Navy Education

Schools I’ve Attended

My Life
Those Places Thursday
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.Grace-Lee Products, Inc

After I graduated from high school, I moved to Northeast Minneapolis and got a job at Grace-Lee Products, Inc., 1414 Marshall Avenue in Minneapolis. They manufactured and packaged industrial chemicals. My job was to move 55-gallon drums of chemicals from one place to another. Grace-Lee was a dangerous place to work, but it paid reasonably well for unskilled labor. I recall that a drum of caustic potash (Potassium hydroxide) accidentally opened and the powder came up into the person’s face. He lost an eye and I realized this was an extremely hazardous place to work. Shortly after that, Honeywell hired me to work in their Golden Valley plant.

Honeywell

At Honeywell, I worked in the paint department racking and stacking thermostat rings to go through the paint booth then taking them off the fixture and packaging them. Those thermostats haven’t changed much since 1968 when I work there. I knew that I didn’t want to follow my step-father to be an assembly-line painter, so I decided to join the Navy. I enlisted under a 120-day deferment program where I enlisted in September, saving me from the draft but not going active duty until January, after the holidays.

A-School

Me on barracks steps c. 1969 (This barracks was torn down several weeks after this.)

After Boot Camp, I was enticed to sign a “promissory to extend” in order to go to “A” School and learn a trade. I agreed to do so and went to about a year of electronics training, first eight weeks in San Diego, then 42 weeks at Treasure Island (San Francisco). I was in a really smart class. Nearly everyone in my class received very high grades. After school, your next duty station depended upon where you placed in your class.  I think I was 8th in a 20, so I knew I was going to sea. After I realized that, I took an administrative assignment for a few weeks, which put me into another class. In that new class, I was number one. As number one in the class, I was able to select the best duty station offered–a tour at Boardman Bombing Range, Boardman Oregon. Two years in Oregon sounded great, so I took it.  I thought, “Hopefully the Viet Nam war would be over by the time my duty in Oregon was complete.” No such luck.

Boardman Bombing Range, Boardman, Oregon

QM56 – M56 with gun removed, remote control radio tower and reflector screens installed

In Oregon, I was a bomb spotter most of the time. I worked on transmitters and receiver equipment used to talk with the aircraft doing their bombing runs. Also, the base had M56 90MM Mobile Guns that had their gun removed and then converted to remote control. We would operate them remotely as mobile targets for the aircraft to bomb. In both cases, the electronics seldom broke down, so time was spent on preventative maintenance and repairing the mobile targets. I had no formal training or education while at Boardman.

CTMS – Cryptographic Technical Maintenance School, Mare Island (Vallejo. California

KY-8 – photo courtesy NSA, NSA Museum

After two years in Oregon, it was time for sea duty, and I received orders to the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63). On my way there I was sent to CTMS Mare Island (Vallejo, California) and attended a “C” school for eight weeks. There I learned to the KY-8, shipboard crypto equipment used on ships for secure voice communications with aircraft. It was a challenging class (understanding how crypto works can be a challenge) at a big building with no windows on Mare Island.

These Navy schools did what I was hoping for. I learned the basics of a vocation, electronics maintenance and repair, that gave me the fundamentals of electronics that carried me through the rest of my life. Navy Schools were a great beginning, but I wanted more. The USS Kitty Hawk and the Program for Afloat College Education would help me further my education.

 

Ages of my 3rd Great-Grandparents

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun
Brown/Montran Research
Roberts/Barnes Research

By Don Taylor

Randy Seaver, of Genea-Musings, suggested taking a look at our third great-grandparents lifespan.  When were they born; how long did they live? Randy’s suggestions often make me think about my tree and point out where I have holes or other problems in my genealogical research, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Randy’s suggestion this time was no different.

Of my 32 great-grandparents, I only have 23 named in my database. Two are women for whom I only know their married surname.   Only 13 of them, do I have birth and death dates. I have much more work to do to fill in the blanks.

NEW & on my “Want” list.

My earliest born 3rd Great’ was John Calvin Roberts, born 3 March 1795; the most recent born was Andrew Haley born 1837. I was surprised there were 42 years between two ancestors in the same generation.

The youngest to die that I know about was Joel Cruff Taft who died at the age of 48. Barney Daney Brown was born about 1814 and died sometime between 1860 and 1870 could have died at age 46, age 56 or any age in between.

My longest living 3rd great-grandparent was William Sanford who lived to 92. However, I must mention that my great-grandmother Mary (Manning) Brown lived to be 105.

