Saturday, September 6, 2014
Entrepreneur and ESPN commentator Emily Gail had it right when she coined the phrase, “Say nice things about Detroit”. I recently returned to the city of my birth and was amazed by what I saw: people walking downtown, new homes and gleaming buildings! I’d planned to spend a weekday afternoon with my cousins enjoying the Detroit Institute of Arts. Afterwards, Greg Owen, who works for Chrysler, offered to show us around the city. I’d mainly wanted to visit Delray, where I’d been born and Palmer Woods where my grandmother had worked as a maid for the family of George W. Mason. Cousin Greg took us all around the city, from east to west, south to north and into the heart of Motown. What I saw surprised me. Downtown was vibrant. There were people actually walking on the streets enjoying Starbucks. Many of them were dressed in nice clothes and suits, walking to and from their jobs. The new Comerica Park Stadium was busy. The Tigers had just won a game and happy fans were streaming out of the park. This gave us the opportunity to view new condominiums, many of them built in the fashion of the old brownstone-style homes that had been restored. There were actually businesses that, to me at least, appeared to be thriving. Pedestrians were smiling and many were heading to the variety of restaurants in town. I witnessed busses on the streets driving passengers to their destinations. I hadn’t seen the city so alive and cheerful since I was a little kid. Yes, I actually do remember the late 1960s, my father lifting me onto his shoulders as I watched parades pass before my tiny, wonder-filled eyes. Then we’d watch the enormous American flag as it was unfurled down the side of the beautiful Hudson’s building, the banner’s stars and stripes causing many to blink back tears. All the while I would be eyeing the balloon vendors, hoping my daddy would buy me one of those double-filled beauties with the Mickey Mouse balloon inside of the transparent one. (Yes, I do remember it, clear as the day it happened. Ask anyone who knows me well; I remember my childhood and very few details are lost to me.) Then, there were the riots. There was crime. Coleman Young was elected as Detroit’s mayor and things were supposed to get better, but they didn’t. Contrast that with nearby Dearborn which was run tight-fisted and as some said, fascist style by Mayor Orville Hubbard; but you know what? Decades passed during that era with few gang problems and fewer shootings in Hubbard’s territory. My uncle Raymond Kohl was an auxiliary policeman in Dearborn and nobody questioned any city employee or peace officer. It was known for miles around, that the city of Dearborn ran a tight ship. Contrast that with Detroit in the 1970s. Raymond’s day job was driving a city bus for Detroit. His baritone, authoritative voice kept many young trouble-makers in line when they rode his bus. Not all drivers were as respected as Raymond. Even taxi drivers were beat pretty badly, some murdered, while trying to earn a living for their families. Meanwhile things just got worse in Motown. Every night before Halloween, affectionately called “Devil's Night” by the locals, homes and businesses would be set on fire and burned to the ground. Many of these structures were abandoned and some were not. People were fleeing Detroit by the thousands every year, taking their businesses and taxes with them. Mayor Coleman Young called this retreat “The White Flight” but residents past and present knew it had nothing to do with race. It was the fact that Detroit police were over-worked and not allowed to do their jobs. Many times the cops themselves would be shot at. It didn’t matter if they were black, white or Hispanic; the uniform made them a target. Once-beautiful neighborhoods were left to crumble. Incredibly sturdy well-built homes and the surrounding buildings that boasted architecture that was rivaled by few other cities were left to the crack-heads and working girls. The few families that stood their ground were threatened. Despite the fact that some individuals maintained their homes and yards, many times thugs tossed Molotov cocktails through home owners’ windows. We had friends in Delray that put out three fires in 1989. This family held out and remained steadfast until Steve died and his mother Katy was moved to a convalescent home in Allen Park. Detroit schools were going down in quality every year. The curriculum was hard to follow despite dedicated teachers and administrators. The few students that tried to study were subject to beatings, rapes and the menacing specter of the drug culture that surrounded most neighborhoods. Communities in the Detroit Metro Area were later hit in the solar plexus when many automobile factories and steel mills closed down or moved their operations away to other states and countries. People who were already tightening their belts had to tighten them even further and what happened in Detroit did not stay in Detroit: it rippled into the Downriver region, into the Great Lakes states and affected America, stabbing at the economy, causing wounds and tears. Yet, just like Nero watched Rome burn, Mayor Coleman Young and the city council, and later Kwame Kilpatrick and his cronies, bled the taxpayers of Detroit to death. Like a swarm of mosquitoes, they set their money sucking sights upon the people of Wayne County, viewing their taxes and community coffers as an endless source of cash. All the while, the city of Detroit and its people were still bleeding. A band-aid wasn’t even available when what was really needed was a tourniquet. City officials wanted more and more