Sunday, January 13, 2008

looking back

You can click on some of these photos to enlarge them. I don't know why they all don't enlarge.

Forgive me, this is a long post. It’s mostly for me, a sort of documentation of some childhood memories, so if you skip around, I won’t feel bad.

Yesterday I drove 40 minutes to the small town (pop. 7,813) where I lived from the day I was born until I left for college, except for 5th grade when we moved up north and lived in a depressed and depressing town.

This first shot is of the Baptist church my father pastored for 13 years. The long low annex wing at the right was built on the spot where the first house I lived in stood before being torn down for the building. Years before it was torn down, we had moved into the tan house at the left, which was white back then. We needed more room for the ten of us, and the church bought the house from the rich attorney’s family who lived there.

Do you see how our life even visually was dominated by church?

These are pictures of that second house, where I lived from age 4, I believe, until I was 10.

These steps are the same as in this old photo of me and my siblings (c. 1960?), below. The little one in front is me - yes, the one with the bad perm. But despite the sorry hair, I’d like to bring your attention to the stylin’ matching dress and sweater ensemble. And oh yes, those were velvet shoes. I don’t recall if these are the ones I cut the straps off to make them more stylin as “slip-ons.” Behind me are my three brothers, John, Jim and Bennett, then my three sisters Nancy, Ginnie and Susan, then the oldest bro Nelson. Nelson is 14 years older than I. He left for college when I was 4.

This porch was the center of many family memories. I remember the thrill of watching and listening to many thunderstorms sitting on this porch.

Ours wasn’t the only church within a stone’s throw. Across the street was the Methodist church where they had all the fun. They had dances in the basement. I couldn’t dance. I was a Baptist. Oh, I think they drank alcohol too.

When we moved back to Grand Ledge from the depressing town up north just before my 12th birthday, we moved into the house across the street, photo below. Yes, almost my whole life from age 0-18 I lived in three houses within one small town’s block.

I had spent age 6-10 playing with the boy who lived in this house, Jimmy, who was two years older than me. We used to peer through the French doors into the beautiful living room that had flowered carpet where we couldn’t play. We watched TV in his den, mostly I remember Mighty Mouse, The Lone Ranger and The Three Stooges. When my father bought the house, it was the best day of my life. Did I say it was my 12th birthday? I painted a paint-by-number birthday gift on the floor of my father’s study before any furniture was moved in. Later, in high school, I lived on the 3rd floor with my Thai sister DeeDee. Oh, and besides the eight of us kids, we had a couple dozen foreign students live with us over the years.

These next photos are the landmarks of my little circuit growing up. All these landmarks were within 5 blocks of my house.

1. Fortino’s Party Store (for candy); oh, and see the SUN Theater? We Baptists couldn’t go to movies either. I never stepped foot ONCE in this theater, within one and a half blocks of my house.

2. The dime store (for candy and Barbie doll clothes, the latter looking mostly); it’s now a flower shop.

3. The ice cream store across the bridge (Lickety Split now, used to be Tastee Freez). (There’s a story about this picture, hold on.)

4. The Public Library; I adored sitting here with books, and also checking them out.

5. The US Post Office; my parents were always asking me to mail letters and bills. I never minded the errands that took me to the appealing, cool lobby of the Post Office where the old letter boxes still line the wall, and the 1940 painting by James Calder graces one end.

Ok, the story about the ice cream store and that bridge railing:

My mom sent me to the Post Office to mail two letters she’d spent hours writing. You know, back before computers. She had beautiful, consistent handwriting, it could have been its own font. Anyway, she sent me on this errand to mail her important letters, and I decided to take a detour to the ice cream store first. Now I don’t remember if it was before or after I had my ice cream cone, but I set those important letters down on the bridge railing there (it used to be cement) for some unremembered reason. Please imagine a lovely little breath of wind kissing those letters and tipping them, in slow motion, over the edge, and I, horrified, watching them float down the wind current into the Grand River below, then drift away.

Yes, I told her. And I didn’t die.

Two more stops. Are you still with me?

