The First Years

At it’s best, it looked like this with me as Ralphie.  I wanted the BB gun too, but also my school, the coal furnace, the front yard, clothes… my childhood really looked like this.     Earth tones clothes, furniture and walls.  One telephone in thechristmas-story house, one electric plug per room. Snow suits.

Until I was ten we lived in Ann Arbor, the college town.  More than half of the time we lived effectively on campus.  Corner of State & Huron. If you look at the link , due north down State, that’s it.  Dad’s Grace Bible is the ivy-covered stone building.  Our house was just past the church… which is now an architects’ office.  The parsonage is office space too, my back yard of grass and rhubarb now a parking lot .   

The old native stone building was my playground, especially the tower.  The ugly tan building across the street replaces Ann Arbor high school of my time.grace_bibleOther buildings are new too.  Across Huron, the street from which the picture is taken, was the University of Michigan music school, specifically the wind instrument department. Toot, toot.  Kitty corner then and now the Methodist church where children were told a crazy guy lived in the bell tower. I still wonder if that was true… and why shouldn’t it be.

For five years, from the age of four, my world was a university campus.  One other kid, Johnny Fontana, son of the live-in guy at the undertakers just a block down on Huron.  So Johnny and I ran the campus, invisible because were were  too little to be noticed.  We found the ways into the utility tunnels that ran for blocks and carried water, heat and power to the buildings.  We used the tunnels to get into campus buildings, particularly the museums, whether they were actually open for business or not.  On alternate Fall Saturdays we marched in a parade to the football stadium, Ann Arbor’s real church.  Two little boys with a regular marching band parade of their own, noise and joy, a mile and a half through a Great Lakes autumn afternoon, regardless of repeated instructions.  What could possibly be better.

My school was a brick pile twenty minutes walk from home.  There was a war surplus joint selling off the end of World War II, and a YMCA which showed three hours of movie serials on Saturday for a dime.  There was a newspaper — my very first —  a Chinese restaurant and a dairy where they made milkshakes with fresh ice cream.  The grocery store employed a butcher and sold blocks of white margarine that looked and tasted like Crisco.  Yellow coloring for it came in separate packets and was mixed in at home, a tribute to the power of the near-by Wisconsin dairy farmers who saw no reason why congealed vegetable oil should look like real butter.

I lived in that house until I was nine.

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