Christmas Memories from Highland Park (1960s)

“The helicopter is coming!” Seeing Santa Claus would be one of the greatest highlights of my young life. Yes, I had sat on Santa’s lap at Hudson’s and Sears and Roebuck’s, but this would be special. Santa was arriving at Ford Park in a helicopter. The helicopter soon landed, and there he was! Santa climbed out of the helicopter as gracefully as possible for a man of his girth. He then gave a hearty “Ho Ho” and passed out candy to all of us children. I couldn’t wait for Christmas to come.

Reflecting upon my Christmas memories takes me to a time where life was quite simple for me. My parents helped make Christmas the special and joyous time of year that it was.

Our Christmas season would begin on Thanksgiving. Dad would make all of us sit in front of our black and white television and watch the Hudson’s parade through the streets of downtown Detroit. The floats were a sight to see for a young child as well as the marching bands. However, one of my greatest memories is Dad’s complaining about Sonny Eliot talking too much during the parade as he did the commentary. He would also say: “Why do they have so many commercials? They are wrecking the parade.” Yet, every year, he would have us in front of the television for more of Sonny Eliot’s jokes and more commercials.

The other highlight of the parade was Santa Claus coming at the end. As a child, I thought he was the real thing. He sure looked the part. To this day, I never have seen a better Santa than the one that would stand in front of Hudson’s and receive the keys of Detroit from the mayor.


The “real” Santa Claus-Photo by permission from:

The next step of the Booth Christmas was to check out the Christmas lights in downtown Detroit as well as a brightly lit neighborhood somewhere off of West Outer Drive. The lights in Downtown Detroit gave me great joy as I would say: “Look at those lights!” There was nothing like the lights in Downtown Detroit during the Christmas season.

Hudson’s Christmas lights-1960: With permission from:

I also enjoyed the lights on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park. Early in my childhood, the lights would be surrounded by real evergreen and wrapped around the light poles. The actual evergreen around each light pole made Woodward look classy during that time of year. I never did like the artificial lights that the city eventually used on each pole. I am sure it was cheaper, but it also looked cheaper.

After the parades and lights, the next step in the Booth Christmas was the Christmas tree. The great Christmas tree hunt was always an adventure as Dad had to find the perfect tree for just the right price. The experience of putting the Christmas tree up in the living room is too lengthy to tell.

During our preparations for Christmas, Mom loved to decorate the house with all sorts of Christmas decorations. She always loved to make the house as joyful as possible during this particular time of year. She would also layout several Christmas books. My favorite was “The Night Before Christmas”. I would love for Mom to read it to me. It made my anticipation for Santa’s coming even greater.

Christmas Eve created a considerable amount of excitement in our home. The lights on the tree showed brightly. The cookies and milk were placed by the tree for Santa Claus. Once, when I was a bit older (maybe six years old), I asked my parents, “How can Santa Claus come into our house? We don’t have a chimney.” Dad had the perfect solution. He told me: “We will leave the front door unlocked for him.” At the time, it made perfect sense to me.

Before going to bed, the last thing I remember doing was turning on the television and checking out Santa’s present location. At that time, a local commentator would come on throughout the evening, giving us the location of Santa and his sleigh via “radar.” Dad and Mom would then say: “He is getting closer; you need to get to bed.” I didn’t argue. Six o’ clock in the morning couldn’t come soon enough.

Christmas Day began early for us. Looking back, I realize that it was because of me everybody would wake up at 6: 00 A.M. We would head downstairs to check out what Santa Claus had brought. Every year, Santa would bring what I had asked. I always was excited about the toys and games that I received from Santa. However, the one gift from my parents was still the same, clothes, which brought no excitement on my part.


My brother and I enjoying the tree. (1960?)

My parents went out of their way to make my Christmas a special time of year. They sacrificed a lot to keep the wonder of Christmas for us. I never thought about thanking them for everything they did. As I reflect upon my early years, Christmas revealed how self-centered I was. Christmas seemed to be all about me and what I wanted for Christmas.

It wasn’t until later did I understand the true meaning of Christmas. I remember songs like “Hark, the Herald” and “Joy to the World”. I knew that there was a baby born in a manger named Jesus, but I didn’t know Him. I didn’t know that He (God in the flesh) came to earth to die for my sins. When I was nineteen years old, I finally received the greatest gift, which eternal life from Jesus Christ, my Lord.

There are many other memories of my childhood Christmases, such as the Ford Rotunda, and Hudson’s 12th floor, but I will save those for a later post.

P.S. Please check out my other blog in which I write upon spiritual topics. Here is a link to my Christmas post called: “The Wonder of the Babe in the Manger” Here is the link:

My Friend, Mike Bartnikowski (Long-time teacher at Ford School)


My visit with Mike in 2011

Today (February 5th) would have been Mike Bartnikowski’s birthday. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us to celebrate. While I was living in Highland Park, Mike was a great influence in my life during my teenage years.

The first time, I ever saw Mike was while I was a student at Ford Middle School from 1966-69.  Mike was a seventh grade teacher, and I would see him walking down the halls with his class. You couldn’t miss Mike because of his size. Many of his students would affectionately call him “Big Bart”. I never had Mike as a teacher; so I really didn’t know him or even speak to him.

