My blog buddy Scott challenged me to participate in a very interesting project tonight, one that requires I delve deep into the more musty recesses of my hippocampus to remember my childhood address so that I might go to Google Maps and pull up a satellite image, and then write a few stories about that special coordinate.
I lived at a few different addresses from birth until the time I moved out at age 19, but the picture you see to the right is probably the nucleus of my childhood memories. I suppose that's to be expected when you live somewhere between the ages of 4 and 13. In fact, I'd say that those years pretty much define "childhood."
The green arrow you see in that rather lackluster image is pointing to 9 Starling Hill Dr. That address is located in Pontiac, MI. Pontiac is a suburb of Detroit, and if you couldn't guess, I lived in a trailer park. It might not look like much. In fact, looking at the former center of my universe for the first time in 14 years, I feel a little depressed at how downhill the old neighborhood has gone. Sure, it is still butting up against a GM plant (to the left, you will see the railroad tracks that surround the facility), and there is a landfill directly across the street from the entrance to the park that was opened not long after we moved in that would stink something particularly awful when the wind was blowing a certain way, but to me Chateau was a childhood paradise.
When I was growing up there between 1984 and 1993, the park was surrounded by woods. In fact, the first thing I notice about this modern image is the complete lack of trees. It looks parched by the sun and absolutely devoid of life now. But when I was growing up, a kid could get lost for hours in the forests there, and I remember building forts with my friends and hoping like hell I never got caught by my mother, who always warned me to stay out of them. Having a bike was an absolute must, as one could never traverse the labyrinth of alleyways without one. This is the place where I would practice the now extinct childhood ritual of leaving the house at dawn and not returning until the streetlamps flickered on at the first sign of dusk. Or until my mom's piercing whistle echoed into the twilight. Usually, the two events were almost simultaneous.
My adventures in Chateau were mostly solitary. Sure, I had friends, but I wasn't a terribly social child. For such a young kid, I sure had a lot to think about, and I would spend most of my time wandering the streets utterly enrapt in those thoughts. I suppose that's one reason I began writing so early. It gave me something to do with all of the words and images that ran through my mind. Occasionally, I would take a journal with me, but more often I just kept my thoughts inside my head and a lot of the time, I would just talk to myself. I guess that sounds kind of pathetic, but I actually was a pretty happy kid, even though I was teased mercilessly in school, usually for being a nerd, being tall, being chubby, and yes -- being white. But I never let it get me down too far. When I had a bad day at school, I would throw my books down and go to my favorite part of the neighborhood -- the pond. Or "the back pond" as we called it, because Chateau had two small bodies of water from which to choose.
The back pond, as pictured here, was probably the site that is most rich in happy memories for me. One thing you can't tell by the photograph is that the pond is situated in sort of a "valley" of hills. Meaning that it was the prime spot in the neighborhood for sledding. And if it got cold enough (as it invariably did -- Michigan winters can be brutally frigid), the pond would become the neighborhood ice rink. The part I would sled on most is at the bottom of the picture, where the hills are longer. It is also the site of where I flipped over the handlebars of my bike for the first time, on one particularly daring, miraculously non-injured adventure.
Look to the bottom-left of the picture and you will see a rectangular slab. That there is the basketball court where my dad once set off a strand of 1000 M-80 firecrackers that he bought out of the trunk of some Iraqi guy's car for the 4th of July. The court had just been poured not even a month previous to that incident, and when he was done inciting an aural riot on the ears of the citizens that night, the black powder residue and pock marks left a permanent memory of the event right in the concrete. If you look at the pond itself, you will see a little bit of an indentation on the lefthand side of the water. That is the storm drainage pipe. I used to hide in there regularly when the water was low enough. One thing that struck me right away though, when I saw this photo, and almost made a lump rise in my throat as my eyes scoured these images was the little white speck you'll see at the top of the photograph, right before the street. It looks too small to really be much from here, but that is unmistakably my rock. My favorite rock, in fact. I loved that boulder... It was smooth and sheared off on the front, but it had a natural set of steps going up the back of it that made it easy for small feet to climb, and right at the very top of it was a seat perfect for a child-size rear. I would sit on that rock for a very long time, looking at the geese milling about on the pond, watching the shadows change on the trees, wondering where I was going to be one day when I finally grew up... And when I would be done with that day's pondering (pun not intended), I would slide right down the rock's slippery face, hop on my bike and take the long way back to wherever.
Every kid has a place where they like to escape. And if you live in a single-wide moble home with two bedrooms, one of which you have to share with your teenage brother, it often becomes necessary to find that hiding place outside. The pond was definitely it.
My parents look at me like I'm insane when I say this, but I really wish I could go back there. I want to walk around that pond. I want to sit on my rock, and see what 14 years worth of weather have done to it. I want to take my bike and go riding through the alleys. Particularly the one looping behind Canary Hill Dr. because that one was the prettiest. I want to ride past my old friends' houses. I want to ride past my own lot. I can't drive by the trailer itself, though, because it no longer exists.
I'll save that story, and more, for tomorrow's post.