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.

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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:
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.

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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”.

The Tree Diamond (Playing Baseball without Adult Interference)

Green field and a lonely tree

Imagine a time when kids played baseball without uniforms, without schedules, without the pressure of having to win, and without adults “helping” them play better. It has been a long time, since I have seen children play a game of baseball on their own. Please join me for a trip back to the 1960s, when as a child, I actually played baseball games without an adult in sight.

Back in the mid-sixties, before the Highland Park Community High School was built on Woodward Avenue, there was a place called Ford Park where children played on the playground equipment. Families had picnics. Older adults played shuffleboard, and people played tennis at the tennis courts. There was also pavilion to warm up after ice skating on the manmade skating rink east of the pavilion.

Going east from the pavilion was a large field that went all the way to Oakland Avenue.  This field had a quarter-mile running track. Beyond the track was a regulation size   baseball diamond, and three softball diamonds. This field was also the place where the Highland Park Little League football team, the Chargers, practiced.

Near Oakland Avenue, in the middle of Ford Field, one lonely, large tree stood tall, as to say: “I am alone, but I will not surrender my strength to anything.”  This tree would provide us a place of shade and our own homemade baseball diamond. There were dirt spots about equal distant from one another that made up the bases for our games. The largest dirt spot was our home plate.

Playing baseball at the “tree diamond” was a summer ritual for many of us children who lived in the northeast side of Highland Park. We never had an organized time to play, but when there were six to eight of us looking for something to do, we would get our mitts, bats and a ball and head over to our Tree Diamond.

There were several rituals that we had when we played our games.  First, we had to choose teams. We did this by having two of us become captains. To decide who would choose first, one of the captains would toss a bat to the other captain. He would catch it with one hand. Then the first captain would place his hand above the other captain’s hand on the bat.  The two captains would continue this ritual until there was no more bat to hold. The one whose hand was the highest on the bat could choose first.

We played the game with a hard ball, but we only lobbed the pitch over the “plate”.  There were no balls or called strikes. A person could only strike out if he missed the ball three times. This could make for some long at bats.

If we had only three or four people per team, we would only play half the field. The batter would have to call out if he was going to hit to right or left field.  If he hit the ball to the wrong field, he was out.  Also, with only a few players, the “pitching mound” would be first base.  When a ground ball was hit, the fielder could throw the runner out by throwing to the pitcher because there was no first baseman.

Another problem we would often confront was that we didn’t have enough baserunners.  Our solution was quite simple. We had invisible runners. The invisible runner would advance as far as the runner behind him advanced.

Our “tree diamond” was not a perfect place to place. In the middle of our left field was a white pole that was the right field foul marker for the regulation baseball diamond. This obstacle was always to be watched when chasing a fly ball.  On one occasion, I had forgotten about the pole while chasing a fly ball. The pole came out of nowhere and down I went as the side of my head and the pole had a meeting.  I came out the worse for it.

Another problem with our “tree diamond” was an old barbed wire fence that divided the Ford Field road and the Ford Motor Company property. The road was our home run marker for left field, but the ball occasionally would roll under this barbed wire fence.  One day, I decided to climb this fence to fetch a baseball, instead of going all the way to Oakland Ave and go around the fence.  As I tumbled over the fence, I ripped a nice two or three-inch section of my wrist.  I still have a nice scar to remind me of those days at the tree diamond.

The nicest thing about playing at the “tree diamond” was that we were kids playing baseball the way we enjoyed playing the game. We didn’t have adults interfering. It was our time to play as kids. There was no real pressure. There were no awards, There was no keeping track of how many wins we had.

As I reflect back to those great times of playing baseball together with my friends, I feel  for children today, who never seem to have time to go out in a field somewhere and play a good game of baseball without having adults interfering. Are we making our children grow up too fast?

P.S. Please visit my other blog: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  I have several posts of a spiritual nature, such as “Clinging to God”, and “God’s Waiting Room”.

MIchigan Week Memories

Michigan-outline-in-blue

Once again, Michigan Week is upon us.  One website writes: “Michigan Week, an annual tribute to the best of the Great Lakes State, began in 1954 as a way to promote state pride among citizens and to celebrate the rich heritage and unique features that make Michigan special.”

Growing up, I didn’t need Michigan Week to create pride in our state. My dad was the forerunner of Tim Allen and his “Pure Michigan” ads. Dad would speak about Detroit and Michigan as though no other place could reach up to its standards. Michigan had the best roads, the best fruit, the best recreational options, and the best people. We even had Soapy Williams. The strange thing is that Dad never said that we had the best weather.