My opportunity to meet Mike was when he started to work at Ford Park in the summers.  I spent a lot of time at Ford Park even as a young teen because there wasn’t much else to do. I would play shuffleboard with the old men, play some table games, and play a lot of tennis. It was during these summers that I developed a friendship with Mike.

Mike treated me as an adult though I was only a young teen. He would listen to what was going on in my life and he would share things that were happening in his life. I remember that he was quite excited when his daughter, Barb, was born. Unfortunately, I didn’t really appreciate Mike’s friendship and kindness until later in my life.

One of the things that Mike greatly enjoyed was playing war games (mostly board games).  Mike and I would spend time each summer playing some of these war games at the park.  Eventually Mike started a war gamers club that met at Hackett Field House every Saturday morning. He loved the competition. One of his most favorite games was Diplomacy. He loved the deceit and backstabbing that was part of the game. Because of Mike’s very competitive nature, Saturday morning was the highlight of the week.

Mike also enjoyed playing practical jokes. One evening at Ford Park, I was playing tennis when I heard this voice over the loudspeaker say: “Mark Booth, your mother is calling you!” Many of those playing were laughing as I ran off the courts to see what was up. Mike then comes up to me laughing because he had pulled off a brilliant prank.

After I graduated from Highland Park High School in 1973, I never did see Mike again until 2011.  Like many people, we were able to get reconnected through Facebook. I enjoyed spending a couple of hours with Mike and his wife, Barb. He talked about Ford School, the teachers in the school, some of his students, and he also wanted to relive his prank that he played upon me forty years before. I am glad that we had that chance to get acquainted again.

During my last visit, Mike was surprised that I was a pastor of a Baptist Church. I shared how God had used him to greatly influence my life. I reminded him how through his advice, I was able to convince my parents to transfer me back to Highland Park High School after a very miserable ninth grade at U of D High School. This decision enabled me to eventually finish college early. If I hadn’t, I would not have met my wife, Sharon. I would not have gone to South Africa and Portugal. My two sons would not be in Portugal now. I could just go on and on.

During my high school years I didn’t know how God was working in my life. I thank God for having an adult friend like Mike with whom I could talk. I am sure Mike didn’t know until my visit two years ago how important his role was in my life. Yes, Mike is missed by many, but I will not forget Him. God is still blessing me by having placed Mike in my life.

P.S. Here is an article about the Wargamers Club that Mike started:

 If you are interested I have another blog in which I write about about spiritual matters such as “God’s Prescription for Pain” and “Verses for the Valley”. Here is the link:

My Fifth Grade Memories of Midland Elementary School

Midland School, a few years ago.  It is now torn down.

Midland School, a few years ago after being in disuse for many years. It is hard to imagine this school when it was just built for classes in 1961.

Before school began in September, I learned that my fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Newman. This was not good news. My brother had her for his sixth grade teacher three years before. From the discussions that I heard in our house. Mrs. Newman and my brother didn’t have a good relationship. Would I also face problems with Mrs. Newman?

Fifth grade would be my last year at Midland School. This did include some privileges such as becoming an “audiovisual boy.” This meant that at the beginning of school, I would deliver audiovisual equipment to the classrooms. Then at the end of the school day, I would get out of class ten minutes early to pick up the equipment. This equipment today would look like museum pieces. I would deliver filmstrip projectors, 16mm movie projectors, 16 mm movies, filmstrips and on occasion an opaque projector.

This was the "modern" movie projector which threaded when it worked properly.

This was the “modern” movie projector which threaded itself when it worked properly.

As school began, I didn’t find Mrs. Newman as difficult a person as my brother had stated. She didn’t seem to smile a lot, unlike my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Jung. She also seemed quite old and ready to retire. However, Mrs. Newman did teach me a lot of things. She helped me a lot with my spelling and math skills. She also had us do some group projects. One project that I did with three other students was on the subject of spices. She would allow us to go out in the hall and talk about our project. This was trust that I hadn’t known before in school. The spice project not only taught me a lot about spices, but also how to work with other students.

The worst part of my fifth grade experience was the SRA reading program. This program was a color coded curriculum that was supposed to help a student in their reading skills. You would read a short story and then answer the questions. I must not have been considered a good reader because Mrs. Newman started me in the color Aqua. This was only one level above Orange which was for the worst readers. Perhaps, the educators thought that by using colors, we wouldn’t discover how slow we were, but everybody knew the significance of each color.

Fifth grade was quite awkward for me because I had developed an overwhelming attachment for comic books. I would go to our corner store every week and buy several comics. After reading them, I would actually rate them from the best to worst. I even had a six-foot tall poster of Spiderman above my bed. He did a great job of protecting me each night!

With my attachment for comics, I would embarrass myself by attending school with a big sweatshirt that showed on the front and the back “The Incredible Hulk”. The front of the shirt had the words: “Here comes the Incredible Hulk”. The back of the shirt had the words: “There goes the Incredible Hulk”. Looking back, I can’t believe that I would wear such a thing.