The average age at death for my 3rd great-grandparents was 70.6 years old.

My Ancestors for whom I know their birth and death dates include:
Name Birth Death Age at Death
[Brown], Mary C Abt. 1824 24 Jun 1900 76
Blackhurst, Stephen 1801 24 Dec 1869 68
Blackwell, Elizabeth 10 Sep 1796 05 Jul 1867 70
Brown, Barney Daney Abt. 1814 1860 to 1870 46-56
Haley, Andrew J. 24 Aug 1837 29-Dec-05 68
Mannin, Enoch 03 Jan 1823 7-Apr-07 84
Parsons, Mary Electa 14 Sep 1828 18 Jun 1888 59
Roberts, John Calvin 03 Mar 1795 Apr 1873 76
Sanford, William M 30 Mar 1823 5-Jun-1915 92
Southerland, Fanny 03 Apr 1796 24 Mar 1864 67
Taft, Joel Cruff 25 Dec 1800 19 Apr 1849 48
Taylor, Fanny 1806 1889 83
Tolliver, Minerva Ann 05 Feb 1821 24 Oct 1902 81

As is so often the case with Randy’s exercises, Randy reminds me how much more genealogical work I still need to do. I’d love to learn the birthdates and death dates of all my 3rd great-grandparents. Then again, my genealogical goal is not to fill in the blanks; instead, my goal is to get to know my ancestors, to try to understand them, and to appreciate their lives.

 

Ancestor Bio – Jacob Frederick Wilhelm (1875-1943)

52 Ancestors – Week 2018-16
Durand/Wilhelm
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.Some families are difficult to research because there aren’t many records about a family in a pioneer location. Other times there are too many people with the same name in a location. Such is the case of my Aunt Barbara’s maternal grandfather, Jacob F. Wilhelm. His father was also Jacob Wilhelm and his mother was Louise.  He married a Louise Lenz. There were also two other Jacob Wilhelms living in Chicago during the time of Jacob and his father. Separating them all is difficult, but I think I have it.

Research Durand 2018 – Ancestor #6

List of Grandparents

  • Grandfather: Jacob Frederick Wilhelm (1875-1943
  • 1st Great-grandfather: Jacob Wilhelm

Jacob Frederick Wilhelm (1875-1943)

Jacob Frederick Wilhelm was born on 1 July 1875 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. It appears that he was the oldest of two (known) children of Jacob and Louise Hanns (or Harrus) Wilhelm, both of whom were German immigrants. In 1870, Chicago was the fifth largest city in the United States with almost 300,000 people. When Jacob was born, Chicago was still recovering from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire had left nearly 1/3 of the city’s population (100,000 people) homeless.

Childhood

By C. D. Arnold (1844-1927); H. D. Higinbotham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Chicago World’s Fair – 1893
In the ensuing years between his birth and 1900, the population of Chicago grew to nearly 1.7 million, a growth of more than five times in 25 years. Most of these new immigrants were from Europe; however, many migrated from the eastern states also.[i]

In 1893, when Jacob was 18 years old, Chicago was host to the “World’s Columbian Exposition” (aka Chicago World’s Fair). More than 27 million people attended the fair; I have to imagine that young Jacob and his 16-year-old brother, George, had to have attended sometime during the event.

Marriage

Jacob married Louise Lentz on 18 March 1903 in Chicago. Like Jacob, Louise was the daughter of German Immigrants. It was the first marriage for both of them.

Jacob and Louise had five children

  • Elizabeth Born 1904, who married Harold Woolrich (or Wodrich).
  • Dorothy Born 1907 who married Richard Durand.
  • Edward Born 1911, (Marital status unknown)
  • Robert – Born 1923, who married Merla (unknown)
  • Louise – Born 1927, who married Charles Jordan

Adult

In 1910, Jacob and his wife were living at 5249 Carpenter Street with his two children and his brother George. Jacob is the foreman at a packing house.

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Fold 3 has many City Directories including Chicago.

It appears that by 1916, Jacob was working at a saloon at 5250 South Ashland Ave.[ii] By1917 Jacob had become a saloonkeeper at 2901 N. Kedzie Ave. Chicago. He lived upstairs and the saloon was downstairs.

Jacob was described as tall, with a medium build, gray eyes, and light brown hair. He was identified as having a paralyzed right arm and throat on his World War 1 draft registration, thus disqualifying him from service.

