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

Aside

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: http://www.markjemilbooth.com

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: http://www.markjemilbooth.com

 

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: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.

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: http://www.markjemilbooth.com

Ford Park-My Summer Hangout

From my elementary school years through high school, there was one constant in my life. I spent a big part of my summer at Ford Park. This park provided hours of fun, as well as the opportunity to learn how to play tennis, and shuffleboard. Ford Park was also a great place to meet people and develop friendships.

Ford Park had a lot of amenities that larger parks didn’t have. Coming from the Woodward Avenue entrance to the park, large trees greeted each visitor. There were picnic tables and grills placed in strategic locations. On the south side was the maintenance building which was the central location for the maintenance equipment for all the parks in Highland Park.

After the picnic tables and grills, came the playground area of the park. There was the typical playground equipment. I always enjoyed playing on the rocket. Within the playground section, there was also a cement area where there were sprinklers which were turned on during the summer for the children to play and to cool off. I was never much for water, so I never spent any time there.

To south of the playground was an open field of grass which was used to play field hockey each evening.  We used plastic sticks and a plastic ball. Every night, this would be a big treat to play. Beyond the open field were five shuffleboard courts. As I became older, I enjoyed playing with the “old men” who came each day to compete.

Going further east in the park, there was the pavilion, which was a shelter for ice skaters in the winter. In the summer it became a refreshment stand that sold pop, candy and popsicles. Within this building, there were table games that would be given out, as well as the shuffleboard equipment.

To the north of the playground were ten tennis courts. These courts had lights and were well maintained. When I turned thirteen, I started to have a keen interest in tennis. These tennis courts would be my home away from home for several summers. I met some great people on the tennis courts. To this day, I still enjoy playing tennis.

Ford Park was more than the equipment, the tennis courts, and the large trees in the front of the park. It was a place where dedicated adults brought fun, happiness, and skills into the lives of the children who came each day. The Highland Park Recreation Department hired these adults to work throughout the summer at Ford Park.

The first recreation director I remember at Ford Park was Stanley Zubel. Mr. Zubel worked in the Highland Park school system during the school year and then at Ford Park in the summer. He kept the park moving with activities. I still remember painting the molds of various things such as an Indian chief and a dog. I also made some pot holders using a loom. Table games were great fun as well.

A potholder loom like we used at Ford Park.

A potholder loom like we used at Ford Park.

In the evening, Mr. Zubel had two very special activities. The first was Tiny Tot softball.  This was for children ten years old and under. If you were older, Mr. Zubel would let you play, but you had to bat with the opposite hand. After Tiny Tot softball, we played field hockey. This was always competitive. Sometimes, Mr. Zubel would penalize us for various infractions of the rules. This meant that we couldn’t play for a certain amount of time. Even as a ten-year old, I could tell that Mr. Zubel had his heart in what he was doing. Two years ago, Mr. Zubel died. I wished I could have thanked him for all of his good work. Here is a link to Mr. Zubel’s obituary: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theoaklandpress/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=150279186#fbLoggedOut

Mr. Zubel would leave when I was about eleven years old, but there were other directors who did a great job. There was Mrs. Lang, and Katie Street, who taught art at Ford Middle School. Another director whose name escapes me would come to work in a Plymouth Road Runner with a spoiler bar. I was quite impressed with his car.

The director that I had as a great friend during my teenage years was Mike Bartnikowski. Mike taught at Ford Middle School, but spent his summers as the director at Ford Park.  Mike was great fun because he had a great sense of humor and was addicted to war games. Every afternoon, some of us would gather together at the park with Mike and fight famous battles such as Waterloo, D-Day, and Midway. Another favorite was a game called Diplomacy.

One evening, Mike played a prank on me that I have never forgotten. While I was playing tennis (I was probably sixteen.), Mike got on the PA system and announced that there was an important message for Mark Booth. Then he announced your mother is calling you. The people on the tennis courts had a great laugh as I ran off the courts, only to find a laughing Mike Bartnikowski at the pavilion. There was no call from my Mom.