I can't believe I wore this!

I can’t believe I wore this! This photo is from an Ebay ad.

One great thing about fifth grade was my involvement in the Highland Park Recreation Department baseball program. This is when we played “fast” pitch baseball with the other elementary schools in Highland Park. For some reason, Mr. Monroe, our gym teacher, made me the captain of the Midland One team. We didn’t have adult supervisors; so I had to figure the positions each person played and when they would bat. I was probably a lot like Charlie Brown except I preferred to play first base. This was a great opportunity to learn leadership skills at an early age.

When fifth grade was over, we had no graduation ceremony. The last day of school was simply the last day of school. My five years at Midland school was over. I entered the school not being able to read or do math. I didn’t understand any history when I entered the school and now I had an interest in history.  My writing skills were still far from perfect, but I could write complete sentences. I learned some grammar and phonics in the process as well. I still hadn’t learned to swim. That would happen later!

Those years at Midland School were good years. I am thankful for the teachers that dedicated themselves to teach me the many skills that I have today. I also treasure the friends that I made while there. Most of those friends left Highland Park by the time I would graduate from Highland Park High School in 1973.  Many of my classmates names and faces have been forgotten. My school photos of my friends have also disappeared.  However, many of my good memories of Midland School still remain!

P.S. Please visit my other blog at In this blog I look at various spiritual topics such as: “God’s Seven Medications for Pain”

A Detroit Lions Fan Growing Up in HP


I can only blame my Dad for my sickness of being a Detroit Lions fan. I have yet to find a cure for this illness. It all started on Thanksgiving Day at Tiger Stadium. Dad took me to watch the Detroit Lions play the Green Bay Packers. It was a glorious day. I was only seven years old, but I understood what was going on down on the field. The Lions were decimating the Green Bay Packers. The defense had sacked Bart Starr eleven times. The Lions eventually won the game 28-14.

Dad would never take me to another Lions game, but I was now hooked. There was only one football team for me, the Detroit Lions. Little did I know that I would follow this team for fifty years, yet never find the joy of having “my team” win the Super Bowl.

The Sixties and early Seventies were the years that I followed the Lions. It was a time when the Lions had such famous quarterbacks such as Milt Plum, Karl Sweetan, Bill Munson and several others that would soon be forgotten. The most memorable play by a Lions quarterback was when Greg Landry (the best quarterback for the Lions during this era)  ran a quarterback sneak for seventy-six yards against the Packers. Greg Landry would also disappoint me when the Lions lost their only playoff game in my growing up years. They lost by the unusual score of 5 to 0 against the Dallas Cowboys in 1970.

The Lions have always been a team without luck. One year, I remember the Detroit Lions drafted the All-American halfback from Notre Dame named Nick Eddy. In the preseason, he returned a punt for a touchdown. The future looked bright for Nick Eddy and the Lions, but the Lions bad luck came back to haunt them when Nick Eddy had knee troubles and he never lived up to his potential.

Of course, I can not list all the foibles in my experience with the Detroit Lions. I remember that one of their head coaches, Harry Gilmer, was a terrible coach. The fans said farewell to him after one miserable game with snowballs. It is good that the Lions no longer play in Tiger Stadium.  It would be hard to imagine how many other coaches or quarterbacks may have been victimize by angry fans with snowballs.

I remember one day the Detroit Lions were on the wrong part of history. They were playing an expansion team by the New Orleans Saints. Neither team was good, but the Lions were ahead; however the New Orleans Saints needed a sixty-three yard field goal to win. The kicker Tom Dempsey only had half a foot on his kicking leg. The commentators were almost laughing as he attempted the field goal. The rest is history. It was good. The Lions walked off the field in great humiliation.

The Lions also were part of a great tragedy. I was listening to Van Patrick broadcasting a Lions game when he spoke in a very hushed tone. Chuck Hughes, one of the Lions wide receivers was down on the field. This was different. It was as though Van Patrick couldn’t speak. He could only say this doesn’t look good. Yes, in front of all the fans at Tiger Stadium, Chuck Hughes had died as a result of heart problems. Here is a link to an eyewitness account of this tragedy:

Doctors and trainers attending to Chuck Hughes on the field at Tiger Stadium

Doctors and trainers attending to Chuck Hughes on the field at Tiger Stadium

Being a Lions fan meant that every year, I would have some hope that this year would be the year. The opening game of 1967 the Lions played the Green Bay Packers who had won the first Super Bowl the year before. The Lions had a rookie cornerback by the name of Lem Barney. He would intercept Bart Starr three times. The Lions ended up losing their lead at settled for a 17-17 tie. I thought to myself that this would be the year. Of course, it again ended in great disappointment.

Yes, the Lions had good players in my growing up years. There was Mel Farr who could run with the best of them. There was Charlie Sanders, the best tight end of his era. In the early Sixties, the Lions had a vaunted defense lead by the original Fearsome Foursome, as well as Joe Schmidt, Night Train Lane, and Yale Lary. In spite of these players and many other good players, there was never a championship.

