Thursday, April 22, 2010

Term Street and The Memories Of The First Place I Called Home

This is the place – 3502 N. Term Street, Flint, Michigan. This is the house that I lived in from the day that I was born until my parents got a divorce when I was seven or eight years old. It wasn’t a fancy house by any stretch of the imagination, but it was home and I still think about this place some fifty years later. Almost every time that I visit Flint, I find some excuse to just drive by the house and check it out from afar – and somewhere in the back of my mind – I hope one of my old neighbors are out in the yard so I can stop by and see if they remember me (but the odds are that my old neighbors have either moved or are dead – so that chance meeting is never going to happen).

It wasn’t that long ago that there was a “For Sale” sign in front of this house. My girlfriend told me that I should call the realtors and tell them I was interested in buying the place and could I get a tour. I was tempted to do it, but knew deep down inside that I couldn’t pull off the “phony interested buyer” ruse and, if I was honest with myself, I knew that seeing the inside of my old house couldn’t live up to the memories that I had of the place. What’s interesting about this house is how long that it has stayed the way that I remembered. It’s only within the last seven years or so that the new owners replaced the original front door on the house and they removed the black and white aluminum awnings on the front windows – other than that – the outside of this house looks the same as it did fifty years ago.

One of the nice things about this house on Term Street was that it had a great backyard with lots of space to run around and be a kid. I can’t tell you how many “blanket tents” were strung on my Mom’s clothes lines and how many pies and jellies were made by my Mom from the fruit on the apple, cherry and pear trees in the backyard.  My Dad also had one of those huge brick barbecues built at the furthest end of our backyard where he’d be the master chef doing the hamburgers, hot dogs and corn on the cob. I think the only time that my Dad ever cooked was on that barbecue – all of the other times – he’d leave the cooking to my Mom (who everyone in the family knows could do no wrong in the kitchen). 

Our neighbors to the south – The Goin family – had something like six or seven kids. I remember the father, Willie, as one gruff son-of-a-bitch – but he created something that attracted kids from all over the neighborhood and they loved him for it  – he built a merry-go-round in his backyard as a companion piece to their swing set. He planted an axle from a car in the ground and bolted two-by-four’s on the wheel hub assembly. Who knows how many miles that wheel hub assembly had on it before it was placed in the ground – but I’m sure all of the kids in the neighborhood must have put a few cross-country miles on it just spinning around. 

The Ebmeyer family lived one house south of the Goin family and if there ever was a family that resembled the Cleaver family from “Leave It To Beaver” – it would have been the Ebmeyers. Bruce and Marion Ebmeyer were definitely Ward and June Cleaver – but they had a daughter and a son – so there goes the resemblance to the Cleaver clan. Mike was the oldest son and he was the one boy that my sister had a crush on and his sister Bonnie, with her long blond hair that she would twirl with one finger, was my friend. One time Bonnie and I were playing on the front porch of our house on Term Street and she did something a lot of kids did – and got in trouble for it, too – she used her play scissors (that could actually cut things) and gave me a haircut. I can remember our Moms getting mad and having to take me to the barbershop to get a crew cut because of Bonnie’s "attempt " giving at giving her friend a haircut.  

The television set plays a big part in a lot of my memories of the house on Term Street. I can see that TV now – it was one of those stand-up light wood black and white television sets with the round dials. The only channels on the dial were 2 through 13 and nobody ever had an answer when you asked them, “Why isn’t there a channel 1?” I can remember sneaking out of my bedroom one night and taking a glance at the TV show that my parents were laughing at. The show that they were watching was comedian Ernie Kovacs' comedy half-hour show and I remember watching Kovacs draw a water faucet on a huge poster board placed on an easel. Once he was finished drawing the faucet – he grabbed a real glass with one hand and with the other hand turned the spigot on the drawing and water flowed out of the faucet and into the glass. I was amazed…my parents thought it was funny. 

I can remember Saturday nights on Term Street as being pretty special. My Mom would pop up a big bowl of popcorn and make some Kool-Aid to drink (sometimes there would be a cold M&S Red Pop) and we would gather around the television and watch “Gunsmoke” and “Have Gun Will Travel” (on Channel 6 out of Lansing) and then switch it to Channel 7 out of Detroit to watch a fifteen minute bowling show called “Make That Spare” that was followed by a forty-five minute boxing show called “The Fight Of The Week”. (The boxing program was sponsored by Gillette and I can still hum the theme song to that show today – it’s ingrained in my brain like the opening to “Wide World of Sports” is to another generation.) Probably one of the reasons why I remember these Saturday nights was because it was one of the few times I can remember my Mom, Dad, sister and me together as a family unit – looking back – there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of those moments. 

There was one summer day on Term Street that I can remember somewhat clearly and wondering why the people on the television set were laughing when events all around me got turned upside down. My Dad brought home a brand new metal burn barrel (with holes poked in all around the sides for the fire to breathe) to replace the old one that we had been burning our papers and garbage in. My sister and her friends saw this new burn barrel and decided that this would be the thing to play it. My sister got inside the barrel and her friends turned it on its side and started rolling her around the lawn in it and in doing so – the holes that had been punched into the barrel was ripping the skin off my sister’s back. Someone rushed into the house and told my Mom what was happening and confusion began as they tried to clean her up enough to take her to the hospital. All I can remember is hearing my sister cry and I couldn't understand why the people in the TV audience of “Truth or Consequences” were laughing while my sister was in such pain – didn’t they know she was hurt? 

When my parents filed for divorce – we had to move out of the house on Term Street, because the house payments were more than my Mom could handle. We had to say to that great backyard where we had all those great family picnics.  We had to say good-bye to the Goin family and all of the fun we had on their merry-go-round.  My sister had to say good-bye to Mike Ebmeyer and I had to say good-bye to Bonnie Ebmeyer.  The hardest part was having to say good-bye to the house that we called home.  As much as I would have loved to see the inside of the old house on Term Street once more – something told me that I shouldn't do it.  It's not easy to recapture a part of your past because reality can't live up to the memories that you have -- especially  the memories of a house that you  once called home.


J.L. said...

I did the same phony buyer bit to get into my old house on Linden Road. What I found was a house that had been completely gutted and remodeled, with none of the rooms even existing from my childhood. It had been re-sided, the back yard was taken up by more driveway, and on top of all that, the neighbor's house got the same treatment. The only thing that stayed the same was the garage; my brother and I put our handprints in the concrete when it was built, and they were still there. The current owner had no idea they were there, and I was bummed that I couldn't take that square of concrete with me.

Gary Flinn said...

I'm assuming you walked to Thompson's super market, the Rexall drug store and/or Ben Franklin. I think I went to class with Michelle next door.

Rich Frost said...

Oh, yeah...I did the Thompson store -- got chocolate Cokes at the Cook Drug store...check out the monkey and the carnival mirror at the shoe store...and everybody went to the Ben Franklin store for 10 cents worth of chocolate covered peanuts or M&Ms.

I use to go across the street to Springsteen's -- where they had those repackage comic books with the covers torn off in plastic for something like 3 magazines for a quarter.

And -- I was an altar boy at St. Leo's along with Michelle's brother Mike (I just wish someone had our first communion picture with my fly wide open).

Term Street was a great place to grow up.