This is my elementary school. I was a good student and a good girl, a little too good if you ask me. (Like, why did I tell my mother about the letters?) But my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Smith did slap my mouth once for mouthing off. I guess I learned after that. Oh, I saw her yesterday in the café where I ate lunch, my camera around my neck. I decided not to say “hi” again, since I’ve talked with her several times as an adult seeing her around town. I don’t want to keep making her feel bad that she’s old enough to have a student talking to her that she had 46 years ago (I don't know if she'd remember the slap). She looks pretty good, I’ll tell you. She must be at least 70 but she looks 60.

One last stop, the cemetery, everyone’s last stop I guess.

My parents are buried under this stone. And, another short circuit, see our family doctor who delivered me, Fred Garlock is buried just behind them. He was a chain smoker. My dad drew the original pen and ink “hart” (another name for a deer; our name was Hart) for his personal book plate, and then the drawing was used for the headstone design. Dad died in 1995, Mom in 1997.

Oh, and that sweet third brother standing on the steps, Bennett? He died suddenly of arterosclerosis in 1996, the year between their deaths, the day we were all cleaning out our mom's house (she was living in an Alzheimer's home). His high school graduating class of 1968 planted this ornamental tree in his memory by the Opera House over by the river. We planted his ashes under some pine trees at our family cottage.

Thanks if you read this whole thing. It was the first time I’ve done this, gone back and retraced my childhood steps intentionally, probably because I live so close now and take it for granted.

A native of my home town is featured in the new hit movie “Juno” (review at Rotten Tomatoes here ). Paul Baribeau’s name is mentioned, he inspired a verse in Kimya Dawson’s song “Tire Swing” and he even sings a line in the song, which plays after the movie’s beginning credits.

Say “good-bye” to Grand Ledge, looking south across the bridge.


Astrid. said...

Ruth I was with you until the last words, I am impressed by the words and the pictures, growing up as a Mennonite in Holland and being able to live with Mennonites in Hatfield/Souderton Pa. for one year, I noticed the differences, I was allowed to dance and have a drink in the Nehterlands, but forbidden in USA, I never understood why, I learned a lot when I was living in your country, I still read a lot about the diferences.
Being able to capture all the nice pictures of your childhood, give me a slight view of your youth, so different than mine, I think it is good for any one to know where they came from, try to see what was good and use those things in present life, try to except the less good things, it will give peace of heart and soul. Ruth thank you so much to have a peek of your youth and the places you lived.
Hartelijke groeten Astrid.

Rauf said...

i drank all the words and the pictures Rurh. Had coffee and a smoke and sat down to write a comment. Have to apologise, for being away as things are not going well for me, plus erratic power and computer problems, not very serious though.

i think i have told you that i am reading Richard Dawkin's 'God Delusion' been reading slowly, mostly technical which i should have skipped but made an attempt to understand and failed.
i don't agree with him though we think in the same line about God and religion. He says children should be left alone to think and choose for themselves. Parents impose their thinking and beliefs on children and do not allow them to think for themselves. i can understand no movies no dance and no fun is hard for a growing child, too rigid. But You know how strong that foundation has been in your life, and how that foundation is helping you to be a level headed person you are now.
i was brought up on the same rigid lines as a Muslim. i have even conducted prayers when ever the priest was late. (muslims pray five times a day) As i grew older and started some serious thinking, God and my faith slowly faded away as i had a lot of room to change.
i think the same has happened to you, i don't think you reacted or rebelled, it was a slow fading in your life too. My friend of 50 years was a liberal Muslim, hadrdly ever attended a prayer at the mosque, no religious pressure on his children, but his son turned out to be a fundamentalist.
Things change.

Ah Ruth ! how could you ?
i would have made you deaf with my screams if you had lost my letters.
If i had such a beautiful post office, i would have spent my entire life sitting there and writing letters to all my friends.
i have stories of my goofs and stupidity, but this comment is getting too long.

Thank you for taking us along the journey down the memory lane. Its very emotional. i regret not recording my life and history in pictures. i have very little of it.
But its all in my mind.
Some of my school teachers are still alive Ruth, Your post inspires me to go and meet them.
Now i am not embarassed that i have not been a 'successful' man and i am just another Indian in the crowd. This actually prevented me from meeting my teachers.