Google image of 2901 Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL
2901 Kedzie Ave. Today

There was probably nothing as disastrous to a saloonkeeper as Prohibition, which was ratified by the states in January 1919 and took effect on January 16, 1920. The 1920 Census, which was enumerated on 1 January 1920, shows Jacob as a storekeeper of a grocery store at 2901 N. Kedzie. His saloon was converted to a grocery store which he, and presumably his wife ran. His oldest daughter, Elizabeth, was working as a stenographer, and his younger daughter, Dorothy, and his son, Edward, were attending school.

The 1930 Census indicates the family was still at 2901 N. Kedzie, however, in 1930 it was a candy shop. Living with Jacob is his wife Louise and his son Edward who was working as an office clerk. His two youngest, Robert is attending school and Lois is only 2-1/2.

By 1940, the candy store appears to have shifted back to a retail grocery store. Jacob was the Storekeeper and his wife was a clerk. Their youngest children, Robert and Lois, are still living with them and are attending school.

It appears that sometime between 1940 and 1943, Jacob and Louise moved two blocks away to 2938 N Sawyer Avenue.

Death & Burial

Jacob F. Wilhelm died on 23 June 1943 of chronic myocarditis. According to his death certificate, he was buried at Fairmount Cemetery in [Willow Springs], Palos [Township], Cook County, Illinois.  Find-a-Grave did not have a memorial for Jacob Wilhelm, so I created a memorial and I have requested photos of his marker.

Story

On his social security application with the Chicago and North Western Railroad, Jacob’s son, Edward Clarence Wilhelm, indicated that his father’s middle name was “Ferdinan.”  I think this was in error. Edward’s maternal grandfather’s name was Ferdinand. I believe that Edward confused the two names. The best source I have for Jacob’s middle name is his World War I draft registration which indicates that his middle name was Frederick. Jacob saw this form, was literate and signed the registration indicating that he had verified the information and it was true.

————–  Disclaimer  ————–

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Endnotes

[i] Internet – Wikipedia – History of Chicago – Immigration and population in the 19th century.
[ii] City Directory, Chicago, 1916, Page 1747 – Jacob Wilhelm – Via Fold3


Additional Sources

  • 1910 Census, Jacob Wilhelm – Chicago, Cook, IL – ED 1281, Sheet 15A, Line 79. United States Census, 1910, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MK8Q-56T : accessed 1 May 2016), Jacob Wilhelm, Chicago Ward 29, Cook, Illinois, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 1281, sheet 15A, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration); FHL microfilm 1,374,288.
  • 1920 Census, Jacob Wilhelm – Chicago, Cook, ED 1677, Sheet 7B, Line 77. “United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MJQY-D31 : accessed 1 May 2016), Jacob Wilhelm, Chicago Ward 27, Cook (Chicago), Illinois, United States; citing sheet 7B,  NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration); FHL microfilm 1,820,340.
  • 1930 Census (NARA), Ancestry.Com, 1930 Census – Jacob Wilhelm – Chicago, Cook, Illinois. Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002.Original data – United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census.
  • 1940 Census, Ancestry.Com, Jacob Wilhelm – Chicago, Cook, IL – ED 103-2026, Sheet 2B, Line 75.
  • Illinois Certificate of Death – Number 18873, Jacob F. Wilhelm – Image from
  • City Directory (A), Ancestry.Com, Chicago – 1917 – Page 1919 – Jacob F Wilhelm.
  • Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947, Family Search, Death – Jacob F. Wilhelm – 23 Jun 1943. “Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NQPK-RR8 : accessed 1 May 2016), Jacob F. Wilhelm, 23 Jun 1943; Public Board of Health, Archives, Springfield; FHL microfilm 1,953,885.
  • Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920, Family Search, Jacob Wilhelm & Louise Lenz – 18 Mar 1903. “Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N7DW-2WB : accessed 1 May 2016), Jacob Wilhelm and Louise Lenz, 18 Mar 1903; citing Chicago, Cook, Illinois, 362375, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 1,030,349.
  • U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,Ancestry.Com, Jacob Fredrick Wilhelm. Registration State: Illinois; Registration County: Cook; Roll: 1613896; Draft Board: 64.