As a teen, I always found that Mike would listen to me and some of my concerns. He was more than a director, but a dear friend.

Photo taken in 2011. Mike passed away last year.  Here is a link to my article on Mike Bartnikowski. http://markjemilbooth.com/2012/10/20/goodbye-mike-bartnikowski-thank-you-for-everything/

Photo taken in 2011. Mike passed away last year. Here is a link to my article on Mike Bartnikowski. http://markjemilbooth.com/2012/10/20/goodbye-mike-bartnikowski-thank-you-for-everything/

Another embarrassing memory at the park involved my bicycle. I had inherited my brother’s two-speed Schwinn bike. I rode this bike all over the Detroit area. I would always ride my bike to Ford Park. There was a boy who came to the park who asked to ride my bike. I consented and he would always return it. One day, he took off on my bike. As time went by, I sat on a picnic table waiting and waiting for my bike to return. It never did.

My stolen bike looked a lot like this.

My stolen bike looked a lot like this.

Those years at Ford Park were wonderful. Today, children in my community don’t have a place like Ford Park with activities and great adult supervision. I was very privileged to live in Highland Park during the years when there were funds to offer so many opportunities to have fun and a safe place to play.

P.S. Please visit my other blog: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  I write about spiritual subjects such as: “Do I Have Spiritual Amnesia” and “God’s Waiting Room”.

Remembering Graduation from Highland Park High School-June 14,1973

Saying goodbye to Highland Park High School on June 14, 1973

Saying goodbye to Highland Park High School on June 14, 1973

One by one the graduates passed by before me to receive their diplomas. I was sitting near the front of the Wharton Center auditorium as I watched the graduation ceremony of the Charlotte High School class of 2013.

As I watched the graduates joyfully receive their diplomas, my mind went back to June 14, 1973.  I was wearing a dark blue gown with my cap. The 1973 graduating class of Highland Park High School was sitting in the front of Ford Auditorium in Detroit. Proud family, and friends packed the auditorium as we walked across the stage and received our diplomas. With the receiving of our diplomas a chapter of our lives was over, and we would be starting a new chapter in our lives. Like my classmates, I didn’t know what the future would hold, but I was excited to have this one chapter of my life finished.

IMG_5697

My Mom kept a record of the events of graduation week. I imagine she did this; so I wouldn’t forget what was happening throughout the week. The week would be filled with memories, as well as excitement as I looked forward to my future. There would be goodbyes said, and many a person would drift away from my life, never to be seen again.

Mom's list of events for graduation week

Mom’s list of events for graduation week

One of my special memories of graduation week was the Honor Society dinner. This dinner was held the evening before our graduation. Mr. Spencer was our sponsor, and he arranged for us to have our final goodbyes at Sinbad’s, which was a nice restaurant off of the Detroit River. I didn’t know it, but it would be the last time I would ever see Mr. Spencer. He would leave for South Korea for the new school year. He planned to teach there, but he died of cancer at a very young age.  I never thanked him for all that he did for me as my counselor, as well as our Honor Society sponsor. His advice influenced my life even unto this day. Recently, I wrote a tribute to him (http://markjemilbooth.com/2012/07/20/franklin-spencer-iii-a-man-who-greatly-influenced-my-life/)

Mr. Franklin Spencer III

Mr. Franklin Spencer III

The day of graduation was filled with preparation as my family made sure that they would have photos of me. I was glad that my only living grandparent from Pennsylvania could be with us. Grandma Solomon would die in three years; so I treasured the time with her.

Dad and Mom with me before graduation.

Dad and Mom with me before graduation.

Our graduation ceremony was not memorable. The speeches have been forgotten, but I do remember the noise and shouting that resounded in the auditorium for some of us who received our diplomas. When they called my name, I heard a faint clapping and cheer from my family. The ceremony seemed lengthy, but when it ended, I knew that my life would never be the same.