financial resources from the county and state. What could have been an easy fix at one time became the worst urban decay in the nation. Still, the good people of Detroit and the surrounding areas were not going to give up. Individuals and private businesses began to creep back in. Sadly, the old Tiger Stadium was demolished, but the Comerica Park was built. The powers behind Detroit Tigers Baseball could have very easily decided to sell the team or build in another city, but they didn’t. Urban renewal followed, and maybe even Coleman Young’s dream of a “Renaissance” began to take root. Later in the afternoon, my cousins and I drove to the historic old Train Depot. It‘s fenced off, but the good news is restoration’s in the works. Someday soon, trains will once again deliver passengers to Detroit. Next year’s Cubs versus Tigers game may be enjoyed after a leisurely train ride from Chicago! Greg drove us into Little Mexico. Businesses were thriving and people were walking around. We drove by the Packard plant. We turned down an ally. That was the only time I was truly scared. A party was in full swing. People were dancing. Children were playing. Then it all stopped as the participants eyed us warily and Greg put the car into reverse. For a moment I recalled the recent beating of Steven Utash who after running-over a small child that had darted out in front of his car, was beaten nearly to death by angry young men who lived up and down that street. You see, it’s incidents like this that make people think really hard about venturing into the heart of Detroit. Many times they will choose to spend their money somewhere else. We drove to Belle Isle and I was so happy to hear that this once picturesque island had been taken over by the state. Things looked beautiful again as we drove past the picnic areas and aquarium. We got out of the car and headed for the fountain. Water bubbled and sprayed out of the lions’ mouths and many tourists were taking photographs near the great, white statues. Memories flooded back to my mind, of sitting by my father as we posed beside the fountain taking similar pictures during family outings. Sure as clockwork, the fountain brought another thought to my brain and I had to walk to the restroom. I actually felt safe as I used the island’s facilities. They could have used a good cleaning, but they were modern and in working order. The tour hadn’t ended. We drove through some communities that had seen better days, maybe close to a century ago. Houses were burnt shells of the happy homes they once were. Trees grew through some structures. The few places that were still standing were boarded up. Some people milled around the porches and glared at us. I truly feared this seedy side of Detroit as anyone with common sense would. Greg’s car drove past Fort Wayne. It was gratifying to see that there are reenactments and tours offered there occasionally, but this neglected historic site needs some attention. This is the location where Ulysses S. Grant was a young soldier in training. As a distraction from long hours spent in the classroom, near constant drilling and lessons on strategy, the young Grant raced horses up and down the streets of Detroit. This was long before there were motor cars and his horse carried him fast and far. Grant is the only President, so far in history, to have ever lived in Detroit. In fact as of this writing, his one-time Greek Revival-style home still stands, and anywhere else in these United States, it would be considered a historic monument. Going back even further, although war had not been officially declared, some of the first shots of the War of 1812 were fired in July of that year, from a battlement that stood at one time very near Fort Wayne, in the vicinity called the "Sand Hill at Springwells". There is a street named Springwells that exists today, which Greg traversed despite its potholes, to locate my old hometown of Delray. Today this community’s most famous one-time citizen is retired Brain Surgeon and author, the respected and much loved Dr. Benjamin Carson. Delray was at one time a mostly Hungarian neighborhood. On the way, near one of the rare businesses that was still in operation, seagulls feasted upon their dead and dying comrades. It takes a lot to kill a seagull. They are affectionately known as “sky-rats” among the people I know. Their busy beaks tore through feathers to get at the stringy, tough flesh of the deceased. Despite roads that had long since crumbled, walled on all sides by falling abandoned bars and empty grocery stores, we managed to make our way to West End and later Bacon Street. I was amazed and delighted to see that this was one of the few places that still had occupied homes. I looked at a house and read the address. My eyes hadn’t deceived me! My Uncle Elmer’s home was still standing and obviously cared for! I wanted to stay and meet the occupants, but it was getting late and we still hadn’t had dinner, so we drove north to Indian Village. The homes there have always been cared for and as always, the lawns were neat and the streets were hugged by ancient trees, embraced by them almost like a mother’s tender touch. Next we headed for Palmer Woods to see the home of George Walter Mason and his wife Hazel Bisbee-Mason. More than half a century ago, my grandmother Zona worked as a maid and cook in their home. (George Mason was the head of Kelvinator Corporation when in 1936 he was approached by Charles W. Nash, founder of Nash Motors. Mr. Nash was searching for someone to take the helm of his corporation. The Nash-Kelvinator Corporation which later joined forces with Hudson