Ancestor Bio – Chester Parsons (1799-1887)

52 Ancestors – Week 2018-16
Brown/Sanford/Parsons

By Don Taylor

I never imagined I’d have an ancestor that there is just too much information available. Amazingly, I have more information about Chester Parsons and his life than I can keep up with. Ancestry, suggests there are 85 Ancestry Hints and 13 other public Ancestry Member Trees relating to Chester Parsons. Admittedly, five of those Ancestry Hints are from me because of one of those old trees, but still 80 Hints is more than I recall seeing elsewhere. I went through all of them, several weren’t clearly my Chester Parsons (1799-1887) and appeared to have been other Chesters. But still, there were a couple items I hadn’t seen before including a photo of Chester. I have several sources of information that I didn’t add to my tree because they didn’t add any new detail, instead confirmed information that I already had. But still, I ended up using 21 sources for information about Chester’s life.

Brown-Roberts Research 2017 – Ancestor #102

List of Grandparents

Chester Parsons (1799-1887)

Chester Parsons was born on 1 December 1799, the fifth child of John Parsons, Jr. and Mary Wolcott, in Sandisfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Chester’s siblings included:

  • Samuel –  Born 5 Apr 1787
  • Polly – Born 17 Jan 1792
  • Orrin – Born 6 Mar 1794
  • John – Born 5 May 1796

Childhood

Sometime shortly after his birth and before 1802, the family moved from Massachusetts to Windham, Greene County, New York. In April 1813, Chester’s father, John, died. It appears that older brothers Samuel and Orrin established their own households by the 1820 Census. I have not been successful determining where Chester, his sister Polly, his brother John or his mother, Mary, were during the 1820 Census. I suspect they were living with another family member whose surname was not Parsons.

Marriage

Chester married Deborah Buel Maben on 26 November 1824 in Greene County, New York.

They had eight children

  • Lucinda           Born 1825 in New York
  • James               Born 1826 in Michigan
  • Mary Electa   Born 1828 in Michigan
  • Alfred David  Born 1830 in Michigan
  • Harriet Eliza Born 1832 in Michigan
  • E. W.                 Born 1833 in Michigan
  • Sarah Jane     Born 1833 in Michigan
  • Melissa           Born 1843 in Michigan

Adulthood

In May 1826, Chester and his brother, Orrin headed west to Michigan Territory. The two of them purchased 160 acres of land in Saline Township on 1 November 1826. They built the first mill in the area as well as the first frame house.

The 1830 Census found Chester as the head of the household consisting of two males and three females. On 1 August 1831, Chester purchased 78.24 acres of land, and in 1837 he bought another 80 acres.

The 1840 Census found Chester’s household consisting of four males and six females. There is one male, age 50 to 60 and one female age 20 to 30 that are unknown and do not appear to be Chester’s children.

The 1850 Census finds the Chester Parsons household consisting of Chester, his wife, five of his daughters, one son, and four unrelated farm hands, although Zebe Fuller would marry his daughter Harriet.  Chester’s real property was valued at $7,800.

The 1860 Census finds a prosperous Chester Parsons living with his wife and two daughters. Also living in the household are two young females, ages 19 and 22 who are domestics as well as three farm laborers. Chester’s real property was valued at $12,500.

The 1870 Census finds Chester and his wife, Deborah, living alone. His real estate is valued at $21,000 and his personal property at $5,000.

Deborah died in 1874 at the age of 69. They had been married for nearly 50 years.

C. Parsons Home

Chester remarried on 11 November 1875 to the Widow Wakefield. Chester’s second wife, Jennette Arnold Wakefield, was 24 years younger than Chester.

The 1880 Census finds Chester and Jennett living together in Saline, Chester was 80 and Jennett was 56 and keeping house.

Chester died on 7 June 1887. He was buried at Benton Cemetery, in Plot 30 next to his first wife.

Chester’s property went through probate. Many of his children and grandchildren were mentioned in the various probate documents. There were auctions of his property as well. At one auction, on November 28th, 1890, 52 acres wheat on the ground sold for $6.95 per acre. Also, and a large number of farm implements. Sixty acres of timberland was sold to Sturm and Reeves. Also sold at the auction were 12 cows, 16 head young cattle, and seven horses,

Because Chester was an early pioneer in Saline Township he is often mentioned in various historical books, such as The History of Washtenaw County, and newspaper articles long after his death. According to them Orrin and Chester built the first sawmill in town in 1827, two miles south of the village. There is another story where Chester and Orrin were concerned that someone else might purchase the land they wanted, so they walked by an old Indian trail through the night to Monroe to acquire the property. Chester became the postmaster for Benton in 1835 and cut a road from Saline to Tecumseh road. He kept a hotel before the railroad was completed to Ann Arbor.