I sometimes wish that Dad had cheered for another team (like Pittsburg), but I have yet to find a cure for this ailment of being a Detroit Lions fan. I will stay a Detroit Lions fan in spite of their follies, their near misses, their tragedies, and the Ford family as owners. I must admit that my disease of being a Lions fan I have passed on to my two sons. Perhaps, when they are old, the Lions may win their first championship. Of course, I can still hope that in my lifetime, the Detroit Lions will hold up their own Super Bowl trophy. Go Lions!!

P.S. Please check out my other blog in which I write about life from a Christian perspective. I have a five part series called: “Life in the Valley”.

Playing Highland Park Little League Football (1964-67)

The 1966 Highland Park Chargers Varsity Team-I was number 67,

The 1966 Highland Park Chargers Varsity Team-I was number 67,

Football season has arrived! Like many boys, I had the dream of one day playing football for the Detroit Lions. I had several gridiron heroes on the Detroit Lions, including Gail Cogdill, Yale Lary, and Pat Studstill.  I also enjoyed watching the original Fearsome Foursome who played for the Lions (Sam Williams, Alex Karras, Roger Brown and Darris McCord.)  The only Lions game I  ever attended was the 1962 Thanksgiving Day when the Fearsome Foursome sacked Bart Starr eleven times. This game is probably still the highlight of the last six decades of Lion futility.

My preparation to enter the NFL began when I was nine years old when my parents paid the four dollars to sign me up for the Highland Park Polar Cubs (later called Chargers). The Polar Cubs consisted of three different teams: Freshmen, Junior Varsity and Varsity. My team would be the Freshmen team.

After signing up, I went to the Ford Park locker room and had a physical. This was a brief two-minute check for a hernia and a heart murmur. After the physical, the practice uniforms were distributed. The uniform and padding seemed quite bulky on my skinny nine-year old frame, but if I was to enter the NFL I would have to suffer with this slight inconvenience.

Before practice began, my Dad had to go to Epps Sporting Goods and buy my football cleats. These were black high top canvas shoes with rubber cleats on the bottom. They seemed quite harmless, but I am glad that I never experienced having those cleats land upon my body. I also had to buy a tooth guard. I felt like a real pro with this in my mouth.

Now that I was equipped to play football, I would soon get into the routine of having practice every afternoon at 4:30 P.M. Happily, the practices were at Ford Field which was a very short walk from my house. I only had to cut through two backyards and there I was at practice.

Practice began with calisthenics. I had never done a jumping jack, or a sit up before. The worst part of the practice was the running. We had to run one time around the Ford Field track. Yes, it was only a quarter-mile, but it wasn’t easy for a skinny nine-year old with a ton of equipment on him.

Our Freshman coach was Mark Storen Jr. who was the mayor’s son. He seemed like a good coach and cared about each of his players. Unfortunately, I must not have impressed Coach Storen. One day, he had me throw a football several times to see if I was quarterback material. Unfortunately, I failed.  A matter of fact before the first game, I discovered that I was a second-string lineman. This meant that I only played one series of downs each half.

Once the season started, we played our home games at Ives Field. It was neat to go to other cities to play our away games. This was like the NFL. We played in places like Wyandotte, Garden City, and East Detroit. My parents were my best and probably only fans. They would take me to every game and encourage me in my fledgling football career.

As a player for the Highland Park Polar Cubs, we were required to sell twenty-four one pound boxes of Sanders Chocolates, which helped pay for our uniforms. The price was only a  dollar. I had never sold anything before. However, many family members bought some, and my Dad took some boxes to work to sell. I also hit up on some of my neighbors. One neighbor, Mr. Walker was always good for two boxes. In my last two years of Little League, we would sell a ten ounce box of Morley Chocolates, instead of the Sanders chocolates.

The next year, I would once again go through the same routine, except there was one major snag. When I went to get my physical, I failed. I don’t remember why, but I cried and cried. My NFL career would never materialize. However, Mom and Dad comforted me and took me to our doctor, Dr. Wreggit.  He gave me a clean bill of health, and I was back on the team!

Now, I was on the Junior Varsity team; however once again, I was a second-stringer. I always thought that I was a great football player. Why weren’t they seeing my talent as a wide receiver? Once again I was a lineman, who played sparingly.

One day, I was going up and down my street selling the Sanders chocolate.  I knocked on a door, and my Junior Varsity coach opened the door. He invited me in and I met his wife. The interesting thing was that he only lived in one room of the house with a very small kitchen. I came away from that experience feeling sorry for Coach Leo. He didn’t have much; yet he sacrificed his time to coach football.

The Highland Park Polar Cubs Junior Varsity Team-1965. I was number 51.

The Highland Park Polar Cubs Junior Varsity Team-1965. I was number 51.

My last two years of playing Little League Football were basically a repeat of the first two years. Yes, I was now on the Varsity team. Our uniforms were no longer blue with white trim, but they were maroon. We were no longer the Polar Cubs, but we were the Chargers.

