I Found My Thrill on Starling Hill Part I: Solitare

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.


  1. Hey, great blog. Found you through Scott the Oregonian. I guess the universe wants me to deal with some memories today. I Read your and Scott's GoogleEarth posts, and had to close my eyes for a moment.

    I grew up not too far from where you live now, Maple Valley, Washington. Like you, I grew up in a single-wide box, two "bedrooms," bunkbeds for me and my brother. I lived there until I was eighteen. Yeah, I never brought my dates over. Ever.

    I just visited M.V. two summers ago for the first time in twenty years (high school reunion). Talk about "lump in the throat"--I could hardly recognize the place. No trees, farm land, livestock...just shopping centers and housing developments.

    Your memoir was a pleasure to read. I can tell by the description of your "special place" that you experienced some wonderful things there. Mine, unfortunatley, has been replaced by a parking lot, but the memories are still there.

    Hope all is well in Oly town. Miss that place. Do you get out to Ocean Shores, much?

  2. You had a really "old fashioned" childhood - making forts in the woods, staying out from dawn to dusk until your mom called for you, having a favorite outside spot to sit and/or hide... that is really cool.

  3. I would love to return to the first places I remember. Unfortunately, that would entail a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina and that's a lot of money and time. But I think about it all the time. I want to go back. I think it will be very emotional. I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks!


  4. Hey Word Doctor! :) I'm glad you stopped by and shared, and I'm glad you enjoyed! I will be checking out your blog asap. I get out to Ocean Shores maybe once a year or so when I want to go to a beach but don't feel like driving all the way down to Oregon. ;) Olympia is great... it's getting more and more developed by the year.

    Kristen - I suppose in a lot of ways I did have that classic childhood. It's one that I wish for my own kids to have...

  5. Great post. You can go back. I went back to the apartment complesx where I grew up, and actually persuaded the people who live in the apartment I used to live in to let me in. It was odd. Also, the hill that we used to tumble down and sled down looked tiny to me. Probably because I was so small, and now I'm not. It was awesome to go back there and check things out.

    PS: The "Kill 'Em With Kindness" post I promised is up.

  6. Ahhhh.... trailer park. When I first looked at the picture, I thought to myself, "what, she grew up in a parking lot?"

  7. Yeah, I hear you. Even after I moved to Kirkland, WA, I would make the trek to Seaside because there was much more to do (Kite flying is something everyone should try), and (honestly) the beach was much cleaner.

    You seem like a sweetheart. Nice pic. How tall are you? Hope to hear form you again. All the best, Gouda.

  8. Hey Doc,

    I love Seaside! I was there last Memorial Day. Hope to make another trip there in the next few months. Kite flying is a must at any beach, especially on the Pacific NW beaches, where there is never a shortage of good wind. :)

    Keep in touch! I enjoyed your blog as well!

  9. Kite flying? Gouda, you are talking to the tyvek monster beach kite master...

    Excellent that you took up my challenge.

    I need a name for this (The GOOGLE EARTH CHILDHOOD MEMORIES challenge?)

    I need a way to collect the links to all of you who took up the challenge...

    I need to go to the store...

  10. Cool idea...And that's all I have to say about that.

  11. I lived in Pontiac for about 6 months wile my dad worked for Bendix. It would have been a long time before you lived there. I only have one great memory from that time; my mom getting lost trying to drive to the mall. It should have taken 15 minutes, it took almost 2 hours. She cried. It was hard being in a new town with 3 kids under 6 years old in the car. When we moved, we settled down for a while. Rockton is the town, I did the google thing. As with you the area has changed and my house is not what I remembered at all and the woods are gone. Thanks for making me take back a little piece of my childhood! Jonathan

    P.S.(feel free to delete this part if you decide to post the above section)
    I do miss talking to you, I feel there has been a giant misunderstanding. I hope we can talk soon. I miss you. I miss talking with you and I would like to rekindle a friendship. It is totally up to you, just let me know. My e-mail is jonwithtyres@tmail.com. I really do wish you the best. I would like to be there if you need someone. Jonathan

  12. I'm surprised you got so much detail out of your Google Earth images. I tried this on my current house, but unfortunately there are too many trees.

    Mom and I drove by my childhood house when I was back in Ohio, and it seemed so small and the houses were much closer together than I remembered. The place was pretty run down, too.

    Thanks for taking us all back, Allie! Oh yeah, and not to be a total stickler, but the hippocampus isn't where memories are stored. Um, I think I need to retroactively fail you as a Psych student and as a friend. Har-huh!

  13. Chris -- Bite me, okay? LOL I know that the hippocampus is mainly involved in encoding and converting STM to LTM so that they can be stored elsewhere, but I also know that MANY parts of the brain are involved in the actual storage, depending on the type, be it declarative (where to begin?) or procedural (basal ganglia, to name one). It's just that the hippocampus is the most widely-recognized part of the brain associated with memory, and I figured for the purposes of the blog, it was okay to be a little "loose" with the facts. Joik! LOL!

  14. That is a really well written post! That's probably the best tribute Google Earth ever got. :)