Motors, became the better-known American Motors Corporation in 1954.) Hazel Bisbee-Mason was so fond of Zona that when my grandmother left the service of the Mason family, Mrs. Mason offered her anything she wanted from the home. At first Zona declined, not wanting to take what she hadn’t actually earned, but Mrs. Mason insisted. Thinking very hard, Zona asked for the wood and glass tea service (a small table), which was handed down to me, and I still have today. I told this story to my daughter and her third cousin Shilo who sat in the back of Greg’s vehicle. We neared the Palmer Woods home, near a golf course and onto Hamilton and Fairway where the Mason home stands with its neighboring mansions. These regal homes look as if they belong to a different era, one of success and better days – and they did, but these houses also belong to the Detroit of the future. National chains like Wholefoods Market are moving in. Private businesses like Motor City Candleworks and investors of all kinds are putting business back into Detroit. Recently an emergency manager was appointed. This hasn’t made everyone happy, but a sick patient needs a qualified surgeon, and so far, bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr and his team appear to be stitching up Detroit, a city that was bleeding out but still has a lot to give and a lot to live for; a city that, like a Phoenix, is rising from the flames. Now we can choose to tell that patient, our city of Detroit that it will die a horrible death. On the other hand, we can be a part of the rehabilitation of our old soldier, one who is fighting to stay alive. We as Michigan citizens, past and present can think of creative ways to be a part of Detroit’s life, here and now. There is so much to see and do, places to live downtown and mass transit to get you where you need to go. Give it a try. You may also find yourself saying nice things about Detroit. [[Please Note: I wrote the bulk of this story in July. Before I posted this, my daughter suggested I read “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff. Afterwards, I read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand. I did not change my post, but I am not looking at Detroit with the same “Rose-colored” glasses that I peered through back in July. I still believe in Detroit, but realistically I believe that the old-guard politics, politicians and policies that have had a strangle-hold on Detroit and most of eastern Michigan should be replaced by the common sense ideas that Dr. Benjamin Carson writes about. I would like to thank Liam Collins, Ruth Puckett and Daryl Puckett for some of the historical research that contributed to this blog entry.]] *****First Three Photos Courtesy Shilo Jaynes are of Belle Isle and two homes in Palmer Woods***** Last Photo ca 1945 Mason Home -- unknown photographer
Friday, August 8, 2014
My dear, late mother Ann appreciated jewelry. She would peruse garage sales and flea markets for real precious stones, gems and fine metals such as gold and silver. Many times when I was out of school during the summer she would drag me along for my keen, young eyes. I would read the markings and engravings at the ends of clasps and inside rings. She bought broken items and tangled necklaces many times. Some evenings we’d sit around our kitchen table with my father, repairing and untangling the pieces. Frequently my mother would carry out her jewelry box and fix her own favorite items. My parents would smile at each other and tell stories about some of the pieces: The time my dad bought her ring or when he brought back pearls from Japan, purchased during his stint in the Navy. I learned a great deal from these evenings, not just in relation to jewelry and gemstones, but also concerning life and the individuals we meet. During these jewelry repair evenings, my dad would tell stories. I learned that there are plain-looking rocks called geodes that have precious crystals inside. If we just crack the ugly crust we can see the sparkling insides. Some people are like that. Once we break through the outer layers, there may be a shining beauty inside that we did not expect to find! Likewise, gemstones need to be tumbled continuously with a substance called grit until a beautiful, precious stone is revealed. Many of us go through our mortal existence, getting tumbled around; the grittiness of life sometimes hurting us deeply until the day that our true beauty shines forth at the end of our trials. Growing up, I felt that I wasn’t as pretty or fashionable as the other girls. My dad explained that I was a diamond in the rough. He said that when he was a young boy, his mother told him that beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone. If someone is rotten inside, no matter how you try to dress it up and paint it, their foul, repulsive core remains in there. My father said that I was good inside and beautiful on the outside, too. He said all I needed was a little polishing and that would come in time. The boys couldn’t see that yet; but the right man would, someday. My mother was especially fond of her strands of pearls. She said there were plenty of fakes out there: glass beads and plastic that held no value past the fondness we might hold for a souvenir or the person that gave it to us. Likewise there are people who might want to make themselves look special to fool us, but inside they are fake and hollow. They just want to fool the world. They have nothing worthwhile inside themselves to offer other folks. My mother warned me even then to be wary of fraud and individuals who lie in wait to cheat. She went on to teach me about real