For those two years, our team went undefeated. Mr. Dobson, Mr. Williams and Mr. Marone were our coaches. Mr.Dobson was a great head coach even though he never recognized my ability either. He placed me in the safety of the second-string team where I couldn’t do any damage to the team.

The 1966 Undefeated Highland Park Chargers Varsity Team as featured in the MIchigan Chronicle (with practice uniforms)

The 1966 Undefeated Highland Park Chargers Varsity Team as featured in the Michigan Chronicle (with practice uniforms)

One highlight of all four years of playing Little League football was the year-end banquet. This was when we each received a trophy for playing on the team. The most exciting part of this banquet was that a Detroit Lion football player would attend. One year, I remember having Ernie Clark sign an autograph for me!

Were the four years of practice and playing a little of each game worth it? Yes, I have no regrets about those years. I enjoyed the practices every afternoon. I also remember a couple of games where I actually made a tackle. Also, playing football gave me some discipline in my life. I also learned that I needed to think about another profession. It didn’t look like the NFL was in my future. However, I did learn to something about salesmanship by selling those boxes of chocolates each year.

As I look back upon those four years of football, I never thought about the sacrifice of all of my coaches. They didn’t get paid to coach us, but they gave all of their energy and concern to help us learn to play the game of football. I am sure most of my coaches are no longer with us, but if any Little League football coach reads this, please accept a great big “thank you” from me,

P.S. Please visit my other blog which looks at our spiritual life and issues from a spiritual perspective.  I have articles as “A Prison of Mine Own Making: Am I a People-Pleaser? The address is:


Olivet College, Here I Come! (Leaving Highland Park)

Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan

Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan

Today, I rode my bicycle to Olivet College, my alma mater. As I rode through the small campus, I noticed a great amount activity. The students were returning to school. There were parents leaving their students and helping them get organized. As I was observing all this, the thought popped into my head: “This was what I was doing forty years ago!” Soon, the memories started to flow through my mind as I rode the twelve miles back to Charlotte, Michigan.

During my senior year at Highland Park High School, I was trying to decide where I should go to college. I had taken several courses at Highland Park Community College; so I would begin my college experience as a sophomore. After looking at various schools, I chose Olivet College because I really liked its small campus and small town atmosphere. Also, Olivet College was affiliated with the church that I attended which was the Highland Park Congregational Church.

Leaving home would not be easy. I had only been away from family and home for a few days during eighth grade camp at Camp Rankin. I would miss my Mom’s cooking and all the other things that she did to spoil me, including making my bed, and taking care of all of my clothes. Also, I would be leaving all that I had known for the first eighteen years of my life, including friends, the many bike rides through the Detroit Metro area, playing tennis at Ford Park and many other activities.  My life would be changed forever.

The day finally came when Dad would take me on the two-hour trip to Olivet College. We arrived on campus and soon found our way to the third floor of Blair Hall. As I walked into my room, I was surprised by its smallness and great simplicity. The walls were yellow. There was a single bed, a desk and chair, a dresser and a small closet. The heat would come out of an old radiator by the window. This would be home. I had a single room which was nice, but it also made life a bit lonely.

Dad looked at my room and didn’t say much, but I could tell he wasn’t real pleased.  Dad being in his late sixties was a real trooper in helping me bring up all my belongings to the third floor. After we were almost done, my Dad went to the restroom. Upon his return, he seemed quite upset. He told me in an angry tone: “The stalls don’t have any doors on them!.” This fact caused him to lodge a protest with the dorm supervisor, but nothing ever changed during the time that I was at Olivet.

Blair Hall in 2012

Blair Hall in 2012

When Dad left, I was there alone in my small room. I didn’t know a soul at the school. This would be a challenge for me because I wasn’t the most outgoing person in the world.

The school provided us with orientation activities where we would learn about the school, spend an evening with a community family, and play games to help us to get acquainted with one another. My group leader was “Big John”. He had come to school as a football player, but an injury would sideline him.  I didn’t know then, but “Big John” would have a great influence upon my life, even to the point that the following year, he would take me to the very church of which I am now the pastor.

I would soon face many adjustments. One adjustment would be the food. Breakfast was okay because I was quite happy with breakfast cereal and juice. Lunch and dinner were quite challenging. I had to eat food that my mom would never serve us. The food was so bad that the following year, the college had to hire a new food service.

Another great adjustment was my clothes. I would soon learn how to wash my own clothes. I must have walked around with wrinkled clothes because I don’t remember ever doing any ironing.

Of course, dorm life was quite different.  I soon noticed an unfamiliar smell from a room a couple of doors down. It smelled like burnt rubber. I must have been a bit a slow about this because I had never taken drugs, but I soon came to realize that my neighbors were smoking pot.

Another adjustment would be the noise level. I still remember somebody practicing with his electric guitar on full volume almost every day. The main problem was that he  played the same notes over and over again. I can still remember the notes that he played each day. There were stereos blasting away into the night. Sleep sometimes was difficult to find.

When the school year finally started, I soon made some friends. I also became involved with a group called Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. We would meet every Tuesday night. We would sing, share and hear a Bible message. Everything was vague to me. I didn’t really understand what it meant to be a Christian at the time; however, it was a great place to meet other students.