The program for our graduation.

The program for our graduation.

I had invested thirteen years of my life in my schooling and now, it was all over. I would never see any of my classmates again. My teachers would become a distant memory. I would never step foot again in the halls of Highland Park High School.

Highland Park High School closed in 1977.  The halls now remain silent.

Highland Park High School closed in 1977. The halls now remain silent.

When I look back upon my high school years, I do have some regrets. I did keep pretty much to myself. I was quite defensive, and I had a certain lack of contentment. I had a spiritual void during those years as well, but I didn’t know where to find the answer. In the next chapter of my life, I would find the answer to this spiritual void in the person of Jesus Christ.

However, there were many positives of my high school years. I did enjoy the friendships that I made in the Honor Society, as well as the tennis team. Being President of the Honor Society gave me some very important lessons in leadership which have helped me even today. I also learned that the most effective leaders were those who go beyond what is expected of them. The night after graduation, Mrs. Banton, my Latin teacher, invited a few of us to her house for dinner. She prepared a delicious meal for us. Talk about going the extra mile. I still need to take her example to heart even today.

Forty years ago, I finished the Highland Park High School chapter of my life, but the effect of my high school years are still real in my life today. When I left Ford Auditorium that night, the adventure of my life was only beginning. When I read “Cry, the Beloved Country” in tenth grade English, I never would have thought that I would live eight years in South Africa.  I never would have imagined that I would live four years in the land of the great Portuguese explorers that we studied in history class.

When I look back upon my years at Highland Park High School, there were difficult times and good times. However, I realize that God had a great purpose for my life in having me attend HPHS.  My life today still is a product of those years in high school. I thank God for each teacher that I had in school, as well as for every friend that I had during those formative years in my life.

P.S. Here is a link to an article written about Mrs. Banton.  This is by another one of her students.  https://growingupinhighlandpark.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/262/

Remembering Mom: June Solomon Booth (1923-2003)

Mom and I shortly after my birth.
Mom and I shortly after my birth.

June 9, 1923 was a very special day for me. This was the day that Annie Solomon gave birth to the last of the many children that she and Charles brought into the world. They would call this last child June Leona Solomon. June spent the first eighteen years of her life in the small coal-mining town of Patton, Pennsylvania. However, there weren’t many opportunities in Patton; so June followed her married sister, Frances, to Detroit.

Mom as a young child in Patton, PA.  She is the one in the middle.
Mom as a young child in Patton, PA. She is the one in the middle.

The big city was a contrast to the small laid back life back in Patton. She often spoke about working in the Guardian Building and living on Grand Blvd. In time, June would meet Arthur Booth and in 1950 they would become husband and wife. I would be the last child born to my parents in August of 1955.

Dad and Mom before I came on the scene.
Dad and Mom before I came on the scene.

In life, we can choose whom we marry, we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our mothers. I am very grateful for the mother that God gave to me. She wasn’t a perfect person, but she was the perfect mother for me.

My mother was able to stay home with the three of us because my Dad sacrificed by working two jobs. Mom took her role as mother quite seriously. She took care of all of our basic needs. She always fixed our meals without complaints. She packed my sack lunch with loving care  She took care of our clothes. I still remember her ironing in the dining room as she would spray water on the clothes before she would pass the iron over them.  She also took us to all the places that we needed to go.

Mom did much more than take care of our basic needs. She loved us. She showed her love in how she sacrificed her time for us. She made it a point to give each of us special attention. Often, we would gather around the table with Mom and play Scrabble, Password or Jeopardy. The highlight of my day was bedtime, because Mom would tuck me into my bed and then read a story to me. She started with stories from Uncle Remus or Dr. Seuss.  When I was older she would read biographies and historical novels. She taught me to have a love for reading and history.