pearls. I learned that at the center of each pearl, there is a grain of sand or some other irritant that causes the small sea animal that harbors the piece of offending matter to produce layer after layer of nacre. That minute thing becomes a pearl and is later harvested. It is considered a precious item of natural beauty. We may also have a little something that irritates us and we too can make the best out of it, creating a thing of precious splendor. We can do this by having a positive attitude in the worst of circumstances. I know when I was younger, I hadn’t yet learned this virtue. In the early 1980s my parents and I went to a gem and jewelry show at Detroit Michigan’s Renaissance Center. We spent the weekend shopping for unique stones and things. My parents brought something else home instead. The first day of the exposition, we spoke to a young woman from Arkansas who clearly had her hands full. She was minding her table and wares all by herself and could barely manage to keep her toddler out of trouble. The lady explained that her husband was busy back in Arkansas struggling in his new-found ambitions and political career. It was only the beginning of the weekend and the woman could barely keep up with her small business and hobby, let alone tend to a baby at the same time. People were stepping over her busy little girl, giving mean looks and nearly tripping over the child. The baby had by that time found some electrical cords and was trying her best to pull them apart. My dad picked the little imp off the floor. The baby turned to stare at him and pat his face. With the mother’s blessings, I was handed the toddler and reluctantly ended up carrying her around the show. Since I was the youngest child of the youngest child in my family, I wasn’t used to babies and I couldn’t see anything positive about this experience. The baby did not have a stroller and was heavy in my arms. She was smelly and messy, too. We were shocked and amazed that this woman would let total strangers leave with her baby, but she was overwhelmed and felt we were good people and could be trusted. (Of course we were.) The woman had so much faith in my parents that in the evening she handed us a diaper bag and we got to tend the child in our own home. That Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show, we returned the baby to her mother. For a couple months after the event the woman frequently corresponded with my family, thanking us for watching the baby. I learned that helping someone in need was more important than finding a great bargain at some vendor’s table. I discovered that to be trustworthy and to serve are crucial to one’s character. After that gem show, my father made a goldstone choker for me that I still have today. More importantly, I often wonder about that little family. At some point during our evenings, my mother taught me about gold. She explained that just because something looks like gold, it might not be. Back then in the seventies and even decades before then, many items were gold-plated. Later some pieces were labeled “gold-filled” which really means, “gold that is filled with some other material”. She said that inside all that shiny yellow metal was something worthless and cheap. On the other hand, many jewelry buyers think what they are buying is pure gold. They want that pure gold wedding band and a big, fat diamond engagement ring. What they really want is 18 Karat or even the slightly more durable and popular 14 Karat gold. These varieties have other metals – alloys --blended with gold to make rings, necklaces and bracelets stronger and wearable. This past weekend in church, our Relief Society* President, Laura, was leading a discussion on choices and accountability. We can all make choices. We become stronger individuals when we have the opportunity to choose, but all actions have consequences, both good and bad. Laura said she knew that she was not perfect, but she was trying to be as pure as she could. She encouraged us all to try our best. I raised my hand and asked her if she was trying to be like pure gold. She smiled and said that, yes, she strives to be. I explained that she should attempt to be more like 14 Karat. Life’s experiences are like the alloys that make gold stronger; otherwise we would be too soft and of no use. Some people around us might even be 18 Karat and that is good. They have just enough of life’s lessons (or alloys) to make them strong. These individuals are the purest of the pure despite the realities of existence here on Earth. I think that as we become older we have the opportunity to learn more lessons. These opportunities make us what we are. We remain precious but we also become fit for the task of serving one another, lifting our sisters and brothers up with the inner strength that comes from enduring. I just hope that when push comes to shove, we as sisters won’t be some silver-plated or gold-filled cheapened piece of costume jewelry, harboring some poisonous heavy metal inside. Those are the kind of people that will smile in your face and stab you in the back, and as the scriptures say, from such turn away (2nd Timothy 3:5 KJV Holy Bible). We can only do so much and be so much; striving for pureness and all the while we know that in the end Jesus will craft of us what He will. The Refiner’s fire will make us pure in the end for His needs. In the meantime, stay gold. Stay precious. * * (Founded 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, The Relief Society is one of the oldest organizations for women in the world and has approximately 6 million members in over 170 countries and territories.)
