Sweet Home Detroit

Detroit 1960

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” ~ Jeremiah 29: 10-14

Seventy years is generally regarded as the time that represents our sojourn here on earth. It is clear that, while they were waiting on the Lord, they were to build houses, have children, carry on, etc., and not shrink back from all hope. Trials and tribulations –> the building blocks of faith.

Dad toddler

Detroit goes way back in my blood. It was the home of my grandparents and my father. It was my childhood home, too. It was the place of dreams and the place of demons. My father suffered from bigotry. He was the dark-skinned baby of a white woman who would eventually place him into the foster care system, because it was too hard to explain his existence in her life to others. Life is full of irony, isn’t it? As the woman who turned away from her own son, would be the only woman I could turn to decades later.

Mom and Dad Wedding 1954He would eventually fall in love and marry my mother. You know racism runs deep when, instead of counting fingers and toes at the birth of his first child, a father sighs and says, “Thank goodness she’s white.” In time, my mother’s family would convince her that the risks were too high to be married to a dark man. By the time I turned three-years-old they were divorced. Before I turned six-years-old, I would be permanently living with him and his new wife. He attended university and became an automotive engineer. He was on the designing teams for both the Ford Mustang and Bronco. His was one of the first Mustang fastbacks to roll off the assembly line in Detroit. When he drove up and parked it in front of our home, he could have said, “Say hello to your new baby brother.” He loved it that much. {And so did I.} He invested in stocks, he purchased real estate, and he saved money.

In 1968, we would meet with a real estate agent to view a home in Dearborn. A beautiful tree-lined neighborhood situated in an affluent, well-educated, area. White. The day after we looked at the home, the agent called and said the house had been sold. It was the first time I ever witnessed my father cry. Color changed the game plan.

The new plan was that he would retire at forty-years-old and his family would move to a 10-acre piece of land in the area of Novi, known as New Hudson. He had the blueprints drawn up for their custom-built home. His daughter would attend his alma mater, University of Michigan, and study veterinarian medicine. After graduation, she would build her practice on the 40-acre farm he had purchased for her to raise the horses she always loved — and she would write.

Waldo 1

I remember roaming around between the guests at his funeral. “Al always said he’d retire by the time he was forty,” I heard one of his colleagues whisper. “What a shame it ended up this way.” He didn’t expect to die at 39 years-old. He didn’t have a will prepared when he did.  I’m sure it never occurred to him that I would not inherit his estate.  I’m sure he never gave thought, as his life slipped away, that my step-mother would thwart the plans he had for his daughter, his only child. In 1970, Michigan law stated that if a person died without a will, his or her entire estate would go to his or her surviving spouse. Everything my father worked for, so that I would have a better life – gone in one breath. My step-mother inherited his entire estate and, because she never legally adopted me, I, eventually, went to live with my paternal grandmother.

I know what it is like to lose your home in a neighborhood you love, in a city you adore, in a state where all your memories are buried.  But I know even more than that – I know what it is to lose a life, an identity.  To grow up upper middle-class and suddenly plummet into that of the working-class poor by no fault of your own.  To be thrust into the realization that the only family member you can turn to, is the one who turned away from your father.

Masters

It would take me decades of working hard {long hours at minimum wage}, struggling to attend college,  facing my fears and frustrations through counseling, and humbling myself before God to once again feel whole. I was a child of divorce and, by all accounts, an orphan by the age of fourteen. I’ve witnessed racial bigotry as a result of the color of my father’s skin. Along with the death of my beloved father, I’ve suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a step-father (perhaps the reason that my father gained sole custody of me in the 60’s, when fathers having such authority, especially over a daughter, was unheard of); physical and emotional abuse, along with financial deprivation, at the hands of an alcoholic step-mother; divorce due to infidelity, not once but twice; inequality in the workplace as a woman – more specifically, as a working single mother – and this is just a partial list. It took me thirty-years to obtain a Masters. Why, because I was working, raising my family and going to school. My thesis was based on downward mobilization and the effects of post traumatic stress disorder – something that, as it turns out, I know quite a bit about.

I wish I could say that all of the above eventually put me back into the upper middle-class, but no. I am still a member of the working-class community, along with my hard-working husband of twenty-six years. In an ever-changing world, some things are not so easy to recoup.  If 60 is the new 40, then working-class is the new middle-class. However, like my father, I did what I could to help my children have a better life – and they are doing well.

Today Michigan laws are more in sync with the rest of the states in the nation. If a person dies without a will, his or her estate is divided equally between the surviving spouse and children.

I didn’t lose the core values I was taught by my father — to value my character, to live with integrity, and to be honest with everyone and in everything.

However, I did lose my home sweet Detroit home, as well as the core connection of my identity, by the summer of 1971, with its dreams and aspirations.

1970

If it wasn’t for my beloved childhood bestie, Patty, the one thread I had to hold onto from the tapestry of my past, I would have lost the first 14 years of my life as I knew it. We would write to each other, as we still do, literally watching our lives unfold through snail-mail and photographs over a span of forty-plus years. California became my land of exile, I became the equivalent of an ex-pat — still here in my homeland, but far removed from my home.

Pat and Ted with one of their daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren.
Pat and Ted with one of their daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren.

And then, in 2010, my life came full circle — whole once again — in the wonderful faces of childhood friends who I hadn’t seen or heard from in 40 years. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for Facebook.

2010

Having faith is one thing, keeping the faith is another. Trials and tribulations — we all have them. As they say, rain and sunshine fall on both the saint and the sinner alike. Along with not giving up hope, we are not to compare our lot in life with that of others.

When it comes to loss, everybody has a story.

~ Blessings, my friends. Live long, believe, and prosper.

3 comments

  1. It holds a special place in my heart, too. That we have been able to reconnect and share our life stories . Miss you and hope you come back to Detroit soon.

  2. You are such an inspiration! I’m glad your path crossed mine. Always remembering you in my prayers. You are a winner and a lover of ‘life’. God speed, my friend. My e-mail is down for the moment.

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