Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
I keep on my laptop desk a corner of chalky red brick. It’s all that’s left of Cassboro Apartments, 444 Peterboro, Detroit. I found this memento among broken boards, shattered glass of the recently razed building. It anchors childhood memories …
In 1941, I was five when we moved into apartment 114. My father, a factory worker, was 35; my mother, a laundry helper, 30. We lived in four small rooms, which might have provided family warmth and privacy, but my father’s mother, matriarchal, southern-born Granny Lottie Lee Alexander came to stay.
She was related to Robert E. Lee. I was 18 when she died.
The Cassboro was built in 1920. (I remember a pre-refridge ice box, gas stove, a milkman with horse-drawn van.) There were 60 apartments, owned by a Mr. Burston. Each month he drove up in his black sedan, collected rents, chatted with landlords Mr. and Mrs. Hoag. He rarely noticed us kids.
I liked Mr. Hoag. He laughed a lot, showed me a basement storage room filled with furniture and toys. His wife was cranky. She caught me talking to Japhus, the building janitor, who was washing front porch windows.
Japhus told me he had seen a dead cat brought back to life after being stuffed with sand. “You’re not to speak to him,” Mrs. Hoag squinted. “Do you understand, Alexander?”
I carefully avoided her, though once I hid under a staircase listening to her gossip with sedate Mrs. Barnes who lived on the fourth floor. It was a scary thing to do.
The Cassboro was filled with kids. I didn’t mind being an only child. There was Betty Rennie, whose ailing mother could sleep nights only by sitting upright. There was blond Patsy Katja, who had the best comic books to trade. Tomboy Joan McGonagle, who did “things” with Tommy Tudman in his unmarried mom’s bedroom.
There was Danny who lived across the hall. His clubfoot mom caught us, each age 8, showing our unbuttoned trophies in an abandoned car parked outside her window. There was Tommy Black, at 116. From my bedroom window one summer evening I saw his mother’s breasts when she left the bathroom light on.
There was red-haired Deanie, 13, who asked me, age 9, just for fun when his parents were gone to take off my clothes. For my silence, he gave me his Captain Midnight ring.
There was teenager Bobby Hendrix. At Christmas time his mother invited neighbor kids in for Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” She smoked with a cigarette holder, acted like screen-star Betty Grable.
When I was 12, Bobby got us kids to play draw-a-dare. He wrote dares on paper scraps. You got points for each challenge accepted. I wanted to do more than kiss the living room fish bowl, but I wasn’t sure just quite what.
One day Bobby popped naked into the hallway. He had just showered, answering to a friend’s knock. To this day I can still see his soapy, suntanned skin, flashy teenage smile, muscular body shake and shiver. It was a daredevil moment just as I was conveniently passing by.