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Monday, April 14, 2014
Papa and I walked from the station wagon to his Cousin Barbara's porch. The moon was rising high and fireflies danced and frolicked around us. Summer in North Carolina was humid and thick with the smells of cigarettes, beer and pine trees. Just about everyone had retired into Barbara's house that night after a small family reunion. The relatives were quieting the young ones, singing the babies to sleep. In the distance and through the trees I heard drums and saw a bonfire. Papa casually said, "The Indians are out celebrating, too." My eyes went wide, my heart pounded and despite the warmth still hanging in the misty mugginess, I felt a chill shake my body. "Oh, Papa, will the Indians scalp us? Will they burn down the house around us, right here?" Papa turned, set the suitcases and blankets on the porch and took me in his arms. "Liesa, oh no. They're just having fun like everyone else! Didn't you know, you're my little Indian Princess?" I looked at his eyes. The light from the windows reflected in my father's face and I saw calm and sincerity -- and love. "My dad was mixed-blood Cherokee. I'm part Cherokee. You're part Cherokee and you’re my little Princess." "Really?" I questioned. "Honest to goodness. Where did you get the idea that the neighbors were going to scalp us and burn down Barbara's house?" "From the Cowboy and Indian movies I watch on TV." Papa shook his head and said, "The Indians haven't been on the warpath for about fifty years. Barbara's husband Roy is Cherokee too and you know he's a good, gentle man." Papa took my hand and led me into Barbara's home. The men were seated around the kitchen table, playing cards, drinking Colt 45 Malt Liquor and laughing. The older children were punching holes into the tops of jars, filled with fireflies. My heart felt like those jars, filled with bubbling buzzing light. My father put my mind at ease and peace filled my soul. I learned a lesson that night, that we can choose to fear or choose to love, but we must choose to be informed and face life bravely. I took a jar full of those lightning bugs into the dark living room and looked out the window. I saw the full moon. . . and he was smiling.