As for me, Michigan Week meant that school would soon be over for the summer. Yes, we would have a bulletin board about Michigan Week. We would also have a lesson or two about the greatness of our state, but none of those lessons have stuck in my mind.

The highlight of Michigan Week was the parade! Dad never took us to the Hudson’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I always wondered why this never happened. We only lived a few miles from the parade route. Was my Dad shunning the crowds? I can’t give an answer, but every Thanksgiving we would sit in front of our black and white television set and watch the parade. Dad always enjoyed Sonny Eliot’s jokes during the parade, however, all the commercials annoyed him.

The Michigan Week parade would be the only live parade that I would see until I became an adult. We would visit my aunt on Beresford and then proceed to park ourselves on the curb in front of the Russell Kelly building (On Woodward between Beresford and Davison). You would think that I would remember the Highland Park band, the clowns, and the old cars, but I don’t. The only thing I remember about the parade was the candy! When the candy would fly out unto the street, I quickly moved into action to get as much as I could. Candy was a rare treat for me.

The Highland Park Marching Band in the early seventies.  Sorry for the photo quality.

The Highland Park Marching Band in the early seventies. Sorry for the photo quality.

Michigan Week also consisted of a fair with rides, food and those games where you would win a prize if you accomplished some difficult task. When I was little, my parents limited me to the kiddie rides, such as going in a circle in a small boat, or in a car. There was also the merry-go-round. When I was eleven or twelve, I attended the fair with friends. I never liked the more “daring rides”. The most adventuresome ride that I would tackle was the Tilt-a-whirl. To this day, I don’t go on any rides that appear risky.

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The food at the fair was not much of a highlight. The only thing I would ever buy were the sno-cones. I could eat this wonder of ice and syrup all day long.

The magic of the parade and the fair have disappeared, but I am still very grateful that I was raised a Michigander (Michiganians was never used in my house). Yes, I have lived in other places in America and overseas. I have learned that Michigan is not the only great place to live, but I will always be proud to be called a Michigander.

P.S. Please visit my other blog where I have articles of spiritual nature such as: “God’s Waiting Room” and “Does Jesus Care?” http://www.markjemilbooth.com

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.

Playing Tennis in Highland Park

The 1972 Highland Park High School Tennis Team

The 1972 Highland Park High School Tennis Team

Our trip to Epps Sporting Goods would affect my life even today. Dad took me to buy my first tennis racket.  I was about twelve years old and I had decided to learn to play tennis because my older brother played tennis and I wanted to be like him.

Dad checked out the cheap tennis rackets and found one that would fit into his budget.  He didn’t want to buy an expensive racket because he didn’t know if my desire to play tennis was just a passing fancy.  When we arrived home, Dad gave me my first and only tennis lesson.  He took me out in the backyard.  Then, he handed me a tennis ball and told me to keep hitting the tennis ball up in the air. This would get me use to hitting the ball as well as keeping my eye on the ball.  I continued to do this every day.  I began to imagine myself becoming the next Rod Laver.

By the time, I was in eighth grade, I would take my tennis racket to Ford Park and hit the tennis ball off the tennis court wall. The problem was that I would often hit the ball over the wall, which meant I spent more time retrieving my ball than hitting it.  Eventually, I could hit the ball with some regularity. Now I was ready to hit with anybody who was willing to hit with a young person who had a great desire to play tennis, but not much ability.

One man, who took a special interest in me was Ed.  He was a man in his late fifties or early sixties.  I was always excited to see his large white Chrysler park in the alley behind the tennis courts.  Ed patiently would hit with me, which soon gave me some confidence in playing tennis. There were others who hit with me because I was never shy to ask anybody who didn’t have a tennis partner to hit with me.

My getting ready to go play tennis at Ford in 1969.  Notice the Highland Park Recreation Baseball T-shirt.  I played in Class F for the Royals.

Getting ready to go play tennis at Ford in 1969. Notice the Highland Park Recreation Baseball T-shirt. I played in Class F for the Royals.

My first experience of playing organized tennis was in ninth grade when I played on the
U of D High School tennis team.  I definitely was the low man on the totem pole, but going to the practices and hitting with others helped my game. My coach once encouraged me by saying the my serve was so slow that he could catch it with his bare hand. However, I wasn’t going to quit. I was determined to succeed in tennis.

In tenth grade, I was back at Highland Park High School, and I joined the tennis team.  Tennis was not an important sport at the school; so I became the number one singles player in my junior and senior year.  This may sound impressive, but when we played schools like Grosse Pointe South, it meant that if I won a game or two, I was doing well.

