Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving thoughts

Thanksgiving always involved travel for me, but not the "over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house" kind of idyllic scene.  Ours involved a trip to the faraway land called the "West Side". We'd load up in the car and go to my aunt's house....she lived on the west side....and we lived on the east side.   Native Detroiters speak in this parlance to describe themselves - if you live east of Woodward Avenue, you're what is known as an "east sider".  If you lived west of Woodward, you're a "west sider".   As a kid, I never knew any west siders, in fact, I rarely went west of I-75, let alone Woodward.   When I started working at Ford as an adult, I couldn't find my way around Dearborn because the streets weren't parallel like they are on the east side.   Every once in a while, I accidentally end up in another provenance of Detroit called "Downriver", which borders Dearborn, but it is a notable difference in white urban class status.  Dearborn considered to be more upscale than it's downriver neighbors of Allen Park or Taylor.  I couldn't find my way around the west side. None of the roads were numbered in mile increments, and familiar roads I knew like 15 Mile was called "Maple" and 8 Mile became "Base Line Road".   Weird!

A key difference of the east side vs. west side is that most of the Polish people ended up on the east side.  When the Detroit riots occurred in the 1960s, all the Polish crowd decided to head north of 8 Mile from Hamtramck on a beeline up Van Dyke.   Many landed in Warren, like my family, and as the white flight continued northward, many headed even further up to Clinton Twp. or Rochester during the 1980s.   But for some reason, my mom's sister actually stayed in the city, and sent her kids to Catholic school, and moved to the west side.   She lived in a really nice neighborhood....where Detroit cops lived and some of the Detroit Tigers had homes right on her street.  I don't remember exactly where it was, but I remember the car ride down 8 Mile (this is before I-696 made this commute much quicker) and we'd go under 2 bridges - the first one was the Woodward overpass and the second one was the Southfield Freeway.   We were officially deep into west side territory.   My aunt's house was way nicer than our house - it had a finished basement with a wet bar that my Uncle Carl dubbed "The Happy Hallow" complete with light up sign letting you know that, and really groovy Naugahyde bar stools that spun around.  My sister and I would take turns spinning each other around until we were nauseous.   We liked to spend time in the presence of our ultra hip cousins that were teenagers - the girls wore go go boots and bouffant hair styles and powder blue eye shadow and lots of eye liner, and our mysterious cousin Carl Junior that would come home from U of M for the weekend with his long hair.   I remember wondering if he was a "hippie" and if he took LSD.   Now, as an adult, I realize how far off base I was about him, a bookish man that studied philosophy and currently works in computer support.    

But the best part of my aunt's house was the pool table.   When I was a kid, I loved to shoot pool - I still do, in fact.   My dad taught us pool hall etiquette, i.e. always call your pocket for the 8 ball, do not take another turn if your last shot was "slop", make sure to chalk up the cue, etc.  There was strategy suggestions, too.   For example, shots that involved sending the cue ball across the length of the table are hard - he called them a "long green" shot.   Avoid them!  Or that maybe you wanted to have a "dog" -  to intentionally leave a ball in front of the pocket to block it from your opponent.  We kids would shoot pool any chance we got our hands on a cue.   Once we tired of playing pool, or the uncles decided they wanted to play, we'd play cards.   As small children, we were all taught how to play Pinochle, which is a really hard card game for a kid to learn how to play - there's all sorts of strategy and scoring things you needed to know.   Plus, it was hard to hold 12 cards in my small hands.  My Polish grandpa, who didn't speak much English, would yell at me in Polish if he could see my cards or I reneged.  I hated playing it, and was relieved when Euchre came into vogue, which only required 5 cards in a hand and there was the opportunity to win some money via gambling.   My dad's set wagering was always a dollar a game, 50 cents a euchre.

A No Brainer

Now, some of those traditions still carry on.   Tomorrow, I will drive to the east side to my sister's house.  Living in Ann Arbor means that I am far beyond even what is considered west side territory. I might as well live in another state.  My mother felt that Ann Arbor was "too far away" and would only travel here for Easter, in case there was some black ice on M-14.  She died in 2010, but we still follow her holiday rules: Thanksgiving at my sister's house, Christmas at my brother's and Easter here.  We don't have to worry about the black ice because it is 60 degrees today.  We'll play cards for sure, although I don't remember how to play Pinochle anymore, I'm sure there will be Euchre, maybe some Texas Hold 'Em. My sis has a pool table, so maybe we'll "shoot some stick" (as we used to call it).    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

1 comment:

Amy said...

Happy Thanksgiving! We are having your pickled eggs as a garnish for our brandy old fashioneds and they're great!