Friday, September 9, 2016

The End of Summer is The Beginning of the Fall

"Life is an accumulation of memories. In the end that is all there really is." 
                             - Mr. Carson of "Downton Abbey" (by Julian Fellows)

September 9, 2016

The End of Summer is the Beginning of the Fall

DETROIT - The PARIS of the Midwest

What seems like more than a half century in my past, perhaps it was indeed that long ago (after doing the math) I recall how these last days of summer languished into the first days of fall and the dread of returning to school.

If you are of a similar age and grew up in a large urban area such as the City of Detroit, you may relate to these critical stages of childhood development in the model of a less complicated world.

What I find most prevalent among my memories are the scent, sounds and touch of those hot sunny days  shortened by each rise of the moon above the horizon until it disappeared at some time long after bed. The days then were not quite so hot as they are today, but every bit as humid as I recall.

I remember it was routine to spend the largest part of the day outside. It was my mother's mandate as she did not want three boys terrorizing while attending the duties of her routine. Shortly after breakfast, my brothers and I would practically run through the screen door and spread out over the neighborhood  to join up with our own gang. 

Early on, perhaps at ages 7 or 8, my best friend and others took up bee-keeping. But, not in the sense of obtaining honey. No we were after the menacing "yellow jackets" (no doubt the inspiration for future SNL scripts). Why in the world we set out to catch bees in a jar with a perforate lid for oxygen is not clear. One caught a yellow jacket about three times the size of normal drone or worker. We regaled with the prospect it may be the "Queen" of the yellow jackets. Upon further consideration of an entire swarm descending on us to free the Queen we carefully released her from her glass dungeon.

Sometimes we played "marbles" or agates on  porous concrete sidewalks or driveways. Time and again, one of our favorite color and quality of  marbles would evade our eye and roll into a sewer grate.  We stretched one arm, reaching around and below the iron cast cover only to find what we desired always alluded our grasp.

Many years later, a friend made the rather profound observation I can visualize over and over. He described how our repetitive efforts closely defines insanity. We were using the same method only to get the same result. Nothing.

As we grew to be 9 or 10 years old we were playing baseball by the hour or touch football in the street. One concession we had to make to keep peace among all the neighbors was to substitute a tennis ball for a regular hardball  so as to have a softer projectile careen toward a neighbor's window. Invariably long fouls or home runs ended up on the carefully manicured putting green of one particular couple.  They were without children adjusting to a quiet retirement (so they thought) and now "dared" us to take one step on their lawn. Invariably one would come to the door upon hearing our tennis ball land safely on the green. One or both would open the aluminum screen door, not so quietly  imploring us to play in the traffic on Harper Avenue.

There could be no better place to spend those pre-teen years than my native Detroit.  Detroit. The sun seemed to shine almost every day with perhaps a brief afternoon thunderstorm that ended as quickly as it came with a purpose. An intermittent rain shower gave the boys a break from a makeshift baseball game in the street. We sometimes took cover under one of the mighty elm trees that stood as soldiers on both sides of the street.
The elms are said to be a gift of the people of France earning Detroit the status of a sister city to Paris.

As for the girls, growing collectively more mature than the boys, looked on as the warm shower washed the chalk from the sidewalks where they concluded their expected time in "hopscotch." From  here they retreated within the house of the most liberal mother among them to listen to 45's, swoon during Johnny Angel and practiced the application of makeup something reserved only for young ladies upon high school graduation.

As we boys awaited the last of the rain to disappear from sidewalks and the street (our Briggs Stadium) young boys 10 -13 years old bantered back and forth without any malice as to the best 3 - 4 combo among those in the everyday lineup of those "Damn Yankees" and our "Detroit Tigers." It was Kaline and Cash versus the M+M boys, Maris and Mantle. Consensus had it that our Tigers were every bit the equal of the Yankees. We concluded that although Maris was on his way to breaking the Babe Ruth record of 60 Home Runs, Norm Cash's phenomenal .361 batting average would easily win the AL batting title but surpass anyone in the NL as well.

There was the rare occasion we might tend to a garden, cutting the "grass" (not lawn) but mostly "pulling weeds and dandelions." Neither was voluntary.  Hard labor was not the norm but an order from our Dad. It seemed to resemble closely to a penance to be served after a confession to Father Stanley.

The long and hard days of play resulted in grass stains on jeans or scrapes to the legs and arms if you were made to wear shorts. I do not recall how much, if at all as an eight year old I may have perspired, but an order was received to bath and go to bed.

The string of  ninety degree temperatures this year prompts my memory  to the hot days and humid nights. My older brother and I slept in twin beds up in an attic that had undergone a remake into a third bedroom that for some reason never reached full completion. There were but two windows on opposite walls forming the peak and one tiny window facing the street as to give appearance of a Cape Cod design. The larger window at one end held a "box fan" so to provide a continuous movement of "hot air."

I can easily recall the smell, touch and sounds once we were properly bathed, dressed in clean PJs and then stretch out over crisp sheets with the clean fresh scent of Tide or Borax. Yes it was not easy in the attempt to fall asleep amid the humidity, hot air and the constant rattle from that fan. I can remember tossing and turning in bed, quickly shedding even the lightest of blankets all in an attempt to sleep. Best although was when you would "flip the pillow" where you "felt a cooler" relief.

In August, in the late evening and windows open,  I battled to sleep over the sound of those cricket-like insects that began to flap their wings reaching a crescendo then falling silent. Almost immediately it would resume.

Today, I still hear that irritating sound in the night. It is not just the sound that bothers me. It is the message delivered time and again. Your summer is over!

There was a special smell that youngsters are deprived today. In mid-September the forest of elms began the colorful change to autumn. Back then, as the leaves fell on lawns and walkways I do not recall it was a big chore for kids to rake the leaves toward the curb and then into the street. I remember how we raked the leaves into a large pile to burn. The smoke was never a problem as the aroma of burning leaves lifted into the air and permeated the neighborhood.

There were also those hot days and cooler nights where fog would set in on Detroit especially the river. From at least five miles, we could hear the freighters sound their horns as two ships passed in the night. It somehow was reassuring. I believe our City of Detroit remained peaceful through the night and a far better time to be a teen.

End of Part 1


This piece is dedicated to my dear cousin, Helena Stewa. She is a native Detroiter who upon retirement now resides in Golden Valley, AZ. I think of her often. My memories of her reach far into the past, perhaps as far as possible. My remarkable cousin, always with a smile, a keen sense of humor and positive attitude was always present. I can recall her commitment to various community organizations forever tied to the City of Detroit. One most memorable was the GM Choir so prominent during the Christmas Holidays.

Helena never forgot my birthday all of the years I can recall. I have been terribly remiss in repaying her efforts. I regret that I missed her last visit to the  Detroit area several years ago. I continue to feel a certain betrayal and guilt. Therefore, my dear cousin I am mailing a sample of my writings in small compensation for all the years she has never forgot me.

Our most memorable moment together, as she only will know, is how one hot steamy day in July we visited my aunt. Upon returning home I recanted our adventure with pride to announce "...and we walked on hot guitar!"