There were perks to playing on the tennis team.  At the beginning of the season, we received three or four pair of tennis socks, four cans of tennis balls and the best of all, a brand new pair of Jack Purcells tennis shoes. These shoes were the top of the line.  By this time also, I had graduated to a Jack Kramer Autograph racket.  This was the top of line in rackets.

A Jack Kramer Autograph Tennis Racket with a bracket to keep the racket from warping.

A Jack Kramer Autograph Tennis Racket with a bracket to keep the racket from warping.

Another perk was that I received physical education credit for playing tennis. This was a big perk because it meant I didn’t have to take swimming class or gym class during my time at Highland Park High School.

Practicing at the Ford Park tennis courts.

Practicing at the Ford Park tennis courts.

One problem about being on the tennis team was that our coach never played tennis.  We never did any drills. We never received any instructions on how to serve. He basically would go with us to matches and tell us to try harder.  When we played schools like Ecorse, River Rouge or Ferndale, our lack of ability didn’t show; however when we played Grosse Pointe South, Monroe or Dondero, it was embarrassing.

Speaking of Monroe, this was our favorite place to play. After getting beaten by Monroe, the coach would take us all to a restaurant and we could eat all the chicken we desired.  It definitely made the thrashing that we had received go down better.

In my senior year, Highland Park was no longer in the Border Cites League. This meant that our competition was more on our level.  We actually won a few matches during the season. At the end of the year, the Detroit News selected me to be on the All-Detroit tennis team. My photo was in the Detroit News with the other players who had been named for this honor. Before I could get too proud, somebody in the school told me that the Detroit News writer who selected the All-Detroit team was a graduate of Highland Park High School. This took the wind out of my sails.

After I graduated from Highland Park, I would continue to play tennis.  I played on the Olivet College team as a freshman; however, I soon played less and less tennis.  It has only been in recent years that I have taken up tennis again. Playing tennis again brings back memories of those great days of playing tennis at Ford Park in the early Seventies.

My Eating Out Experiences Growing Up in Highland Park

sign

Eating out was a rare treat when I was growing up in the Sixties. There were no McDonalds, with their Happy Meals and Playlands near Highland Park. Yes, I survived the first sixteen years of my life without entering the door of a McDonalds.

My Mom was a stay at home mother who dedicated her life to taking care of her children. She made sure that I had dinner each night.  There was always a meat, vegetables and a dessert of some kind. Occasionally she would treat us with a pizza that she made from the  Chef Boy-ar-dee@ pizza mix. For this reason, I never remember eating a take away pizza while I was growing up.  I always thought it would be nice to try the pizza from Lido’s on Six Mile Rd, but I don’t remember ever tasting a take away pizza while I lived in Highland Park.

chef-boyardee

KOW-KOW INN

One of the first words that came out of my mouth was Kow-Kow.  Whenever we would pass the Kow-Kow Inn on Six Mile, I would cry out the words, Kow-Kow with great excitement!  My first remembrance of eating Kow-Kow Inn food was not in the restaurant, but the little white boxes that found their way into our home.  Our meal of choice was Chicken Chop Suey. Only later, when I was out of high school would I visit Kow-Kow. The decor wasn’t fancy, but it made you feel like you were in an authentic Chinese restaurant. The two complete meals for eight dollars was a delicious bargain.

Kow-Kow Inn today is no longer in business.  A special thanks to Charles Powell for the photo.

The Kow-Kow Inn is no longer in business. A special thanks to Charles Powell for the photo.

THE RED BARN

My first fast food experience, like most Highland Parkers, was the Red Barn on Grand Avenue and Woodward.  We went there a few times when it first opened. My Mom probably liked the fact that she was able to get out of the kitchen.  We would order our meal and then take our treasure out to the car and eat the food in the car.  I would eat and look at the Granwood Hotel sign advertising rooms for four dollars.  I also looked at the WMUZ sign on the side of the Grand Bible and Book store.  We ate in the car because, in the beginning, the Red Barn only had only few places to sit. The seating consisted of what looked like white school desks facing the order counter.

The food at the Red Barn was not health food. Their hot dogs were in toasted buttered buns. To this day, there is no hot dog like the Red Barn’s.  I don’t know why a fast food franchise doesn’t try to sell this type of hot dog today. As for the fries, they were stringy and had no real taste. We would wash down this gourmet meal with a small carton of white milk. Mom never allowed us to order pop. After my early childhood years, I would walk pass Red Barn on the way home from high school, but I never ate there again for some unknown reason.

THE CLOCK RESTAURANT 

As the novelty of the Red Barn wore off, Mom took us to a more upscale restaurant called The Clock. This was a real sit down restaurant with a menu. The most fascinating thing about The Clock was that each booth had a its own little Jukebox. Mom would let us a pick out a song or two to have played at our table while we waited for our food.