The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship 1973-74

The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship 1973-74

As I started my classes, I found myself in a class called Intellectual Traditions. This class was a six-hour class that would cover four semesters. The goal of this class was to study the “Great Books of the Western World”.  My teacher for this class was William Buchanan. He looked the part of a teacher for this class. His longish beard and thick glasses hid the quick mind that he possessed. Mr. Buchanan would guide us in discussions of the “Great Books of the Western World.” The reading for the course was immense. One Christmas break, he made us read War and Peace. Mr. Buchanan had a great knack of helping his students to think deeply about what they were reading. His questions for our class discussions were sometimes vague, but they were always challenging. He would have some classes at his house and he even invited us to his cottage on Lake Michigan for a weekend. Mr. Buchanan would help me to learn to think for myself though I am sure there were times he disagreed with me.

Mr. Buchanan is the teacher in the center.

Mr. Buchanan is the teacher in the center.

When my Dad left me that day forty years ago, I realized that my growing up days in Highland Park were nearly finished.  Yes, I would return home for a couple of summers, but life would never be the same. Highland Park was now in my past. My future was ahead of me. My two years at Olivet College would be life-changing in many ways.

P.S. Please visit my other blog:  This is where I share my views about spiritual matters and contemporary issues from a spiritual perspective.

My First Real Bike

My first real bike!

My first real bike!

I have always had a lifelong passion for riding a bicycle. I enjoy exploring new places and feeling the breeze against my face. While I am on a bike, I find it easy to pray, think and even relax.  Though people in my community may find it strange that a man of my age is always on a bicycle, but I still find the urge to ride a bike to be irresistible . Where did my passion to ride a bike begin?

When I was around five years old, I inherited my brother’s sixteen inch bike. It was a challenge to learn, but my family patiently helped me to learn. I would ride this bike on our front sidewalk or sometimes in the alley. It was a bit rusty and the rubber tires were wearing out, but it was still a bike.

My sister trying to show patience with me as I learn to ride a bike.

My sister trying to show patience with me as I learn to ride a bike.

On my ninth birthday, Dad and Mom thought I was finally big enough to ride a real bike.  The bike they bought me was a real beauty, which was made by Peerless.  It had large twenty-six inch white wall tires, chrome fenders and a very comfortable seat with springs. Dad knowing my love for keeping track of speed and distances also placed a speedometer/odometer on the bicycle. I was finally able to ride in style!

My parents gave me the boundaries in which I could ride the bike. They said that I could go around the block on the sidewalk and I could also ride in the back alley. I wasn’t allowed to cross any streets or ride on any street with it. I would accept these limitations temporarily, but as time went by I would explore other neighboring blocks while staying on the sidewalks. I still had a great respect for cars and what they could do to a child on a bicycle.

My first day, I was so excited about my new bike that I rode it around the block continually.  By the end of the day, I had ridden my bike twenty miles! I had felt a freedom that I never felt walking or even riding my sixteen inch bike. Having this new bike was like I had reached a milestone in growing up.

There was a problem that I soon discovered with my bike. The bike had to be left outside.  We had no garage to store the bike. Dad purchased a tarp to place over the bike which was placed on the side of our back porch. This helped, but my battle with rust seemed like a never-ending battle. Rust would appear on the fenders as well as the rims. I would try to use a cleanser like Ajax to take off the rust. Unfortunately, it seemed to take away the luster of the chrome as well.  This battle with the rust was very wearisome.

Like most children during our era, I also enjoyed placing a baseball card in the spokes, which would make a noise that I could pretend was my engine. I sure hope I never placed a Mickey Mantle card there!

In my preteen years, I never did ride too far from my neighborhood. I would ride around the sidewalks at Ford Park. I would also sneak off and explore the other side of Woodward Avenue, as well as an area of Detroit that was north of McNichols and west of Oakland Avenue. My first real bike would last into my early teen years.

Later in my teen years with a different bike, my urge for exploring would take me throughout the Detroit Metro area, including Windsor, Canada. Yes, in those days, one could ride a bike on the sidewalk of the Ambassador Bridge. Even when I had a driver’s license, this inner urge to ride would take a hold of me and I would ride thirty or forty miles in a day.

My first real bike is now a distant memory, but my love for riding a bike is still with me. I  enjoy exploring new roads, towns and bike trails. Maybe, I do this because it is the one thing I can do as an older adult that I did as a child. Little did my parents know what they did when they bought me my first real bicycle.

Izzie, Our Neighborhood Butcher

Remember the time when every neighborhood had shops. As children, we could walk to the shops to buy candy and pop. Our parents would send us to the store to buy an item or two that they needed. Please join me as I go back to the Sixties and visit our neighborhood butcher.

“Jemil (my middle name, which my family always used), go down to Izzie’s and get a pound of hamburger meat.” With this “request”, I would be on my way to pay a visit to one of our well-known neighborhood personalities.