This is a beautiful post Ruth.

freefalling said...

Forgive me, Ruth.
Another question.
What was it that propelled you to your past (can you be "propelled to your past"?)?
What was it that made you take this journey?

Ginnie said...

Ruth! I don't know whether to laugh or to weep. Maybe both. Maybe somewhere in between. To see this through your eyes is so...telling. Telling of the difference 11 years can make between us in how we grew up and how we observed/felt things. This is YOUR story. The only story you have. If I told MY story of these same places, how different would it be!

Now my mind is working overtime. How can I thank you for doing this work of love! It feels like a catharsis for the soul. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Oh Ruth, such wonderful memories. I love the photos, especially the one of the hopscotch pattern. I loved playing hopscotch as a kid.

I can feel your stomach drop in horror when the letters get blown over the bridge.

The photo of all your siblings is a delight. I love the stepping stone aspect of it. And your curls are beautiful.

Mrs. M. said...

Wow! G'ma/G'pa's house loooks smaller to me for some reason...

I remember my mom telling stories about the bridge, and then there's the "going around the block" adventure she had upon moving to the "big" town!

Are you going to go to WI and chronicle Don's hometown someday?

SwedeHart said...

I can't believe you remember being in a depressing place at such a young age. That really stands out, doesn't it? It may be one of the reasons you surround yourself by anything but depressing!

Loved the comment about G'ma Hart Font! You know, Aunt G. & Amy deserve a font, too!

Saying Goodbye to Grand Ledge, Saying Goodbye to Arizona- so many goodbyes for me today... It is indeed emotional.

lesleyanne said...

i loved every word of this walk down memory lane. i'm still learning new things about you all the time, and it just amazes me hearing about your childhood. i gasped suddenly and put my hand to my mouth when i read about the letters falling into the river!! i would have told mommy too. i kept thinking in my head, she should have made copies...haha!

i'm so happy you were inspired and that this trip was a positive experience for you.

persuasion! i'm so bummed i missed it last night!!

alice said...

Something for you on my blog today...

alice said...

Oh, Ruth, yes, I'm still with you. And I'd want to cross the bridge with you and continue the story, hand in hand. I was growing up far away from your country but my childhood, controled by a strict father and a severe battalion of catholic nuns in a poor lonely town, was not so different from yours.

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, Astrid, for your comment. I think the differences you saw in the US have to do with the Puritan heritage, those who left Europe because of their staunch and strict beliefs about what was moral and immoral. Others know far more about church history than I do. My brother Nelson could explain, or my nephew Nathan. There are so many different denominations, its makes your head spin trying to keep up. I never understood, growing up, how some could be "in" and some could be "out" just based on slight nuances of dogma.

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, rauf. Thank you for reminding me that there is value in my church-y upbringing. I've been told this before by people who are not of faith, and it always strikes me as interesting and worth listening to when those who don't believe value the traditions I grew up with. So I do pay attention to that.

You're right, it took years of gradually leaving the church for me, not a rebellion.

I think your teachers would be so delighted to see you, I hope you will go look them up. Imagine yourself in their place, you would love it. I hope you will report to me that you found at least one teacher. You know how you love to see your graphic arts students come back to thank you.

Ruth said...

Letitia, the answer is simply: I was bored and needed to get out of the house. I wanted an outing. Grand Ledge was pretty close. I would say it wasn't until I started writing the text in this post that I felt some connections. I was pretty disconnected from myself growing up. But now I feel the emotions surfacing that I didn't know how to feel or express when I was young.

Ruth said...

Boots, is your mind working over time because you are reflecting on your own memories? Wouldn't it be an interesting study to compare all of our memories. We've done some of that in conversation.

It's astonishing how varied each person's experience is in life. Just shows that we can't judge each other, we don't know what it's like to be in someone else's skin.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much, Heather. I love that hopscotch pattern too, it's been painted so many times.

Isn't that old photo a hoot? Strange how we remember from such an early age. I'd love to see photos of you in childhood. Hey, we should all bring some to Sapphos sometime.

