Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Apartment Building That Raised Me-Part 2

I lived in a 6th and Maryland apartment building, the 6th formal street from the Gary Steel Mills which was on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. We are called "the children of the mill" by the author Ronald D. Cohen in his book The Children of the Mill, Schooling and Society in Gary, Indiana, 1906-1960.

My son Eric reminded me that I should look on Google Earth to find out what was left of my childhood home and neighborhood since the apartment fire and its demolition. I googled my old home address and discovered an empty, grass-covered space where the ten apartment, rectangular, 2-storied, red, brick building stood.

Homes all through the neighborhood were gone, and trees overtook the area behind this abandoned lot. The sidewalk in front of the building seemed to have been over grown with grass and weeds. I guess when a neighborhood goes into decline, structures are torn down and nothing more is built in the existing space. Strange as it may seem, my best friend Sally's house right across the alley is still standing. It wasn't the best house and was only made of wood. That would bring back some memories of the hours I spent in her house.

I just stared at the now empty space--just a vacant, unmarked lot that was once home to ten families, each with their own stories.

I then focused my attention to the still present "playground" of the alley next to the east end of the building where we splashed in the huge puddles during and after a heavy rain. That steady stream of water going down the alley into the street drain ferried our best homemade boats at rapid speed. We would also go barefoot, dashing through the water after our boats or whatever. The storms in Gary were known for their thunder and lightning since Lake Michigan was not far from us. At times, I would also grab my umbrella and skip around the building, loving those summer storms--they never scared me. Little did I know of the dangers of lightning then.

My brother Richard, my cousin Sharon, and I wouldn't find shelter in the apartment during the colossal storms, but sit on the glider of the wooden porch facing the alley and be in wonder at the slashes of lightning, waiting for the booming thunder. There were about 10 wooden steps leading down from the porch to the sidewalk. We played many games on these steps or just watched the cars that went by on busy 6th Avenue. There was a sidewalk and a small grassy area and then the busy street--no fear of the street either!? We always had access to the sidewalk and streets--only one gate on the east side which lead to the alley. Adults were usually inside and not outside much. I guess the three of us must have had each other's backs many times!

That's what I remember about the good times on the east side of the brick apartment building that raised me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Apartment Building That Raised Me

I just read a "View" by Connie Schultz in Parade Magazine, April 17, 2011 in answer to the question,"What's your best memory of your childhood home?"

"The House That Built Me" was the title of her piece, and she started with this lead: "The plan was to drive slowly by the house and keep on going." Talk about a grabber lead--she caught me there!! I no longer have that opportunity to drive slowly or drive at all by the Gary, IN apartment building that I grew up in until I was 18 years old.

After college, I visited home very few times because my life was wrapped up in campus living and off campus living. My life was college. After I graduated in August of '69, I took a teaching job in Ft. Wayne, IN. A year after college, I married. I visited Gary, IN only once after that, but did not return to that apartment building because it was condemned and no one could enter. Later it burned to the ground--nothing to visit now, but maybe I should at least see the neighborhood. It probably would be a very sombering visit, however, due to the ongoing decline of the neighborhood. I saw online, inside pictures of my old Emerson School, K-12, where I attended my whole life, and it was a heartsick sight.

The author of the "View" had a picture of her old house and told of her memories, especially of her dad. She ended by saying, "Back then all I could think about was how scary it would be to leave home." I thought the same thing when I was younger. How could I leave the only home I knew, but yet I wanted to leave. I packed my bags for my new job and left my Gary, IN home forever. I cried the first few miles, feeling mixed emotions such as, "I'm leaving home, but I have to go." I would room with a girl whom I did not know and take on my first teaching job of 7th grade language arts classes! My rite of passage had begun.

The first thing I did after reading this Parade Magazine article was to sketch the apartment building I grew up in for 18 years; it had 10 apartments. I have no pictures of it--regrettable.

In my next few blogs I will describe what it was like to live in an apartment setting as I grew up. I guess, it's my way of making a photo of 517 East 6th Avenue.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Finally Rockin'

As a writer, I've been told,

I am clear, concise, and quirky.

I've also heard that rocks and shells are ever changing

And are beautiful pieces of the Earth.

I love rocks because they mean something to me

And could be bookmarks that help me remember.

I look for rocks in quiet wonder, for I now know

Rocks collect the stories, and I am only the sender.

Rocks are the threads that run through my life

Which bind me to family and continuing tradition.

Rockfinders are a special breed, drawn

To shape, size, and color--just part of their mission.