My Mom also enjoyed being involved in different community organizations. She was involved in the Midland Elementary School PTA.  She also was a den mother for the Cub Scouts for a couple of years. I still remember her working on the craft projects that her pack would do that day.  Mom also taught Sunday School for a couple of years at the Highland Park Congregational Church.  I was proud to be in her Junior High class.

Holidays and birthdays were always special to Mom. She would decorate our house special on each holiday. She enjoyed hiding the Easter baskets for Easter. She also was right there cleaning out the pumpkin for Halloween. Thanksgiving dinner was always a special treat. To this day, I can still taste her stuffing that would come right out of the turkey.

As for birthdays, she always prepared a big party. One year when Batman was popular on television, she gave me a Batman party with Batman hats, plates, and cups. She always invited our rather large extended family to the party as well as my friends. She made each birthday like one gigantic celebration.

Mom enjoying hosting one of my birthday parties.
Mom enjoying hosting one of my birthday parties.

Mom also had a real gift of hospitality. She always seemed to have some family member at our house. She always welcomed my friends into the house. I never heard her complain about the noise that we made while we were playing. She never said, “I wish you and your friends would go somewhere else.”

Mom was not always comfortable driving. She didn’t mind Woodward Avenue or Oakland Avenue, but the Davison and the Lodge expressways were off-limits in her mind. One day, Mom made a wrong turn and somehow she was driving on the Davison Expressway entering the Lodge. I was standing in my usual position in the back seat (Remember no seat belts or car seats in those days). I felt the panic of Mom as she asked me what to do?  As a seven-year old, I sure didn’t have the answer. Somehow, we made it off the Lodge Expressway.  I never again remember Mom driving on one of the expressways. If she did, I was glad that I wasn’t with her.

The greatest contribution that Mom made in my life was that she taught me about God.  She didn’t read the Bible to me, but she did take me to church and gave me a prayer to repeat when I went to bed. She always told me not to put anything on top of the Bible because it was God’s Word. Because of Mom’s influence, when I was in high school, I started to read my Bible in search of God and how I could be right with Him. By the time, I was a student in college, I had placed my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior.

After accepting Christ, I took Mom to Coltman Memorial Baptist Church which was a small Baptist church on Hamilton near Puritan. The people in the church really loved Mom and she loved them. She would soon accept the Lord as her Savior and she was also baptized. Being younger than most of the people in the church, Mom would have a ministry of helps to many of the older women in the church. She would learn much from the Word of God as result of the good teaching she would receive.

Mom with the ladies of Coltman Memorial Baptist Church
Mom with the women of Coltman Memorial Baptist Church

When we left to minister in South Africa in 1983, Mom found it difficult to adjust. She would miss us, especially as the children would grow up in another land. Mom would send us cassette tapes of her thoughts and memories. This helped the children to relate to family back in the States. We would visit every couple of years and this would be a special time for our children to bond with their grandparents.

In 1996, we would return to the States. Mom was finding it difficult to get out, but she still found a certain joy when we would come and visit her. She loved our three children.  With sadness, we would say goodbye to Mom in July of 2003. It has been ten years since I have been able to kiss Mom and say: “I love you.” I probably didn’t do this enough in this life.  However, I thank God that I could call June Booth, “Mom”.

Thoughts about My Highland Park Teachers (Teacher Appreciation Week)

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week.  I don’t know if we ever had a Teacher Appreciation Week when I went to school, but I do know that I never showed any real appreciation to my teachers. Why wasn’t I appreciative of the efforts of my many teachers?

Growing up and going to school, I basically lived in my own little world.  My focus was upon myself, sometimes family and a few friends. I never thought about the lives of the teachers that I had throughout my days in school. Teachers were like the furniture in the school. They were a necessary fixture. Yes, many were nice and a few not so nice.  However, I never really thought about them as people. I never thought about the fact that they had personal lives with heartaches, problems, sicknesses, and needs. I don’t think I ever said “thank you” or an encouraging word to any of my teachers.