Ruth said...

Mrs. M., I agree with you about the Lincoln St. house looking smaller. I thought it was a mansion when we lived there.

Yes, that Susan story about the 5-sided city block is priceless. Such a big booming town Grand Ledge is next to Pullman, eh?

No plans to go to WI, although we went back for one of his reunions. We did look at his old house. It would be nice to go back with the kids and take pictures too.

Ruth said...

Rachel, I agree, I've told Aunt Booties for years her handwriting is a beautiful font. Oh, Amy too, yes. So many in the family have lovely writing.

Big changes for you this week, it must be hard to leave all those amazing friends. I know you'll keep us posted on your new place!

Ruth said...

Oh, sweet girl, you have a simple heart too and I know you would have told your mommy about losing those important letters. Yes, she could have made copies the way Thomas Jefferson did, with a double pen, writing once, but making two copies simultaneously. :)

You must watch Northanger Abbey Sunday, my dear!

Ruth said...

Oh, Alice, I've heard so much about Catholic upbringing too. Strict in different ways, and also very difficult. I think these obstacles make us stronger people, one way or another. You are very sweet, so I believe your upbringing has made you a good person.

Yes, you are my friend, of course you can call me friend. :)

And thank you for the 'you make my day' award!

Anonymous said...

Ruth and I were have an E-mail discussion about being raised Baptists, no dancing, Movie's, etc, when I remembered we knew a couple in Grand Ledge. I asked her if she knew them and then I thought after that they were Methodists. Of course she didn't know them and I said "Baptist's and Methodist's don't mix". I reminded Ruth of the quote in A River Runs Through It, "Father always said that Methodist's were just Baptist's that could read."

Fred Abner

Loring Wirbel said...

Wonderful pictures of a town I found constricting at the time, but love to see pictures of now. I remember fondly the Baptist-Methodist block. But what about the second house you lived in, was that on Scott Street? My sister lives on the 300 block of East Scott today, so that looks very familiar. It's a shame how the primaries brought home to the nation how hopeless the Michigan economy seems to be.

Ruth said...

Actually Loring, the first house, the one that was torn down, was on Scott St. The second, in these photos next to the church, is on Harrison.

Yes, our MI economy stinks, and the rest of the country is looking pretty dire too these last few days especially.

Anonymous said...

That was wonderful post!
And your father has been one month younger than mine! And your oldest brother have to be almost in my age :)
I have certainly had a different childhood compared with you.
I was the only child ( that`s why it`s fine you are now my little sister :), my father had been fighting in WWII and he lost his home to Russia, which took that part from Finland, called Karelia.
We lived near Russian border and I walked to my school alone 5km every day, sometimes a big kind bear walked behind me, then went to a different direction, foxes and other smaller animals were my company too.
When I was ten, we moved to a little bigger place, I got human friends.
Your age is nearer to my daughter`s age than my age, but it doesn't make a difference or what do you think?
Have a good weekend, Ruth!

Ruth said...

Our ages don't matter, Leena, we are sisters.

No wonder you love nature, so much a part of it as a child. A big kind bear!?? Ohh, that's amazing. I just can't get over that. The image of you as a little girl with a sweet bear walking behind you. It sounds like a fairy tale.

So our fathers are almost the same age. Is yours still alive?

Anonymous said...

my father was 55 years, when he died by hearth attach, a long time ago.
I did not see that bear, but some men, who were on a hill near a road, saw, when I was walking to school and very big bear after me. They said, that they prayed, that Leena doesn`t look behind, both Leena and the bear could be frightened and who knows, what the bear after that can do.I did not look behind, but I was walking back from school trying to put my shoes just tracks of bear. I could not be afraid, because my father said, bears are not eating small girls.
But if somebody is between mother
bear and her babies, the situation is different, of course.
We have bears also near our summer cottage, they are coming from Russia`s big forests.
We are forest`s inhabitants here:), but I have managed very well also in Paris, Rome,Athens,Budapest, Sydney,Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur . . .:)

Ruth said...

Leena, the story is mind blowing, just the thought of it is astonishing! I think it shows how special you are, that a bear was your friend.