What am I thinking about when I'm looking for rocks?

What do they mean to me?

The rocks are a part of the story of my life and,

Rocks seem to give me peace and harmony.

I still have time to have that rock conversation,

And see if one answers if I hold it up high.

I find in Byrd Baylor's book Everybody Needs a Rock,

I'll be sorry if a rock is not a friend by and by.

Thanks to nurturingcuriosity, teacherdance, elsie, booksavors, Tammy,

Sharon, Sprice, Alice, Uncle E, Donna S., onesunflower, and the Ruths

Who have given me their thoughts and support

To find the meaning of rocks and their truths.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What's With the All These Rocks Anyway??!!

At the top left of my blog, you see a picture of a bunch of rocks and above it, it says, "I Love Rocks!" Have I written about rocks? Created an ode to rocks? Made any indication that rocks are important to me? No, so what's this thing about rocks? Good question for you and me.

As a child, I remember collecting rocks from everywhere and being fascinated by them. What I did with them after I found them as a child, I don't remember. I just enjoyed finding rocks. I looked for smaller rocks as a rule and in all shapes, colors, and textures. I also remembered I had to "buy" a rock collection for the earth science course I took in college. I carried that collection wherever I went after college.

I got married and my oldest son found out that he liked rocks, too, and also asked for a rock polisher--I wasn't into that part, but he was. When we moved the family to another area, the college rocks were thrown into a drawer in the basement. My brother even collected rocks. What?

As I got older and settled down, my fascination started all over. I looked for smaller rocks as a rule and in all shapes. Some rocks reminded me of other objects or animals and people even--what would they say if they could talk? I finally just started putting them and my "college" collection in one area of our backyard near the bird bath and herb garden. Those college rocks finally found their way back home, at last--out in the elements.

I've caught my grandchildren playing with my rocks. They put them in pails, on the deck, and of course, would like to throw them. At first, I didn't want them to touch them--silly me. It was great they were playing with them!! At least they now had a purpose! Of course, they always had to put them back where they found them.

I went for a walk with 4 year old granddaughter Lilly a couple of weeks ago, and she started collecting rocks in her pocket. When she got home, she put them in a tupperware container that I got down for her, and she quietly took them up to her room. I just told her to tell her dad that she did this.

"Okay," I said, "These rocks have a story to tell." I have read books on the different types of rocks--not interested in the nonfiction angle. I have collected the rocks from different places, but that's not the point I want to talk about either. I've read If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christain and other stories--nothing spoke to me.

Rocks are unique and have a story. I've tried to write a short story with rocks as a focal point of a young boy--the story's not going anywhere. Okay, no short story. How about a picture book? This is where I am--about a bunch of rocks, a boy or girl, and the uniqueness of rocks, uniqueness of the boy/girl? There's a real possibility.

As I write this post and look back at this year's writers notebook, I see notes from a fellow teacher/writer (the other Ruth, I do believe) I meet with sometimes, and she suggested that these rocks could be the strand in the story of my life............ I am discovering there is a strand here. Will this be my angle? (Thanks, Ruth, I'm seeing more of that.)

Can I ask for more ideas? Should I forget the idea since I can't settle with one, or wait until I figure it out eventually? These rocks have to go somewhere!!!

Friday, April 1, 2011


Ruth's post of March 31, "March Reminded Me," spoke to me in the line that said, "March reminded me ordinary days are my passion." I like ordinary days, too, being home, the small things. At the same time, because I think they all seem insignificant to others, I downplay them. In actuality, this is what makes each one of us unique in our personalities and our writing. This is what I discovered in March.

As bloggers, we knew we all loved to write, but what about it? Do we really have something to write about, to talk about, to share? I am not controversial or want to shout anything to the masses, I just want to write. I want to feel good about what I write, enjoy the process, and share it with people who I can give a lift, a laugh, or a sentiment. If this goes any further, I'm blessed, but I do want to share and talk about writing. It's like reading a good book.

I discovered yesterday, commenting on a post that blogging and commenting is like going back to that good book you're reading, your little world of enjoyment, your involvement in a story being told, your place in a community of readers/writers that are supportive, and make you want to come back because writing/reading is good for you!!! Where have I heard that before, Ruth?

I've discovered another me that's been waiting to be released, letting me know, it's okay. I have something to write about, something to offer whether it be a story or a post.

Ordinary days are also my passion, Ruth. Thank you for letting me know that secret within me is okay to write about.