I was 17 years old and headed downtown to watch the Tiger's play. Mike Moore
was driving and I was squished in the backseat between Al Smolinski and Mark
Ouellette. Joe Purtell was riding shotgun and he turned toward our backseat
trio with is his inimitable face framed through the windshield by the three
spires of St. Josaphat's Church.
"Quick, look you guys. It's St. Josaphat's perfectly juxtapositioned against the Renaissance Center towers. It's a sight only seen at this exact spot on I-75. It's uniquely Detroit!"
Joe always has had a knack for good timing and how to turn a phrase. Actually, from our angle, it was Joe's head perfectly juxtapositioned against St. Josaphat's and then the Ren Cen.
All of my children learned what the word juxtaposition meant, where St. Josaphat's was located and the special combination provided by Joe, by hearing me repeat the description every time we headed downtown for flaming saganaki at New Hellas in Greektown, or the Ethnic festivals, or Red Wings and Tiger games. I'm pretty sure that they passed on the sight to everyone they knew. It's our family tradition.
It's been my mantra for going downtown for over 40 years.
That's why I was bummed when I saw on the local news a few weeks back, that high winds had damaged the might spire badly. The report said that the Church's owner, the Diocese of Detroit, indicated that the damages maybe too expensive to be repaired and if so, would have to be torn down.
Like so many other markers and milestones of our lives, another one gets ready to bite the dust.
I admit I am a sentimental guy and it appears to be an inherited trait. My two year old grandson Eli is fond of calling and reminiscing about something we did together.
"Grampie, you remember when we were having a Ghost Club
meeting and you were the Tickle Monster and chased Asher and me around, but we
became Super Heroes and turned around and chased you and then tickled you until
you screamed like a baby for help from Grammie? Those were good times, weren't
Yes, Eli, they were.....although I didn't have the heart to tell him that reminiscing usually takes a little more marinating than two days! But he has the gist of it down.
Sentiment and reminiscing are often triggered by familiar landmarks. Many of my landmark memories came from my teenage hitchhiking days. I'd head out of town with a few bucks in my pocket to places like Miami to visit Bob Munecas or Santa Fe to see Tom Reed and Tom Calverley, Lake Tahoe to visit my sisters Sue, and Maryanne and Pat Charette, trips back from college in K-zoo, Grand Valley or MSU, or god knows where I was coming back from in search of god knows what. But I always came home to Royal Oak, always bedraggled and broke.
Traveling north of the Michigan-Ohio border on I-75 in a
stranger's car, I knew I was getting close to home as we reached the top of the
big bridge that passes over the Rouge River. The giant industrial complex
pushed colorful flumes of pollution and economic good times. The worse it
smelled the better times were, and made it easier to find a job to pay for the
next adventure. If I was coming home from west on I-94, once I saw the Big
Tire, I knew home was just around the corner.
But true home started at the corner of 10 Mile and Woodward and approaching it I could see the Detroit Zoo water tower with Detroit's Mayor Coleman Young's name on it large letters. You could love or hate Mayor Young, but you had to give him his due for chutzpah.
In the shadow of the Water Tower was the Red Barn fast food restaurant, worth a stop for the Barnbuster and fries if I had any money left. A few minutes later, I would be standing in the parking lot at St. Mary's on Lafayette and Lincoln telling stories of the latest trip to my longtime friends.
Many of the landmarks of my youth are gone now, the Totem Pole, Hudson's downtown, Sander's in the Washington Square Building, to name a few, but enough remain that I still get that warm familiar feeling deep in my gut whenever I return from trips out of town. I've been leaving Royal Oak for parts known and unknown all around the world for over 40 years and yet I always return home for that warm sensation I get when I close in on the town where I grew up.
Of course, the most enduring landmarks are personal; family and friends and even today, with my children grown and long out of our house, I can remember what it was like to open the door after being gone for a few days on business, the familiar squeak giving my entrance away, and have one, two, three and/or four children come running up to hug me all the way home. Followed by an embrace by the lovely Kathy (really glad to see me after managing everyone's needs without help...absence definitely made me look better!) and I knew I was where I belonged.
Physical landmarks may go, but some things never change.
As it turns out, I just found out there may be hope for juxtaposition after all! There is a fundraising effort underway to save the “iconic steeples” of both St. Josaphat and the Sweetest Heart of Mary churches. I guess I get to put my money where my mouth is to save a landmark! The link to donate is below.
It’s Monday: Let’s go!