Today I am typing this post because I had teachers that taught me how to read, and write.  Several teachers poured themselves into teaching me grammar and spelling. I had an eighth grade teacher that taught me how to type. My tenth grade speech teacher gave me my first lessons in public speaking.  Now, as a pastor, I preach the Word of God three times a week. There are many other things that I learned in school, that I use today. Yet, I rarely think about the teacher that taught me the very things that I know today.

 I am sure that I am not alone in taking teachers for granted. Teachers are a group of people who are always giving out, but they don’t get much in return from those to whom they give so much. As a parent or a student, it would be great to give a word of encouragement to a teacher. You can be the source of refreshment to a teacher who may truly be thirsting for someone to care about them.

 P.S. I originally wrote parts of this post after hearing that one of my teachers had committed suicide several years ago.  It woke me up to the fact that my teachers had real needs, but I was too self-centered to think about them as people.

Third Grade Memories of Midland Elementary School

kennedy-killed-newspaper

On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, Miss Rebe, our principal, made a PA announcement as we were sitting in Mrs. Cross’s third grade class. With a very sad tone of voice, she informed us that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.  She didn’t give us much details, but even at our young age,we could understand that this was a great tragedy. As an act of remembrance, she also told us that we were immediately dismissed from school.

The walk home with a couple of friends seemed longer and slower than normal. This was a great shock to me. I had never really experienced tragedy in my first eight years of life. I also had a fear that came over me. I felt quite insecure. It was the most personal death that I had experienced up to that time.

When I arrived home, everything on the television was about our President and his death.  For the next several days, my family stayed glued to the television. We saw the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. We saw the funeral of our President.  In my eight year old mind, it seemed as though my world had changed.

This memory of the Kennedy’s assassination was my most vivid memory of third grade, but I did have a few others. Third grade would introduce me to Mrs. Cross as my third grade teacher. We would like to make fun of her name behind her back. She kept a very well-disciplined class room.  I don’t ever remember her becoming angry, but we didn’t want to cross her either.

Third grade would be my first opportunity to be in a play. The play that was chosen for us to perform was Alice in Wonderland. I must have failed the tryout for an acting part because they made me the narrator for the play. Perhaps, my loud voice, which I still have today, had a part in my being selected a narrator. The best thing about being the narrator is that I didn’t have to remember any parts. because I could read my parts from a script. I don’t remember how well the play went, but I am sure every parent was proud of their children who participated in the play.

2nd or 3rd Grade School Photo.  Yes, I started wearing glasses at an early age!

2nd or 3rd Grade School Photo. Yes, I started wearing glasses at an early age!

Mrs. Cross did teach us a lot of things, but there is only one thing that I remember with any clarity. I had the habit of answering questions from my book in sentence fragments, such as: “because of the wind.” Mrs. Cross brought it to my attention that I should write a full sentence in answering my questions. To this day, I am quite sensitive to this matter.

By the third grade, I was also able to walk to school with a couple of friends. I enjoyed the walk to and from school because we would pass the Uptown Radio Company on Woodward Avenue. It was interesting to look at all the televisions, stereos, and other stuff in the window. We would also pass the Ferris Car Wash. The worst part of the journey was the dreaded tunnel on Second Avenue and Pilgrim. Not only was it a bit dark, but it also a had very unpleasant smell.

During the Christmas season, we enjoyed checking out the Christmas decorations on our walk home. There were a couple of houses on Ferris Avenue that seemed to always compete for the best decorated house in the city. One of the houses had an upstairs porch which they also decorated with a neat nativity scene. There were several houses that took a lot of pride in their decorations

After school ended in June, one of my best friends, Jonathan, would move away.  Yes, I still had many of my neighborhood friends and we enjoyed playing out in the alley all summer long. I never wanted to see the summer end, but soon September came, and I would find myself in the Fourth Grade.