Friday, July 20, 2012

Back On The Streets,...What I Am Thankful For.

Back On The Streets,... What I Am Thankful For.

Like many days in November, it looks so drab today driving along on the interstate.  It seems everything looks dull and in shades of gray.  Perhaps it's the let down after the glorious colors of October.  It's almost hypnotic.  Whew, I almost missed my exit.  Let's see, left turn onto 27th street.  Look at that, the old 27th street viaduct, or as we Milwaukean's know it as the longest bridge in the world".  We called it that because it separated a mostly black neighborhood from a mostly Polish community.  So, as children we said it separated Africa from Poland.  Not terribly politically correct, but what was in the 60's!

Photo Credit; historic bridges of the u.s.

I grew up in what many people back then called the ghetto, the inner-city or the "colored neighborhood".  My family consisted of my father who was all of eighteen, my mother who was 17 and me, a blond, blue eyed surprise named Laura.  In all of fifteen months my baby sister Debby arrived.  My parents found some self control and held off for another two and a half years before my brother Michael was born.  We all lived in a two bedroom duplex, in the heart of one of the toughest neighborhoods in Milwaukee.  We grew up street smart and careful, but very comfortable and secure.  I never cared about the color of anyone's skin.  I was happy with my family, my friends, my home and my neighborhood.   I loved Milwaukee and all the excitement it had to offer!

Oh, I am almost there now.  I can see the grade school I went to; 27th street Elementary School.  So many feelings and thoughts run through my head.  I remember being afraid to go to the bathroom unless I was with a group for fear of being assaulted.  I remember on of the best teachers I have ever had was from this school.  She helped me overcome a writing disability I had as a child.  She was wonderful.  She really made the subjects we studied come alive.  She instilled a joy to learn in me that no one else has.  I remember another teacher my sister had.  One we all knew about.  I remember the look on his face the last day of school as a knife, held by one little girls big brother, plunged into his stomach.  I remember how huge and scary this school was.  It doesn't look so huge no, but I think it would be just as scary to walk down those halls today as it was then.

Well, the house I grew up in is only one block away now.  This block was so hard to walk.  It wasn't the distance that made it hard; it was the fear of the unknown that made it hard.  One day my sister and I were walking home with a group of friends.  My Aunt Karen had come to walk with us.  She was so cool.  She was only six years older than I was.  My little sister was walking a few feet ahead of the rest of us.  Suddenly a huge black man stepped out from a doorway with a chain wrapped around his fist.  As fast as lightning his fist came thundering down on my little sisters face.  She was all of seven.  Her tender skin was ripped to shreds.  I felt so helpless. I was so close, yet I couldn't stop it from happening.  I ran to her and helped her home.  My aunt ran after him.  Other people called the police.  I felt so sorry for her.  Oddly, I felt so guilty.  You see my father is Greek.  In my heart I kept him on a pillar like a Greek god, and my sister was the one who had his beautiful olive skin, warm brown eyes, and deep dark hair.  I, on the other hand, was born plain, blonde and blue eyed.  Did my envy somehow cause this horrible thing to happen?  I prayed not.

As I turn the corner to my old house, the house I spent my adolescence in, I feel a bit apprehensive.  Our neighborhood had become run down.  I look around and I can't believe this is the same street I ran barefoot in as a child.  The street which had only occasional broken booze bottles on it was now lined with those and other smaller bottles, dirty needles, and garbage left there without a thought of the children.  I went around the block and pulled into the alley (This is the alley where we played kick the can and stick ball.).  Now the sound of children playing is replaced by the noise of the boom car parked two houses down.  The chalk writings of my younger days has been replaced by the gang graffiti on our old garage.  The only familiar marking I see is the one on the old asphalt siding on the house (The big worn mark from where our feet hit the house because the swing set we had was too close is still there.).  I can't believe how close the houses are to each other.  No wonder we were all like one big family.  The house and yard is so much smaller than I remember.  It is amazing how much fun we had there.  Every child in the neighborhood loved our house.
I need to leave now, before the ugliness of today destroys the happiness of my yesterdays.  As I drive away I make a mental note to thank my father the next time I see him,
  • I'll thank him for working three jobs to get us out of there, instead of resenting him for not being home enough. 
  • I'll thank him for loving me when I hated him for moving me away from my friends and my home and the warmth and security I thought I had there. 
  • Most of all I'll thank him for being the wonderful dad that helped fill that home with all those warm memories I still have.
Thank you daddy, for everything you did!

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