit before I graduated to first grade. My teacher was really nice. Her name was Mrs. Lambert. I may have been five years old but I knew she was hot. No, not in a sweaty way. I made a pumpkin out of newspaper one day just before thanksgiving. It was colored all orange with a greenish yellow paper stem. Very authentic. (Did I mention that I made it myself?) When the bell rang that day I walked out of my classroom with my paper pumpkin in my hand. And there was nobody there to meet me. I remember standing all alone on the sidewalk. No mom. No dad. No brother. Just me. And so I started walking in the direction they always pulled me in when they took my hand at the end of the school day. For some reason I suddenly noticed for the first time that the driveways actually sloped down to the street. I mean they didn't make you go "thump" over the curb to get from the drive to the road. They sloped. And they sloped very, very well. I had not picked up on that before. But I noticed it on this day and I examined every driveway on every block during my walk home. And I did get there. Not before I crossed several busy city streets. I shudder to think. And then I proudly presented my pumpkin. I would imagine that at some point my mom went ... "oops" ... and realized that she had forgotten to pick her kid up from school. But it was not a big deal to me then and it isn't a big deal to me now.

As my days in Detroit were winding down my dad started driving frequently to a far away city because he could work there. I did not understand that Detroit was a city with a whacky economy. When the auto industry went sour everything went sour. My dad did not work in the auto industry but we were affected by it. And one day I found myself crying as I looked out our dining room window at my dad's pink 1957 Chevy backing out of the driveway and turning to the left. He was going back to that far away city. He would be back as soon as he could but that didn't mean much to a five year old. I just knew dad was leaving. I did not yet know that I would be leaving soon too.

Even forty-seven years later i remember Woodward Avenue, Hudson's Department store, Vernor's Ginger-Ale, the big building downtown with the huge Christmas tree fashioned out of lights on the front in December, Willow Run Airport, Silver Cup Bread, and the building my dad worked in. I remember my friends, Chrissy and Tony. Their dad never mowed their back yard and we had big steel rods to kill snakes that surely lurked back there. We never saw any. But they were there. Tony said so.

Oh. And I remember that walk home. It was no big thing. Every five year old kid should be deserted by their parents in the depths of Detroit at least once. Seriously. I made it. And I sleep just fine at night.

Once the nightmares stop.


Gregg said...

Lately I've been thinking of things like this, too. Memories of when I was a kid, and how everything seemed just...magical.

I wonder if my kids will have these same memories, but I fear they won't. Things just seem somehow different. But, I'm probably wrong.

I'm sure MY parents have no idea what my magical memories are until I write about them!

Ron said...

Oh, I think they will have those memories. No doubt, Gregg. We just don't know what they will be. But I'm already old enough to occasionally sit in amazement and listen to my grown kids (23, 25, 27) talk and laugh about their childhood. The innocence must only be lost to us. Now THERE is something I miss.

WowsRose said...

Mmmmm...Vernors. Nothin' else on earth like it! I grew up in Michigan as well. My dad was born and raised in Detroit.

I have wonderful memories of my childhood and near death experiences in our little 'hood. We had it pretty rough on our farm, but my parents (mom mostly) always made the best of it for us kids. We have some pretty awesome memories and experiences to look back on. And some not so much.

Rose colored glasses as my husband would say.

WowsRose said...


What is up with the brick BBQ's up there? We had one too, but I don't remember ever using it to cook on!

Ron said...

I don't know. Maybe they had good bricks but bad meat? Or perhaps it was a bigger conspiracy! Maybe unused BBQ's were a secret sign? Could we have grown up in a BBQ cult?!