14 December 2009
“Where I Am From” – Saginaw, Michigan
“I was born in Saginaw, Michigan”
from the song “Saginaw, Michigan” by Lefty Frizzel
I remember growing up on Woodward Drive in Saginaw, Michigan, a small town of about 70,000 people. Small farm towns surround Saginaw. The summer temperatures are in the mid-eighties and humid; the winters are cold, subfreezing, with lots of snow. I lived in a small house with three bedrooms and one bath. We had a large backyard with a cherry tree, sandbox, small garden, swing set and many shrubs. Railroad tracks ran along the back of the property.
I remember the cherry tree. Every year the railroad company had to spray the bushes along the tracks. One year they sprayed too much. The over spray killed some trees in people’s backyards, including our cherry tree. My dad made the best of it. He trimmed the limbs down to near nothing. He painted the remains of the cherry tree auburn red. Then he built an A-frame fort up in the tree. This became my hideaway. I would spend endless hours in the tree by myself or with neighbor friends. We would design complex schemes to defend the fort from foreign invaders, like my little sister.
I remember water fights in the back yard. My little sister, Toni, was afraid of getting wet. But she didn’t mind spraying others with the hose. When the tide turned and I was the one spraying, she would cry like a little girl. Dad would often join in the fun with the hose. He would try to spray us and we would try to not get wet. Usually, our attempts to elude his pursuit were not wholehearted.
I remember racing dump trucks through the backyard with my good friend, Tommy Wagner. The backyard was mostly dirt and rocks. One time, he and I were eating Popsicles and playing with our trucks. We kept the Popsicle sticks in our mouths like fake cigarettes. We started a race to the back door. With my arms stretch down to the sides of the yellow Tonka dump truck, I pushed the little truck as fast as I could. I had to bend completely at the waist and lean forward to reach the truck and still extend my legs into a run. As I was running, the front of the truck hit a rock and stopped. I went flying over the truck. I was unable to react fast enough and tumbled head first to the ground. The Popsicle stick, still in my mouth, sliced across the edge of my tongue and stabbed into my cheek. I jumped up and, with blood streaming from my mouth, I went screaming to my mom. The injury turned out to be relatively minor, simply using ice and pressure stopped the bleeding. Mom made it all better, but I still have the scar.
I remember the sandbox in the backyard. It was extra deep. It was so deep, once my little brother hid by burying himself in it. When he didn’t answer our mom’s calls, she almost called the police to look for him. I remember building up a large wall of sand in the sandbox; almost enough to hide crouched behind it. I snuck back to the sandbox with Candy Staples, and ducked down behind the mound to steal a kiss from her.
I remember playing football in the neighbor’s yard. We would use the house as one sideline and a row of thorn bushes as the other. One time, I was sprinting down the sideline marked by the bushes. A neighbor was chasing me, trying to tackle me. I tried to escape the tag, but I was pushed into the shrubs. One thorn stuck in my thigh, but I kept playing. It wasn’t until the evening I realized the thorn was still there. Mom did her magic and it was all-better; except for another scar.
I remember the train sets we had in our basement. We had three or four set up at the same time. We also had a pool table in the basement. My dad put together a large piece of plywood and tacked the railroad tracks to it. He put the plywood on top of the pool table to make it easier to play. He then connected chains to each corner and ran them through a pulley system. The chains ran to a crank that we would use to lift the train set off the table and into the rafters of the basement.
I remember my first cigarette. Toni, Tommy and I were standing under the cherry tree when the White boys came looking for their sister Sharon. As they were leaving, one of them threw down a lit cigarette butt. I was too easily enticed to try it. I didn’t know at the time, but my dad was sitting just inside the window in the dining room.
But most of all I remember the snow. We would get feet of snow every year. I would build snowmen, go sledding and dig tunnels. Dad shoveled the driveway into large mounds and I would sled down them. One year, a freak ice storm hit mid Michigan. The storm coated the top of the snow with a thick layer of ice. It was so thick we rode our bikes on top of the snow. Floating above the snow made me feel superhuman. I would get going really fast, and just slide across the surface. The bike tires would spin in place. But once I started moving, stopping was the biggest challenge; I would just slide across the top. There was no traction so there wasn’t any turning. Every once in a while, I’d hit a thin spot of ice and the front wheel would dig down into the foot thick snow. I’d go flying over the handlebars.