Also known as The Motor City, The D, and, as comedian Soupy Sales would say, “D-E-E-E-E troit!”.
I lived there all my childhood except for the 18 months we were in Columbus. My parents had migrated to Detroit during the early 40s when jobs were plentiful in the war factories, as did many from Ohio and the southern states. The City of Detroit hired Dad to drive an electric streetcar, and Mom, a young bride, would board occasionally and ride along with him. Several of my dad’s siblings lived in Detroit so the young couple had the support of nearby family.
All three of the Cassells kids were born there. I came along in July of 1943, a month after the Detroit Race Riots. My brother Tom was born two years later. Our sister Reenié joined our family in 1950, when we were living in the apartment house that one of my uncles owned on Kenilworth Street.
Our block was part of a neighborhood off Woodward Avenue, Detroit’s main north-south artery. Directly across the street from us, stood a fire station. I remember, at first, we were alarmed every time the fire trucks, their sirens blasting, left the building. But, after awhile we got used to it.
Down on Woodward Avenue, the Vernor’s Ginger Ale plant was in full operation. Dad first took us to those three-story glass windows one Saturday morning. Pulling our car up to the curb and smiling, he pointed toward the windows. That’s when we noticed the single-file line of pop bottles coming into view. We scrambled out of the car and onto the sidewalk to get a closer look. The conveyor belt moved along, turning toward the next station, topping each bottle with a cap, and onward to catch the labels before carrying its cargo back to a mysterious place beyond the wall. This was the most amazing thing Tom and I had ever seen in ‘real life.’
|Grandma Annie Cassells visits|
Returning to Detroit in 1953, Dad had found us an upper flat further on the east side of town, on Concord Avenue. The concrete steps up to the porch stretched out in front of us, looking as steep as a mountainside. The front door, a dark wood frame with small square window panes, opened onto another set of seemingly vertical stairs and a tiny landing where we made a right turn and ascended a few more steps to a wooden door and inside.
When someone rang our doorbell, we could peek down the stairs and look through the sheer curtain that covered the window of the main door to see who rang. Then, we could press a buzzer that would automatically open the door.
Our neighborhood of primarily brick two-family flats had probably been one that was first inhabited by European immigrants in the early part of the century. By the time we arrived, there was a good mix of ethnicities, and everyone knew each other and got along. The neighbors all agreed on one thing: how children should behave. Any adult in the neighborhood would reprimand a wayward child. And, of course, that child had better listen and then “straighten up.”
Our house was across the street from Bradley Recreation Center, where we kids spent many hours on the playground, the softball diamonds, and in the horseshoe pits. Tom learned to skate on the ice skating pond they created each winter, and I took tap dance lessons once. Bradley was the hangout for all the neighborhood kids; Mr. Burton was the Director and a mentor to many of us.
We also lived close to Belle Isle, a beautiful island park situated in the Detroit River between the city and Windsor, Canada. Belle Isle was quite a place with beaches, canals for canoeing, botanical gardens, and miles and miles of paved road. It was the go-to place for all of us as we learned to drive, including our mother.
I attended the High School of Commerce in downtown Detroit along with kids from all over the city. HSC offered us business courses and job opportunities via a work-study program called "Co-Op". I took the secretarial track and learned to type, take shorthand, and do bookkeeping. In my senior year, I joined the "Co-Op" program, working at the Detroit Edison Company in the mornings and attending classes in the afternoons.
|High School of Commerce senior - 1960|
Detroit was the place where I grew up, got my education, and became an adult. Motown will always have a spot in my heart.
~ xoA ~