Parting Glances: Pages from a book (Pt. 1)

By |2005-01-19T09:00:00-05:00January 19th, 2005|Opinions|

I keep on my desk a piece of a red brick. It’s all that’s left of Cassboro Apartments, 444 Peterboro, Detroit. I found the small memento among the broken boards and shatter glass of the recently razed building. It anchors memories …
I was five when we moved into apartment 114 in 1941. My father, a factory worker, was 35; my mother, a laundry helper, was 30. We lived in four small rooms, which might have provided family warmth with a little privacy, but Granny, my father’s mother, came to stay for 13 years.
The Cassboro was built in 1920. (I remember an ice box, a gas stove, a console radio and a milkman with horse-drawn van.) There were 60 apartments, owned by a Mr. Burston. Once a month he drove up in a black sedan, collected rent, and chatted with Mr. and Mrs. Hoag, the landlords. He rarely noticed us kids.
I liked Mr. Hoag. He laughed a lot and once showed me a basement storage room filled with furniture and toys. His wife was cranky. She once found me talking to Jaephuus, the janitor, who was washing windows. He told me he had seen a dead cat brought back to life after it was stuffed with sand. “You’re not to speak to him,” she scolded. “Do you understand?”
I did my best to avoid her, though once I hid under a staircase and listened 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 mother could sleep only by sitting upright. There was blond Patsy Katja, who had the best comic books to trade, and tomboy Joan McGonagle, who did “things” with Tommy Tudman in his mother’s bedroom.
There was Danny who lived across the hall. His mother 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, who asked me to take off my clothes when his parents were gone. For my silence, he gave me his Captain Midnight ring. There was teenager Bobby Hendrix. At Christmas time his mother invited the neighbors in for Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” She smoked with a cigarette holder and acted like screen-star Betty Grable.
When I was 10 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 and answered to a friend’s knock. To this day I can still see his soapy, suntanned skin and flashy teenage smile.
It was a daredevil moment — just as I was conveniently passing by.

About the Author:

Charles Alexander