Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Detroit Neighborhood -- Back in the Day (7 Mile to State Fair, Woodward to John R)

September 18, 2010 –

My father lived at 492 Fernhill as a boy in the 1920s; I lived with him and my mom at 456 Fernhill as a child in the 1940s.

When I googled the neighborhood and rode the cyberspace arrow up and down the streets, I could not believe the destruction and neglect. At least half the houses on Fernhill are gone.

When I saw the empty lot where my house used to be, it broke my heart. How crazy is that! It was more than 60 years ago! My dad's house still standing was a wonderful surprise. In my mind's eye, I can see the street and the people as they were so long ago. I don't know why I care. Maybe it has something to do with being a writer.

On the North side of the street, it appears the house once owned by the Maynards, the Etheringtons, and the Hopps family (492) remain.

On the South side, across from where 456 used to be, the house owned by the Lucich family in the 1940s is also still standing.

Time has not been kind to this little community but it was a wonderful and safe place to grow up in the 1940s.

From Fernhill we walked to the corner of Havannah, turned right one block, and there was our beautiful school, Grayling Elementary. What has happened to this school? The building remains but it is not listed as a Detroit elementary school.

From 456, my friends and I would walk two blocks to Beauman, turn left and pass a little convenience store on the right filled with penny candy or continue a few more short side blocks up to 7 Mile to Brown's Creamery, where my Grandma Hopps, the store manager, would give us delicious double-dip chocolate cones for TWELVE CENTS!

In the summer, my friends and I would walk the 2-1/2 blocks over to State Fair and spend the entire day at the Fairgrounds!

I remember the fire there in 1942. I was four and sat on my dad's shoulders as he and half the neighbors walked over to watch the horror and listen to the screaming horses.

We did not have a car then and my dad rode the bus to and from work. Sometimes I would walk to the other end of Fernhill, to Charleston, (remember when they built that manufacturing plant there?), turn left two short blocks and meet him at the top of the stone steps he walked up when he got off the bus by the viaduct at State Fair.

Or we could walk up Charleston to 7 Mile and turn left a block or two and be at Trinity Reformed Church, where my dad went to church as a boy and my grandma still attended in the 1940s.

Our next door neighbors, the Hoffmans, attended Epiphany Lutheran Church located across the street a little ways from the creamery. It was such a beautiful church, I wished I was Lutheran so I could go there. It is now known as Oasis of Hope Christian Church. 

September 19, 2010 --

Next to our neighbors, the Hoffmans, was a vacant lot. Then came the Etheringtons, then the Maynards, then a small house with a boy I only knew as "Junior". He was constrained by crutches -- a victim of Polio before Salk.

Our vacant lot was a haven for collecting bugs for science projects, playing baseball or "kick the can", or just laying in the grass looking up at he sky at the "pictures" formed by the clouds. One street light stood right there at the vacant lot so we never had an excuse for missing curfew.

The Hoffmans had six children and eventually moved to a bigger house -- right across from Nolan Intermediate. One daughter, Mary, and I kept in touch for a few years. The people who bought their house had a little girl named Sandra and I babysat her a few times before we moved to Oak Park in 1952. Now I can't remember their last name. 

September 19, 2010, Later --

Oppos Grocery -- The steps were so big, I could hardly get up them when I was four. How great was that . . . to have a little grocery store right at the end of your street! That sold candy too!

Back in the 1920s when my dad lived at 492, families would buy their groceries on "credit" and pay Mr. Oppo at the end of the month.

My Grandpa Leo Hopps, the Lathams, the Etheringtons -- all neighbors -- helped each other dig basements under the existing houses back then. At that time, this "corridor" was surrounded by countryside; it was the "suburbs" of the times. I've been told there was an article published 1918-1925 ??? featuring the diverse and cooperative nature of this community; which it was in the 1940s also. Am hoping to find a copy of the article.

September 19, 2010, Later Still --

These are the names/ethnicity from Fernhill neighbors (I think):

Hoffman -- German
Lucich -- Polish
Faust -- German??
Maynard -- Don't know
Griffith -- Don't know
Etherington -- Don't Know
Hopps -- English/Scotch
Oppo -- Polish??

This was a "blue collar" community in the 40s. Many families had parents living with them who were immigrants from "the old country" who still spoke their native language. When did we lose this reverence for speaking a second language . . . ???

I only know of the two churches (still standing) I mentioned; both on 7 Mile, a few blocks east of Woodward (even though the addresses say WEST 7 Mile; I guess because they are WEST of I-75) – Trinity Reformed Church now called Goodwill Community Chapel and Epiphany Lutheran now called Oasis of Hope Christian Church.

Every summer my girlfriends and I would walk up to the 7 Mile Public Library and take out a week's worth of books to read. Back then, milk was delivered in horse-drawn trucks. One time we passed some horse droppings in the road. I turned to my friend and said, "Oh, look at that pile of S---". I was probably 9 or 10. It was the first time I ever dared to speak such strong language; it made my heart race from guilt accompanied by a feeling of "whooosh"-like relief. I went around saying it repeatedly for several more days until it lost its effect and I lost the need.

Maybe that guilt wasn't such a bad thing . . .
* * * * *

December 10, 2010 Update --

Me 'n Rocky (my puppy) were driving down the road the other day and I was thinking, once again, of my old neighborhood and how it was 60 years ago.


Rocky looked up at me -- and said -- (he doesn't actually 'talk", I read his mind thru his eyes)

"You need to say a prayer every day for sixty days, representing the sixty years you didn't, asking God to cover this neighborhood with His cloak of Love and Protection so that, once again, families and children will have a safe place to play and live."

So I did. And I am. Counting down from 60, today is #58.


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