Going Home?

2007.Jul.27 Friday · 3 comments

in Life

 There are things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.”

– Bill Bryson, Writer

Ann Arbor, Michigan – Many people have asked the question, “Can you go home again?” Just as many people have come up with at least as many answers, or at least stabs at them. I’m not really going to explore the question with an eye towards resolving this one. But it very much came to mind over the last few months… and here’s the nutshell version of the story.

Childhood Home?

I grew up in Ann Arbor – in this house, though it didn’t look like this then. The minions of darkness who have taken over the homestead (okay, they paid my parents money for the house… for all I know it’s been resold many times) removed the brooding chocolate brown siding and olive green shutters and replaced it with lighter colors that blend in with the rest of the neighborhood. One of the things that stood out in my memory of our home was that, while of the same base model as every other home in the subdivision, my folks had elected offbeat colors – you could tell people “I live in the chocolate colored house on Antietam” and they knew exactly which house you were talking about. I’m not going to claim some idyllic childhood existence filled with golden sunshine that’s all disappeared – I grew up in the 60s there (we moved to that house when I was 6, my hazy recollection being that it was mid-year 2nd grade, in between semesters), and there were lots of things going on in the world that impacted our existence. But the subdivision was new, it was surrounded by fields, meadows, woods, a creek or two, a pond here and there… it’s mostly all built up now, with more surrounding subdivisions, a couple of which were already underway when I left town in 1982 to go to New York. By that time I was no longer living at home – in fact, home was no longer home, as my folks had already up and moved to Austin, Texas.

But life there was pleasant, and the subdivision, Orchard Hills, was filled with families with kids – many of them my age or close to it. We all went to the same elementary school, Thurston, then on to a dismally conceived “busing” plan at a junion high school crosstown, Scarlett – an attempt to fill out a school that was, prior to our arrival, predominately “colored” as we would have said at that point with a bunch of middle class, mostly white kids; while meanwhile, kids from a few neighborhoods on that side of town were shipped in buses across to Tappan, the junior high that we’d originally been slated for. Racial, economic and social class mixing, an experiment that didn’t work quite the way the planners had envisioned, and quickly scrapped after our class moved on to high school at the newly opened Huron high school – home of the River Rats, you know. We were bicentennial grads – the ’76ers – a class that had entered the school with the Vietnam War and the draft hanging over our heads, something we’d lived with our entire lives as a given future, and exited into a world where, for the first time in our lives, the U.S. was not actively at war.

I went to school at the University of Michigan, a huge presence in town for anyone who knows the place – we used to say that Ann Arbor had a population of 110,000 during the school year, and 65,000 during the summer. I left, as I noted, in 1982, to head to New York and grad school, after a year deciding it wasn’t for me, and I returned to A2, as we tended to refer to it. I was barely there the summer before being offered a temporary job back in New York, which kept extending on and on, despite my requests to not be based out of this company’s NY office, and when it became clear that they simply didn’t care about my preference, I walked out the door one evening and never went back. I also, somehow, didn’t return to Ann Arbor, staying on until 2005, when I headed to Buenos Aires. Strange, that.

And that, jumping forward and skipping over history like a well thrown stone, brought us to 1996, and a twenty year high school reunion, which I flew into town for and flew back out a day later, barely having had time to catch my breath, meet up with a couple of friends for lunch, visit an ex-boyfriend’s grave (whom I hadn’t been aware had died until the day before I arrived in town, which cast a bit of a pall over the whole weekend for me), and hop on a plane back to New York. My first visit since the summer of 1983… and then on to the thirtieth reunion, last year, which neither I nor a large number of my classmates attended. Our absence was noted… mostly by a few of us who have kept in on and off touch, and someone popped up with the idea of having a neighborhood – grade school – kids we grew up with reunion – which snowballed into a series of e-mail exchanges, then a yahoo group, and then finally a date settled on with invitations flying all over the world. I mean, everyone has a 38th grade school reunion, right?

From my end, it was a simple matter of delaying a planned New York visit in May to July – not the most pleasant weatherwise, but the date was selected to coincide with Ann Arbor’s annual art fair – something I’d be hard pressed to begin to describe – when I was a kid, it was a few streets surrounding the center of the university campus, with tents set up housing artists, many if not most of them, as I recall, though it’s a bit hazy, professional artists, showing their wares. I remember my mom taking me to meet Phil Austin, an American watercolorist who was a favorite – I had a wall in my room covered with reprints of his seascapes. Now the art fair has taken over the entire central campus and all of the city’s downtown and the offerings seemed, at least based on a brief survey, to cover a range from pro to amateur to… well, refrigerator magnets and pairs of socks being offered up.

And so, the next few posts will be about my four day foray back to my roots (okay, yeah, I know I said I moved there when I was six, but I have virtually no memories of the places we lived before, my dad was a public health service officer, and we bounced around a bit – A2 was the first place we settled down).


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Saratica July 28, 2007 at 22:16

What a great idea, that elementary school reunion! Looking forward to Roots A2…

dan December 4, 2007 at 09:40

This just in from a reader who stumbled on the site:

Thank you for the wonderful tribute to growing up in Ann Arbor, especially in Orchard Hills. I would have been a few years younger; my family lived on Bluett, just one lot over from the corner of Antietam. I recall walking past Thurston Pond on the way to school, then later to Clague Middle School. I spent countless hours fishing that pond, and just as many skating on it in the winter. We threw snowballs at the city bus; played countless hours of backyard football and whiffle ball; trekked up to the mall that had the drug store and an ice cream place. (And wasn’t there some place called Boljoes, or some such?!)

It was about as idyllic as a childhood could be.

I wish I could go back there one more time. I suspect that everything would look much smaller than my memory would suggest. Still, it was truly special place.

At any rate, thanks for the dose of nostalgia.

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