Saturday, March 29, 2014
My family had dogs while I was growing up. Additionally, my husband and I had dogs for many years. My dad always trained our dogs to STAY INSIDE the fence line. I trained my dogs as well and they all stayed in the yard. No matter where we lived, if the gate was open, or the snow was piled high in drifts taller than the fences, our dogs stayed put. If we saw a problem, my husband and I would fix the fence, etc. We had collies, Rottweiler's, mutts, German Shepherds, a Dalmatian, terriers etc. Then we got Jodi, a Labrador puppy. She grew into a loveable, huge brown dog. The neighbor's lab taught her how to dig under the fence, so we would find the trouble spots and hammer rebar into the ground. She soon learned how to jump the fence. We put her in an enclosed dog run. She chewed a hole through it in less than twelve hours. We had to let her out sometimes in the yard and she'd promptly jump the fence to find the old lady that cruised the street on her power scooter. Scooter-mamma would yell at us and we'd lock Jodi back up in the reinforced pen. Jodi would howl, dig, chew and escape again. One Thanksgiving she got loose. It was night. We yelled for her and searched. In the darkness we heard, "Whoosh, chuckity, chuck, whoosh chuckity chuck," and of course here comes Jodi with a large garbage bag, a turkey carcass inside. She was so sad when we threw it out and yanked her to the porch. The following Christmas Jodi brought back what I thought was a deflated purple ball. I ran outside and went to get it from her. I found that my dog was gnawing on the end of it, trying to get at the Crown Royal whiskey inside! (How the heck Jodi got this prize is anyone's guess). She still hadn't broken the seal and my brother-in-law said he wished his labs (that were trained to hunt) would bring him whiskey for Christmas. I handed the bottle to him and said, "Merry Christmas, from Jodi, Eh?" We tried walking her on the leash, but she walked us. It didn't matter the leash, collar or method, she wouldn't be reigned in and actually obeyed better off leash. We bought her a super long chain and my dad complained that no dog of his ever got out of the yard and why couldn't we just train her? Lord knows we tried! When we had to let her out on our acre, we put her on that thirty foot line, staked to the ground, but some well-meaning person kept unhooking her because "It just isn't right to chain a dog" and of course, she would jump the chain-link fence and try to play with the lady on the power scooter. This went on and on for years. One hot day a neighbor found Jodi and her buddy Hank swimming in her horse trough and said, "If they'd been chasing the horses and cattle, I'd be well within my rights to shoot those dogs, but they were just swimming. Next time I might shoot them both." My husband and I agreed that if it happened again, we'd hold no hard feelings if it came down to shooting our Jodi. One day, I just got fed up and rehomed her. The people she went to live with had acres and acres of farmland and were delighted at how well behaved and smart Jodi was. I know I made the right decision. I didn't want her to get shot. I also valued my neighbors who were beyond patient in this situation. Anyone who says they will NEVER have a dog that wanders might find that one comes to them in a furry, fun-loving and rebellious package. Its name might not be Jodi, Hank, Rover, Fido or Misha. Her name might be Karma and she will show you how to eat your words. They taste a lot like kibble.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
The other day during lunch a co-worker was playing her song-list. We both enjoy early seventies music, so we listened together. The song "That's the Way I always Heard it should Be" by Carly Simon came on. I hadn't heard that tune in over a decade -- at least. Today I decided to download it and did a little research into the melancholy ballad. Then I read some comments. One person declared "This song is so beautiful, but very very very depressing. And true. What's the point, everyone ends up hating each other or getting divorced, right?" I noted the date of the comment was 2007 and I hope things got better in that individual's life. I really do. I know seven years have passed, but I answered: "I love this song, the music and the lyrics; but to answer your question I for one have been married nearly twenty-seven years. Marriage and relationships take hard work and very little selfishness. Sometimes the fire goes out, but you have to keep the coals alive to bring the flame on again. The problem is everyone is looking for the ideal relationship, marriage, career, child, romance etc. If you had a hobby or sport that you were really into, wouldn't you put a great deal of your time and efforts into it? I watch my husband referee games and I don't know very much about basketball. Yes, sometimes I want to fall asleep after a day of teaching and housework or I just read my kindle and glance up sometimes. On the drive home I rub his right thigh. (Because he's driving.) He lets me have my own space and supported me through months of post-partum depression with our first baby. We've committed not to "cut-and-run" in the face of trouble. He is my hobby. . . my project. Not everyone breaks up and hates each other. You might not like each other every day of the week, but when two people work hard at something it's valued. Best wishes to you." I didn't intend to preach. Realistically sometimes a person might find that his or her partner is a real selfish jerk. You might be married to a serial killer or a drug dealer. If that's the case LEAVE THE RELATIONSHIP-- NOW! If you are just saddled with an average individual realize that you, too, may be run of the mill. All of us are special in God's eyes, yes, but we all have our faults. Those of you out there with pets know that fluffy might take a whiz in the corner or JoJo might shed, but does this mean that you're ready to send them to the pound or rehome your fur babies? I hope not. You might just be the Fido in the relationship, yet your spouse doesn't mind that you snap once in awhile. If you love your significant other half as much as you love your pet, or as the above mentioned hobby, give your grievances some time and forgive, forgive forgive. Don't harbor resentment. Just love. That's all there is to it. THAT'S THE WAY IT IS. I bet you never heard that.