Page 437 of The History of Washtenaw County provides a portrait of Chester Parsons. (See above.)

Marker – Chester Parsons – Courtesy Find a Grave

Likewise, page 105 of York, Saline, Ypsilanti, Lyndon, Sharon (Mich.) Township residences, ca. 1874, provides an image of Chester Parsons’ house in Saline. (See above.)

I’ve found a photo of Chester, a birth record, a death record, two marriage records, presumably him in the 1800 Census and through all the Census records in his adult life, 1830 through 1880. I’ve found photos of his home, Bureau of Land Management records of his land purchases, his probate records, and maps showing his property during various years. Finally, stories about his life and activities abound.  His was a life well lived and I am proud to be descended from him.

Further Actions / Follow-up

  • The History of Washtenaw County, page 1406, indicates that Chester’s wife Deborah wrote a history of their move from New York to Michigan what recounted the “hardships and privations of their early pioneer life.” Apparently, she did not complete it, but I would love to find a copy of whatever might have survived from that writing.

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Sources

I have so many sources for Chester Parsons, I’ve decided to abbreviate the sources so that the sources aren’t longer than the article. Additional detail is available; however, the information provided should be sufficient to find the record.

  • 1800 Census – John Parsons Jr. – Sandisfield, Berkshire, Massachusetts (3rd from bottom).
  • 1830 Census – Chester Parsons – Saline, Washtenaw, Michigan Territory/
  • 1840 Census – Chester Parsons – Saline, Washtenaw, Michigan
  • 1850 Census – Chester Parsons – Saline, Washtenaw, Michigan
  • 1860 Census – Chester Parsons – Saline, Washtenaw, Michigan
  • 1870 Census – Chester Parson – Saline, Washtenaw, Michigan
  • 1880 Census – Chester Parsons – Saline, Washtenaw, Michigan
  • Daughters of the American Revolution, “Ancestor Search,” DAR, Buell, Grover – Patriot: A016639 – Member: Ruth Evelyn Hill Carr
  • Daughters of the American Revolution, “Ancestor Search,” DAR, Maben, John – Patriot: A072838 – Member: Ruth Evelyn Hill Carr
  • Chas. C. Chapman & Co. (2012). History of Washtenaw County, Michigan: Together with sketches of its cities, villages and townships, educational, religious, civil, military, and political history; portraits of prominent persons, and biographies of representative citizens: history of Michigan: embracing accounts of the pre-historic races, aborigines, French, English and American conquests, and a general review of its civil, political and military history – Pages 1370, 1371, 1373, & 1405.
  • Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620 – Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011 – Parsons.
  • Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1950 Ancestry.com – Chester Parsons – Died: 7 Jun 1887.
  • Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952, Ancestry.Com. – Chester Parsons – Jennett Wakefield.
  • The Saline Observer (Saline, MI)– Various repositories:
    • 1882-08-17, Page 3, Column 2, Para 16
    • 1890-11-20, Page 7 – Auctions – Chester Parsons
    • 1890-12-04, Page 5, Column 2, Paragraph 6 – Chester Parsons
    • 1890-12-18, Page 7, Column 3, Paragraph 19 – Chester Parsons
    • 1897-06-24, Page 5, Column 2, bottom –  Obit – Janette A Arnold [Parsons]

————–  Disclaimer  ————–

Schools I’ve Attended – Mumford – Detroit

My Life
Those Places Thursday
By Don Taylor

I lived in Detroit for a short while.  While there, I attended Mumford High School. It was one of the most challenging times in my life. My experiences in school, at work, and life in general, were mostly negative and difficult for many different reasons.

My stepfather was a mean drunk and beat on my mother frequently. Skinny, scrawny, fifteen-year-old me couldn’t do anything about it. I tried to stop him a couple of times, but he just smacked me into a corner and into submission. I didn’t realize at the time, but I learned years later that my mom miscarried during one of those regular beatings. Finally, one day mom packed my little sister, Sharon, me, and all she could fit into the car and started driving. I don’t think she knew where we were going at first but decided a few miles down the road when her head cleared a bit. She had left my step-father a couple of times before, only to go back to him after several weeks. This time she seemed serious; I was hoping. We headed east, lived in the car for a few days and drove the seven-hundred miles from Minneapolis to my mom’s hometown, Detroit. She didn’t have family or anyone there who could help, but she knew the city and knew she’d figure something out.