THE VICTOR CONEY ISLAND (RED HOTS)

As a child, I never experienced eating the chili dogs at Red Hots.  My Dad had his own favorite coney island restaurant which was the Nevada Grill. This was on John R off of Nevada in Detroit. I don’t remember much about this place, but Dad was sold on it.

When I became an older teen, I began to venture out on my own to eat out occasionally.  My favorite place was Red Hots.  I would order two chili dogs and a Vernors that would come out of a machine. There was nothing to compare with this great combination. When I took my wife there a couple of years ago, she wasn’t impressed, but the chili dogs tasted just the same. Unfortunately, the Vernors came in a can.  It didn’t have the same taste.

Red Hots is still in business today.  Photo by Randy Dyle

Red Hots is still in business today. Photo by Randy Dyle

OTHER EXPERIENCES 

There were a few other experiences of eating out in Highland Park. When I was in elementary school, one of my friend’s mother took several of us to Howard Johnson for his birthday party.  This seemed rather excessive, but I enjoyed the novelty of eating at Howard Johnson. As a family, we never ate there because Dad didn’t like it. Even to this day, I avoid Howard Johnson.

Though the Victor Bakery is not a restaurant, I remember that we would go there to buy fresh French Bread. This was my first experience with bread that had a hard crust and a soft dough inside. To this day, I still enjoy fresh baked French bread.

The Victor Bakery looks much the same as when I was growing up.

The Victor Bakery looks much the same as when I was growing up.

It is hard to believe that many people in my generation grew up without McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. However, I have no regrets. Eating out was a rare treat.  I am thankful for the effort my mother made to keep us fed by cooking delicious meals at home, but I will always remember the rare treat of eating out.

P.S. You can find all that you need to know about the Red Barn at: http://www.barnbuster.net

P.P.S. If you are interested, I also have another blog where I focus on spiritual subjects from a pastor’s perspective. http://www.markjemilbooth.com

My Fourth Grade Memories of Midland Elementary School

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

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

How did I lose a whole year of my school life?  Out of all my years of schooling, my fourth grade experience is probably the one with the least memories. Perhaps, my fourth grade memories were erased by my first year of swim class (See my post: Facing My Greatest Fear: Swim Class). I would go to school every Tuesday with a great dread of the afternoon trip to the Liberty School swimming pool. Such a bad memory probably clouded many of the good experiences in fourth grade.

My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Jung. I don’t remember a lot about Mrs. Jung except that she was middle-aged, and she wore glasses.  I also remember that Mrs. Jung was the most lenient teacher I had at Midland Elementary School. She allowed the class to have an abnormal amount of freedom. An example of this freedom was that she allowed us to place our desks in groups of four. Two desks would face two other desks. I don’t remember the point of this exercise, but looking back I could see that it was problematic.  Can you imagine the mischief we were able to do in such a setting? I don’t remember if this was a typical situation or a temporary experiment.

Speaking of desks, I had a full desk which had a top that lifted up. Inside the desk was where we were to place our books, folders and other essential educational materials. I often had a problem with my desk.  My top wouldn’t close!  This wasn’t because of a defect in my desk, but a big defect in my neatness.  I think I had the second messiest desk in the class. The person with the messiest desk will remain unnamed.

One of the highlights of fourth grade wasn’t in the school, but after school.  Fourth grade would be the first year that I participated in Highland Park Little League football.  I was on the Freshmen team. The practices were at 4:30 P.M. each night at Ford Field. This was great for me because I could walk to practice from my house on Candler Ave. Yes, I would have to cut through two yards to get there, but this was never problem in our neighborhood.

Being part of Little League football was my first experience in organized athletics.  Our coach was the Mayor’s son, Mark Storen Jr.  I guess I didn’t become a star because I was on the blue team, which was a nice way of saying the second string team. We played one set of downs each half and I played offensive guard.

One other memory that still sticks in my mind was the Christmas gift exchange for our class. I had bought a rather expensive gift to exchange. It was a plastic bowling set that cost almost two dollars. I was excited when I received my gift in a large Hudson’s box.  What could be in such a large box?  I opened the box and found a twenty-five cent rubber baseball. I felt quite disappointed. This showed that I had a long way to go in learning the joy of giving.

The rest of my fourth grade experience is quite a blur.  Yes, we had the usual recess.  The visits to the library. The same lunch that I always brought to school. The same walk home from school going through the dreaded Second Avenue tunnel.

I am sure that Mrs. Jung was a fine teacher and she taught me many important things, however, I don’t remember anything in particular that I learned in class.  I  am thankful that she did care for her students.  I am also thankful that I survived swim class!