All the years that I lived on Candler Avenue, Izzie’s butcher shop and store was a mainstay in our community. His shop was located on Brush Street just south of Candler Ave. Izzie’s shop was part of our neighborhood “shopping district”, which consisted of another store called H&R’S (Please see my post on this store). There was also a dry cleaners and a barber shop. The barber shop was unknown to me because Dad thought is was too expensive; so I enjoyed getting my haircuts at the Lamar Barber College on Woodward Avenue near the Post Office. It was always an adventure to see what the students at this school would do with my hair, but you couldn’t beat the price of fifty cents.

Izzie’s shop was in reality two shops. Until the early Sixties, Izzie had his butcher shop. Next door was Jackson’s small grocery store. Jackson retired and Izzie bought out the grocery store. He broke done the wall between the two shops and it became a butcher shop and a grocery store combined.

Izzie also kept the same lady who worked for Jackson. I never remembered her name, but she was always kind to me. One time, she had received a silver dollar (Pre-1935) from a customer. I noticed the silver dollar and asked her if I could trade a bill for it and she did it for me!  Also I collected bottle caps and this kind lady would save them for me.

Izzie definitely had personality. He was very pleasant to his customers though his voice sounded a bit gruff. He showed kindness by extending credit to his customers that couldn’t pay immediately. I didn’t know his nationality, but by his appearance, I figured he was of Mediterranean background. His skin looked a bit rough and his hair which was greying was closely cropped to his head. The most distinctive feature about Izzie was that he appeared to have a cigar in his mouth at all times. The cigar looked like a natural part of his body.

Izzie kept a clean and neat shop. When I would enter his butcher shop, the first thing I noticed was the counter with all the various meats inside. Every cut of meat was lined up in its proper place with the price posted for each meat. I remember that the hamburger meat was fifty-nine cents a pound. Behind his counter was a large advertisement for a margarine company. The advertisement had a facsimile of each helmet of every NFL team. One day, I boldly asked Izzie if I could have the helmets after he finished with them.  He said “sure”.  However, when I left Highland Park as an adult in 1975, those helmets were still up on the wall behind his meat counter.

Like many other aspects of my life in Highland Park, Izzie was one of those people who played a role in my life. Perhaps, it wasn’t a major role, but he was one of the characters in my Highland Park chapter of my life that bring back pleasant memories of my growing up years in Highland Park.

P.S. Please visit my other blog where I talk about spiritual topics such as: “Candid Thoughts about Crowds”, and “Five Great Promises as I Travel this Life”. The address is:

H&R’S: Our Corner Grocery Store

Long before the existence of EJ Korvette, K-Mart and Walmart, my favorite shopping place growing up was the small corner store a half block from our house. This store was located on the southwest corner of Brush St. and Candler. H&R’S was named after the joint owners of the store, Harold and Rupe (A Norwegian name). Harold was of normal weight with salt and pepper colored hair. Rupe was a bit overweight and was balding with grey hair. Both of these men worked hard to service the various needs of our community.

H&R’S was a very small store; yet to my young eyes, it seemed to have everything a kid ever wanted. The store was divided into two parts. The front part had what a normal corner store would have. The second part was like a poor man’s five and ten store. The store building is no longer standing, but the last time I saw the building, I thought: “How could Harold and Rupe have so much merchandise in such a small building?”

Let’s go back fifty years pay a visit to H&R’S.  My trips to H&R’S would often begin with my mother sending me down to the store for an item or two. Often it would be a loaf of Silvercup Bread or maybe a half-gallon of milk. Other times, I would head out to H&R’S to buy something that I wanted. The trip to the store would take a couple of minutes. Mom would always remind to be careful crossing Brush street. I don’t remember any close calls, but you know how moms are.

Whenever I entered H&R’S, I saw clutter; yet it was organized clutter.  After entering the door to the right were two very important sections. There was a revolving rack with comic books and beyond this rack was a rack filled with magazines. I knew the day the new comics would arrive, and I would buy the next installment of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, and many other titles. The comics were twelve cents a copy.   I would read the comics and then rate them in a small notebook as to my favorite story for the week.

As for the magazine stand, the only magazines that held my interest would be sport magazines, and the Popular Mechanics edition that would show the new car models for the year. Back in my day, the models would change every year. I couldn’t wait to see what they looked like.

On the wall to my right as I entered was the grocery section. This section seemed to have any can goods and food items that one might need in an emergency. Towards the end of the shelf was the bread section featuring our favorite bread, Silvercup.

Once I entered the store straight in front of me were the newspapers.  Not only did they stock the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, but also the National Enquirer and other such papers.  I still remember the headline staring at me one day from the National Enquirer which said in bold letters: “Toothpaste Causes Cancer!” Wow, I knew about cigarettes, but what could I do?  I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with teeth that were never brushed.

After walking a few paces inside the store, there was a glass cabinet which was filled with penny candy. The candy could only be reached by a clerk which was normally either Harold or Rupe. There were all sorts of treasures in that cabinet. My favorites were the jawbreakers and the Bazooka bubblegum.  I also enjoyed the root beer barrels.  I always had a great feeling leaving the store with a bag filled with my favorite candy.

