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Flowing with the Tides of Change

| 7/2/2009 12:47:40 PM

I grew up in small-town suburbia. Nice middle-class neighborhoods were surrounded by farmland, open meadows, and woods. Simply put, it was “the sticks.”

Barn and farm

Our town was too small to have a zip-code; we “borrowed” ours from a neighboring town. It was close enough to Detroit for my Dad to make the hour and a half drive each way to work; Dad was a tool and die foreman for General Motors, a good job that enabled him to provide well for his family for the rest of his life, and for Mom thereafter. Mom grew up in Detroit; Dad was transplanted there after having spent much of his childhood in rural Pennsylvania. But by the time I was born, Detroit had changed, and the old neighborhoods weren’t considered safe anymore. I was less than a year old when they moved out to “the sticks” to give their growing family a better life.

And my two younger brothers and I did have a good life – everything a kid could ask for living in small-town suburbia. We had bike adventures on the trails through the meadow known by every neighborhood kid as “The Field” at one end of the block; at the other end, we caught frogs, turtles, and got generally covered in mud at “The Creek.” We walked nearly a mile to school on the path through “The Woods,” and on snow days when that trek was cancelled, we went sledding down “The Hill.” Simple titles for uncomplicated times. I had a happy childhood growing up in the sticks; we all did, and we reminisce about it often.

After high-school, at age seventeen, I joined the Army – it was an opportunity to experience the world outside my comfort zone. It’s something that if my daughters were old enough to do now, I’d try to discourage; the world is just too volatile a place in this age. My parents might’ve had their reservations too, but they were proud, and consented to sign the forms, sending me off to see the world and find my place in it. I did find my place while I was in the Army; I met my husband while I was enlisted, and after our tours of duty were finished, we got married, and started our own family.

I’ve been home countless times since for family reunions, holidays, special occasions, or just to visit for a few days when time and scheduling allowed. It’s been nearly a decade though, since I’ve been to the old neighborhood and haunts. My brother’s house, in even a smaller town than that of our childhood, has become the hub for family gatherings; he’s got the room, that’s were the nieces and nephews live, and Mom and my other brother would come from opposite directions, all the family converging in one place.

Early this June, I returned to the place of my childhood. I began to grow uneasy the closer I got to the area I once knew like the back of my hand. I felt lost. Nothing was familiar. Two-lane roads that once sliced through farmland were now four-lane congested thoroughfares lined with strip malls on either side. I recognized the old Schwinn Bike Shop, amazed that it was still standing after all these years. Dad took me there to get my first bike that wasn’t a hand-me-down from one of my umpteen cousins. Shiny cobalt blue, with a banana seat and high sissy-bar in the back, it seemed to fly effortlessly over those trails in The Field. Long after I’d outgrown the bike, I flew effortlessly down the dirt road that veered from the main road, driving the family Suburban with my friends all piled inside.

Cindy Murphy
7/8/2009 8:44:08 PM

I have a big extended family too, Lori. Mom was an only child, but Dad was one of fourteen children! That's a lot of aunts and uncles...and a lot of cousins. My brothers and I were the youngest of the cousins, and most of them lived far enough away that we only saw them once or twice a year. I've got cousins who I don't know except by name, but even when I saw them recently, exclaimed "I remember when you were just a baby in diapers", (such an attractive way to be remembered). Other cousins we saw weekly, and those were the ones who taught me to tie my shoes, feed the chickens at their neighbor's farm, and swing from the rope out of the hayloft. It was my brother, and his friends who taught me to be a tomboy; he and I are only fifteen months apart so we had many of the same friends, and there was always some rough and tumble game going on. Tackle football - yeah, I played that too, and still have the divet-like scars on my shin from football cleats to prove it. Like yourself, Michelle, such good memories - even the divets!

Michelle House
7/7/2009 8:35:42 PM

Hi Cindy, yes they were good memories,, Hugs Michelle

7/7/2009 8:41:48 AM

Cindy, I am one of those people who see the changes gradually. I live where I grew up, and the changes do not seem so great when you are living through them. One way it really strikes me is when I look at some arial photos that my mom and dad have from years ago. They have one of my Grandma's house, taken before I was born, and their house where I grew up. When you look at those, the changes that have taken place are amazing! I grew up surrounded by relatives. There are 6 kids on my dads side, and most of them live within a couple miles of us. I could ride bike to my Mam and Pap's house, the meeting place for all the cousins. Since most of those cousins that were my age were boys, I was quite a tomboy! We would play football, and none of that sissy stuff, it was tackle, or baseball, or a number of other games. We would have so much fun over summer vacation. My dad pastured the one field where we played baseball. It didn't stop us from playing, but every now and then the Black Angus bull named Tiny that occupied the same space decided he didn't approve of our game and would send us all running for the fence. I don't think the games lasted long after that because it's hard to keep one eye on the ball and the other on the bull!

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