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Detroit Re-Visited

My family moved from Detroit in the summer of 1981. I was 15 so for me, I grew up in Detroit. I haven’t been back since. The reasons we were moving were many but one of the major reasons was the abundance of crime. It seemed like every day someone was murdered. There were robberies, rapes, assaults, etc. that seemed to permeate the news. Being 15 and very shy, I remember being scared most of the time. It didn’t help that my parents kept warning me about the dangers out there and it also didn’t help that I was a voracious reader and read the paper from cover to cover.

I had always been scared to go back to the city but my sister, Amy, suggested that for part of my trip visiting her, we should go to the Detroit zoo and then drive by our old house, school and church. Now my sister is seven years younger than me so her memories of Detroit are slightly different than mine. I told her that I didn’t think it was that safe to go to the city with a minivan full of kids (hers) but she thought it would be fine. So off we went.

The zoo was great!! We tried to see every animal that we could and our favorite, by far, was the polar bear/seal exhibit because we were able to go under ground to see the animals swimming around us and over us. We saved the train ride around the zoo for last since we figured we would all be tired by then and it would be a quick way to get back to the beginning. It was such a successful visit that we may take all the kids back next year.

After the zoo, we went into the city to find our old house. Amy kept reading me the directions but once I saw Cadieux Road on the signs, I knew exactly where I was. We drove by the old Presbyterian church where we would ride our bikes and skateboards. Drove around the block and down our street. Harvard Road

There it was. Our old house. Right where we left it. White and brick colonial with a bay window in front. We pulled over and Amy and I got out to take pictures. The woman who lived in the house came out on the stoop and asked us why we were taking pictures of the house. She didn’t seem too happy but we explained that we had lived in the house and would like to take a few pictures.  She said it was fine. (Note to self: when taking pictures of a stranger’s house, it is a good idea to knock on the door and ask permission even if you had lived in the house 28 years earlier). We took pictures of the front and went up the driveway to take pictures of the backyard.  There were a lot of trees that we didn’t have when we lived there but the lawn looked beautiful (looked like the lawn my Dad planted when I was about eight – Kentucky Blue Grass).  The patio that I helped my Dad put in was still there although a little worse for wear.

As we admired the house and the memories came flooding back, we realized how small everything appeared.  The houses seemed really close together, the yard seemed too small for the amount of stuff we used to have in it, 18 foot above ground pool, garden, swing, and, of course, the patio. It seemed surreal.  Very familiar but also incredibly different.  I’m almost glad we didn’t ask to go in the house.  That would have just been too weird.

After taking pictures, we headed down to Warren Avenue to see our old church and school, Peace Lutheran.  As we headed towards downtown, the buildings seemed to get a little more seedy and worn.  I had heard that the school had been closed and the building was for sale.  But I didn’t realize how run down it had become and how it looked so abandoned.  I can’t believe that it was the same school where I learned and played and grew up for eight years.  The church looked the same from the outside although very closed up.  We didn’t get out to see if we could go inside because the neighborhood didn’t seem that friendly.  We were getting some looks from people sitting on their porches and I think that it wouldn’t have been safe to wander around with all the kids.

After visiting that school and church, we drove past our old public library (I used to ride my bike there every Saturday to check out books – thus becoming the voracious reader) and then drove by the house we had lived in on Kensington. We had moved there when my younger brother was a baby and moved away the year before Amy was born.  That house looked different only in that it had less trees.  I remember there being so many trees we didn’t have a lawn in the back yard, only mud and dirt.

Driving back down the road, we found Bethany church and school.  Once again, just drove around, took a few pictures and headed back towards the freeway.  Our timing in leaving the area was good since we passed some plain clothed police officers, wearing badges, that were moving in on a house.  I had a feeling it may end up bad  or, at least, violent, and there was no need for the kids to see that kind of thing.

As we headed out of town on the freeway, we kept commenting on how run down everything had become and how different it was compared to when we lived there.  The stores were all different, the people seemed less friendly and it just looked very, very tired.  I felt like someone just need to wake the city up, renovate and clean it so that it can be the sparkling, unique place that I remembered from my childhood.  Every house was different, the neighborhoods were friendly and we could ride our bikes anywhere.  I truly believe Detroit can become that way again.  How, I don’t know. But I have faith that with the right motivation and gumption, Detroit can come back to life and thrive.

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