The Last Peaceful Weekend

Fifty years ago, this weekend, I was eight years old. I couldn’t tell you where I was or what I was doing. I might have been at camp or at my grandparents house in Detroit, on Wisconsin Street, east of Wyoming and north of Finkell Avenue. Maybe I was at home in Redford. I don’t recall.

Even though we lived in Redford, we had a Detroit mailing address. My grandmother, who didn’t drive, used to look after me when my parents worked. We would get on the bus and go downtown. Hudson’s was my favorite place in the whole wide world. I loved the toy department. I remember getting my tonsils out and my grandmother buying me a present from Hudson’s. It came in a special box, green, with Hudson’s written in bold gold letters.

The house on Wisconsin St. is still there. I haven’t seen it in about 15 years in person, but it is still there. I remember there being a lot of trees and my grandparent’s dogs, Missy and Flight and Smokey the cat. Yes, Alfred, I know you hate cats. Damn In-n-Out Burger.

Twelfth Street was a main thoroughfare in 1967. It was also, the most mixed and densely populated section of the city. Businesses of all kinds ran up and down 12th. North of West Grand Blvd. (where, just about two blocks east of there, in a house brought in 1958 by Barry Gordy, Jr., a recording studio and record company called Motown was cranking out music that would change the world)

12th and Philadelphia, June, 1967

Fifty summers ago, my life turned on a series of seemingly unrelated events that would last until October of the next year. So, in a sense, this was my last weekend of my childhood. There was talk of me going far, far away for school. I didn’t understand why. Some days, I still don’t, even 50 years later.

Detroit was, on the surface, a thriving city in that summer. The Tigers were in the last true pennant race, with five teams within two games of the top of the League. The Big 3, as they were known then, GM, Ford and Chrysler, were humming. We listened to CKLW, (“the Motor City), WKNR (Keener 13) and if you were older, WABX-FM. Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane did the Tigers games on WJR, the “Great Voice of the Great Lakes.” If you lived anywhere east of Denver, on a clear night, you could get it, even on your transistor radio.

On TV, you could watch “At the Zoo,” with Sonny Elliott on WWJ, listen to Bob McBride’s editorials at the end of Channel 2 news and watch “Batman” on Channel 7. Also, Channel 9 in Windsor had “The Friendly Giant,” which was my favorite show to watch in the daytime. If you had a TV with UHF channels, you could watch the Red Wings on Channel 50.

But for me, and my family, little did I know (or any of us) how much the following weekend would begin a chain of events that would change all of our lives. Forever.

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