She found an apartment for us. It was an old, dilapidated place in a mostly industrial area. I don’t remember exactly where it was, but it was a very bad part of town at the time – I’m pretty sure it was on Third Avenue between Forest Ave and what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. There were many empty lots nearby with the rubble of a time long past. There were a couple old, 19th-century hotels remaining in the area that had been converted into apartments. We were in one of them. Behind the building was an empty lot and beyond that the John C. Lodge Freeway. I remember one night I was stopped for WWW (Walking While White) in a black neighborhood. The police stopped their patrol car, jumped out, pulled their guns, threw me up against a fence and want to know what I was doing in the area. Admittedly, I was wearing a large winter coat, much more coat than necessary for the weather, but it was the only one I had. I probably looked like a shoplifter. They searched me, determined I didn’t have any drugs or weapons, and finally let go. Having one cop hold a gun on me while the other searched my pockets was scary. God, would they not find anything and then plant something on me just to make an arrest. I was really afraid. That experience gave me an understanding of what “driving while black” (DWB) is like for people of color in this country. The exception is that their experiences are much worse and more common.

Sharon slept with my mom in the bed and I slept on the couch. The couch smelled like it came from the previous century, and I’m sure it probably did. It wasn’t ideal, but we were warm, dry, and had lots more room than we did living in the car. I enjoyed reading as a vehicle for escape and, like so many teenage boys, I read science fiction. Unfortunately, reading was impossible because the one 40-watt light bulb hanging from the ceiling barely lit the room and we had no other lamps. We couldn’t watch TV and cook on the hotplate at the same time because we had to be careful to not blow any fuses. The fuse box was in the basement, four stories down. The TV was so old that it had continuous tuning. Rather than stepping between channels like most TVs of the time, we tuned it like a radio. Between channels six and seven we could tune into FM Radio, airplane frequencies, even emergency radio transmissions.  Of course, the picture was horrid, but at least it was a diversion.

My mom found a job in Northwest Detroit – just beyond Highland Park and I think it was near Marygrove College. She decided it would be better for me to go to school out there rather than in the inner city. She worked at a dry cleaner and the owner’s mother watched Sharon, who was two at the time, during the day while mom worked. Mom used her work address as our home address so that I could go to a better school. I walked to Mumford High School and hurried to the cleaners afterward because I worked there also. I’d “mark-in, assemble, and bag.” The laundry, in those days, would mark a person’s clothing with an indelible pen identifying the owner. After the laundry was washed and pressed, I’d gather the entire order together (assemble) and then bag it up. Occasionally, I had to press shirts which I didn’t like doing. I wasn’t very good at it and was slow, but I had to do it when the work was backed up. I don’t remember how much I earned, but it wasn’t much – maybe 75 cents an hour. I worked from after school until closing when mom, my little sister and I drove home together, made something to eat on the hotplate. After that, we watch the blurry, flickering TV until bedtime. One time an irate customer pulled a gun and pointed it at mom, which really scared me. Luckily the guy’s wife made him put the gun away.

At Mumford, I encountered institutional racism for the first time. I was shocked that school had programs in place that separated students along racial and economic lines. The biology class I left in Minnesota before leaving was the same class at Mumford and used exactly the same textbooks. After a few days, I mentioned to the teacher that in Minnesota, the students did all the lab exercises, and wondered why the instructor did the lab work while we merely watched then answered the lab questions based on what we observed the instructor do. Oddly enough I was immediately put into “college prep” group that did the lab work. It wasn’t lost on me that the college preparatory group was mostly white. It was obvious that these students received a much better education and encouragement to succeed rather than shuffled through the system.

A couple of weeks later my stepfather showed up at school. He tracked us down by discovering that my school records had been transferred to Mumford and he drove there to retrieve us. He promised Mom and me that he wouldn’t hurt her again and swore he had quit drinking. My mom, like so many battered women, believed him, so we returned to Minnesota. He followed us all the way, probably to make sure she didn’t try to run again. One time we escaped to Billings, MT when he found us, he not only followed us all the way but pushed us at 60 miles per hour when Mom’s old clunker couldn’t make it up the hills fast enough for him.

Most of my stories bring back fond memories as I write, but this post is a catharsis rather than a joyful trip down Memory Lane. In writing this, I’ve finally processed many painful events that I haven’t thought of in decades. Our foray to Detroit taught me many things, including fear of the police and the existence of institutional discrimination. It also taught me the importance of working my way out of despair, which is one of the greatest lessons that my mother ever taught me.