After the glass cabinet was the counter.  The counter was the place where we would ask for ice cream, popsicles, pop or anything else that was behind the counter. The counter also had the most important commodity in the store: baseball and football cards!  One year, my mom, gave me a dollar for going to Vacation Bible School, I remember blowing the dollar on twenty packs of baseball cards. I didn’t care much for the gum, but the cards were a great treasure.

Going to the back section of H&R’S would make a great museum room today. My mom would buy patches for my pants there. I also remember her buying me suspenders as well.  Also, if there was a birthday party, Mom would send me down to H&R’S and find a gift. As I grew older, I would also find that H&R’S always stocked rubber baseballs for twenty-five cents.  These were always needed to play strikeout off of our neighbor’s garage.

Also, at the back of H&R’s was a small opening with bars.  I became acquainted with this spot when I made a very expensive purchase of buying a game called Strat-O-Matic Baseball by mail. I needed a money order to pay for this game. Harold wrote up a money order for the fee of ten cents behind the opening and I would soon enjoy my new game which came by mail.

There are some other memories about H&R’S. Every Halloween, I would make sure I went to H&R’S first. They would give every child a ten-cent bag of New Era Potato Chips. This would be the best treat in my bag after a long night of trick or treating.

There were many other things that I would buy at H&R’S.  For a treat, I would ask at the counter for a small bottle of Hires Root Beer. Also, my favorite popsicle was the Seven-Up flavored popsicle that sold for five cents. When Dad wanted to make homemade bubbles, he would have me go to H&R’S and buy a corncob pipe to use to blow the bubbles he made.

Like everything else, I didn’t really appreciate the convenience of having a store like H&R’S a short walk from home. I am sure that Harold and Rupe didn’t get rich with their little store, but they provided a very important service to our neighborhood. Now, many stores like H&R’S no longer exist; however, I am glad for the many happy moments that I had with my many visits to H&R’S!

P.S. Please visit my other blog where I write about spiritual matters such as: “God’s Waiting Room” “Does Jesus Care?” “Do not Fear God’s Plan, Embrace it.” The address is:

Highland Park: City of Trees

As a baby, on Candler Ave.  Notice the trees in the background

As a baby, on Candler Ave. Notice the trees in the background

While growing up, when people entered Highland Park, they would see a sign: “Highland Park: City of Trees”.  Trees lined every residential street of our city. When a person would walk or drive down a street, they would find themselves in the middle of a tunnel of trees.


Growing up in Highland Park, I always took our tree-lined streets for granted. The elm tree in front of our house was the smallest on our street.  I would look at our skimpy tree and think: “Why do we have the smallest tree on the street?”

The trees in Highland Park not only provided beauty, but they also provided shade from the hot summer sun. Our house never had air-conditioning; so the shade from the trees gave us some welcome relief from the sun.  The trees also played an important part in our games of hide n seek.  We would use the neighbor’s tree as the place where we counted to ten before we would search for our friends. The trees along the street also provided a great place to hide.

Our backyard also had two trees. One tree was a large maple tree.  This tree provided a great amount of shade for us and our neighbors.  The spot under this tree provided a great place to do battle with plastic soldiers.  We also made small roads in the dirt for our small toy cars and trucks.  The one negative of our maple tree was the amount of leaves we would have to rake in the fall.

One day, we had a terrible storm. The thunder and lightning were frightening. As the storm progressed, we heard a loud bang just outside of our house. What had happened? We looked out our back window and we saw that lightning had struck our maple tree. One very large branch had fallen into our backyard.  Thankfully, it didn’t hit our house. This would be the end of our beautiful maple tree. Dad would have the tree taken down. This tree would be greatly missed.

The other tree in our backyard was a cherry tree. I hated this tree. Yes, the tree would have beautiful white blossoms in the spring, but that was its only redeeming value. We never ate the cherries from the tree because Dad never treated it for pests. The cherries would be filled with worms and eventually they would fall on the ground. I hated mowing the grass because I would constantly squash these cherries with my shoes. I always wanted to see this tree die, but it was still there when we left our house in 1976.

Trees also graced the front of Ford Park. This area was a great place to find shade and relax and read a book. I had one favorite tree just outside the entrance gate of the tennis courts.  This tree was quite young and small, but it provided enough shade for me to lie down and look up into the clouds when I took a break from playing tennis.  Under this tree was my daydreaming spot.  I would daydream about my future, about family vacations, about why I was here on the earth, and many other matters.

Another tree that played an important role in my life was the large, lonely tree in the midst of Ford Field. This was a place where we would play our pickup baseball games. It was great to be the batting team, because we would always find shade under this mighty tree.

Towards the end or our time in Highland Park, our trees started to disappear as result of Dutch Elm disease.  When I return to visit Candler Avenue today, it looks totally desolate.  Yes, many of the houses are gone, but the trees are also gone.

Today, I am thankful that I had the privilege of growing up in a community which had the foresight to plant trees along every residential street as the city developed. Yes, in my memories Highland Park is still the “City of Trees.”

P.S. Please visit my other blog where I write upon spiritual subjects such as: “God’s Waiting Room” ” When there is No One Else: Confiding in God” Here is the link: