Sometimes when you at a census closely, you realize something in there is just not possible. Such is the case of Charles Selensky (aka Selefsky, Selefske, & Seleske) as he appears in the 1900 Census. His step-children just aren’t right.
Selensky, Charles Head May 1855 45 Married for 10 years.
___, Hattie Wife June 1857 42 Married for 10 years 3 Children, 3 Living
___, Otto Son Jul 1880 19
___, Adelia Dau. Dec 1883 16
___, Albert Son Mar 1886 14
Sauli, Anna Step-Dau Jan 1887 13
___, Walter Step-Son Mar 1888 11
___, Hugo Step-Son Nov 1897 2
Salensky Louise Mother June 1818 82 Wid 4 Children, 4 Living.
At first glance, it appears that Hattie had three children with a previous husband, and unknown Sauli (or Sante) There are three children with another surname and she had had three children, all of whom were living. Then I noticed that Hugo was only two years old but Charles and Hattie had been married for 10 years. Even though Hugo is identified as a Sauli, and is identified as a step-son, I’m confident that Hugo must be the child of Charles and Hattie and that the enumerator made a mistake.
So, I’m tentatively putting Hugo’s parents as Charles and Hattie and the other three children, Otto, Adelia (Ottilia), and Albert as the children of Charles and Unknown.
If you can think of another scenario that makes sense of this Census Record, I’d love to hear it.
52 Ancestors – Week 2018-32
By Don Taylor
Some names are both easy and difficult to follow. In the case of the Salefske line the surname is spelled, Salefske, Salefski, Salefsky, Salesky…. You get the idea, it was spelled by the individual who heard the name and guessed at the spelling. Ottilie’s siblings also appear to have taken on different spellings in many of their dealings. Sorting out what should be the surname and what should not is an exercise in futility. I’ll just go with Salefske for the surname and know that individual records may have virtually any surname spelling. Ottilie’s first name is also a mix of records, sometimes, it has one “t” sometimes two “l’s;” sometimes it is Tillie, Lillie, Tily, Matilda and even Adelia. All-in-all, I’ve given up trying to determine her first name as well. I’m spelling it as “Ottilie,” mostly because that spelling is more common than any of the others.
Dion-Spry 2018 – Ancestor #15
List of Grandparents
Grandmother: Viola Lorraine Spry (1908-2002)
1st Great-grandmother: Ottilie Rhine-Selefske
2nd Great-grandfather: Charles/Carl Salefske
3rd Great-grandfather: Frederick Salefske
Ottilie Salefske (1883-1975)
Ottilie Salefske was born in December 1883 in West Prussia, a province of the Kingdom of Prussia. After 1945, West Prussia became a part of Poland. Her father was Charles/Carl Salefske. It is unclear who her mother was. She and five of her siblings immigrated to the United States in 1888.[i]
She became a naturalized citizen when her father became a citizen in 1892.
In 1900, the 16-year-old was living at 246 Lovett, Detroit Michigan with her father (Charles); step-mother, Hattie; brothers Otto and Albert; a step-sister Anna; a step-brother Walter; and another brother, Hugo, who I believe to be a half-brother.
Sometime between 1901 and 1902, Ottilie married Thomas Frederick Spry.[iii]
Together they had four children
Ethel H Spry – Born 1902, Died 1985.
Unnamed boy – Born and died in 1904.
Viola Lorraine Spry – Born 1908.
Isabel Jean Spry – Born 1918.
The couple probably lived in Ypsilanti for a short time after marriage. Ethel and the unnamed boy were born there. The other two children were born in Detroit.
The 1910 Census finds the family at 671 Buchanan Street, Detroit.
By 1918, when Thomas registered for the draft, they were living at 1415 25th Street, Detroit.
The 1920 Census finds the family still at 1415 25th Street.[iv]
The 1930 Census finds Thomas and Ottilie renting at 5727 Missouri Avenue Living with then was their 11 year-old daughter, Isabel. Their daughter Viola was living with them while the whereabout of her husband, Albert Dion, is unknown.
The 1940 Census finds Thomas and Ottilie still at 5727 Missouri Ave, Detroit. Their daughter Violet, and Violet’s husband, Albert Dion, are living with them, as is their Granddaughter, Janet.
Death & Burial
Ottilie (Salefske) Spry died in October 1975. She was preceded in death by her father, Charles/Carl; step-mother, Hattie; Brothers Leo, Otto, and Hugo; sister Augusta; her husband, Thomas, and her unnamed child who died in 1904.
She was survived by her three daughters, Ethel, Viola, and Isabel.
1910 Census, Thomas Spry – Detroit, Wayne, Michigan – ED 211, Sheet 9B. Year: 1910; Census Place: Detroit Ward 14, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T624_686; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 0211; FHL microfilm: 1374699
1920 Census (A), Thomas Spry – Detroit, Wayne, Michigan. Year: 1920; Census Place: Detroit Ward 12, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T625_811; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 363.
1930 Census (NARA), 1930 Census – Michigan, Wayne, Detroit – ED 82-300, Sheet 12-A – Thomas Spry.
1940 Census, 1940 Census – Michigan, Wayne, Detroit, ED 84-527, Sheet 8B – Thomas Spry. 1940; Census Place: Detroit, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: m-t0627-01856; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 84-527
Michigan Births, 1867-1902, Ethel Spry – 3 Sep 1902. “Michigan Births, 1867-1902,” database with images, FamilySearch, Thos. F. Spry in entry for Ethel Spry, 03 Sep 1902; citing item 1 p 419 rn 1673, Ypsilanti, Washtenaw, Michigan, Department of Vital Records, Lansing; FHL microfilm 2,363,098.
Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952, Albert Dian & Viola Spry – 17 May 1927.
S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, Isabel Jean Spry – 7 Aug 1918. Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data: Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007.
S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, Ottilie Spry – 1883-1975 – (No Image). Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2014.
Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration.
S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Thomas Frederick Spry. “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch, Thomas Frederick Spry, 1917-1918; citing Detroit City, Michigan, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,675,372.
[i] The 1900 Census indicates she arrived in 1888 and had been in the US for 11 years.
The 1910 Census indicates she arrived in 1886.
The 1930 Census indicates she arrived in 1887.
[ii] The 1900 Census indicates the surname for Anna, Walter, & Hugo was Sauli. It is very difficult to read. Hugo’s obituary establishes Walter’s surname as Janke. I assume that Anna’s surname was the same. Leo’s obituary identifies Walter’s surname as Salefske. So I suspect Walter went by both surnames during his life.
[iii] The 1910 Census indicates the couple had been married for eight years.
[iv] The 1920 Census indicates they were renting at 1417 25th. 1415 and 1417 are the same building. I believe the Draft Registration is more likely correct.
The oldest of my half-brothers (I now have four known half-brothers) asked if I might take a look at his maternal line (we share a common father). Of course I said, “Sure,” and started on my merry way researching. I began with his great-grandfather, Thomas Frederick Spry. I learned that Thomas didn’t live to 100, or even 99 as many records indicate. He lived to be 98, dying two days before his 99th birthday.
Research Family 2017 – Ancestor #14
List of Grandparents
Grandmother: Viola Lorraine Spry
1st Great-grandfather: Thomas Frederick Spry
2nd Great-grandfather: Johny M Spry
Thomas Frederick Spry (1875-1974)
Thomas Frederick Spry was born in Michigan (probably Detroit) on 19 May 1875. He was the fifth of nine known children of Johny M. and Catharine Spry. Ulysses S Grant was president and shortly after Thomas’ birth President Grant announced he would not run for a third term.
Thomas’ siblings included:
Benjamin F. Spry
Robert J Spry
Thomas Frederick Spry
19 May 1875
Harry (or Henry) Spry
The 1880 Census shows the entire family living at 538 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, Mich. Johny, Catharine, and all seven children were living together. Today 538 Michigan Ave is a parking ramp.
By 1895, the 20-year-old Thomas worked as a press feeder and boarded at 134 Locust, the same place as his older brother Benjamin. He was listed as being a printer in the Detroit 1898 City Directory living at 81 Plum Street. If you were heading east on the Fisher Freeway and took the off-ramp to the John C. Lodge Freeway, 81 Plum Street is about where the split to go north or south on the John C. Lodge Freeway is today. (Across the Lodge freeway from the MGM Grand.).
Thomas had been an usher for his oldest sister, Alice’s wedding and the family ties seem to have been close. The 1900 Census finds Thomas, and his brother Benjamin, living with their sister Alice, her husband and her five kids at 1027 Hudson Ave. Today, most of this part of Hudson Ave is replaced by the E. Edsel Ford Freeway.
Thomas married Ottilie Saleske in 1901. Ottilie was also known as Tillie, Lillie, Tilly, and even Matilda in various records. Likewise, Ottilie’s surname is spelled Saleski and Salesky in different documents.
The Four Children of Thomas and Ottilie Spry
Date of Death
Ethel H Spry
03 Sep 1902
07 Apr 1985
Baby Boy Spry
26 May 1904
26 May 1904
Viola Lorraine Spry
06 Dec 1908
28 Jun 2002
07 Aug 1918
04 Dec 1992
It isn’t clear exactly when, but by 1902, when their first daughter, Ethel, was born, the couple was living 30 miles away in Ypsilanti. Thomas was still working as a printer, an occupation he would have his entire adult life.
In 1904 tragedy struck. Ottilie had a baby boy on 26 May 1904; the child only lived 5 hours. It appears that shortly the baby’s death the family moved back to Detroit.
The 1910 Census finds Thomas and Otillie living at 671 Buchanan St. Thomas. With them are their two children Ethel and Viola. Also living with them is Otillie’s brother, Otto.
The 1916 Detroit City Directory indicates that Thomas had his print shop, Spry Printing Company located at 50 Woodward. Today, that location is known to have a marvelous statue known as “The Spirit of Detroit.” The statue was the largest bronze statue cast since the Renaissance when it was installed in 1958. I’ll never be able to see facsimiles of the statue on Detroit city vehicles and offices without thinking of Thomas Spry’s print shop. When Thomas registered for the World War I draft, he was 5’5-1/2” tall, medium build, blue eyes and he had light hair.
In 1920, Thomas was renting a home at 1417 25th, Detroit and he was working as a printer. Living with him was his wife and his three daughters, Ethel, Viola, and Isabel.
Before 1930, Thomas and family had moved again, this time to 5727 Missouri Ave, Detroit. The Missouri Street house was a two-story home with nearly 4,000 square feet of living space. Living with him are his wife and two of his daughters. Viola and Isabel. Viola had married three years before; I don’t know why Viola and Albert Dion were living apart. By 1938, Thomas had moved his printing shop to the 3rd floor of 216 Monroe. (Today this is a vacant lot at the corner of Monroe and Randolph Street—across from the Cadillac Center People Mover Station.)
Daughter Viola was joined by her husband and they had a daughter. In 1940, the three of them were living with Thomas and Ottilie in the house on Missouri Ave.
Thomas Frederick Spry died on 21 May 1974. He was survived by his wife and his three daughters. His burial location is unknown.
1880 Census, Family Search, 1880 – Johny M Spry – Detroit, Wayne, Michigan – ED 295, Page 42. Year: 1880; Census Place: Detroit, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: 613; Page: 45B; Enumeration District: 295.
1900 Census (FS), Family Search, 1900 – Thomas Salmoni – Detroit, Wayne, Michigan. “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M917-3KH : accessed 6 May 2018), Thomas Salmoni, Detroit city Ward 12, Wayne, Michigan, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 141, sheet 13A, family 294, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,240,752.
1910 Census, Other, Thomas Spry – Detroit, Wayne, Michigan – ED 211, Sheet 9B. Year: 1910; Census Place: Detroit Ward 14, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T624_686; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 0211; FHL microfilm: 1374699
1920 Census (A), Ancestry.Com, Thomas Spry – Detroit, Wayne, Michigan. Year: 1920; Census Place: Detroit Ward 12, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T625_811; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 363.
1930 Census (NARA), Ancestry.Com, 1930 Census – Thomas Spry Head – Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, Precinct 16.
1940 Census, Ancestry.Com, Thomas Spry, Head. 1940; Census Place: Detroit, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: m-t0627-01856; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 84-527.
City Directory (A), Com, Detroit, Michigan – 1895, Page 1279 – Spry. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
City Directory (A), Com, Detroit, Michigan – 1898, Page 1382 – Spry. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
City Directory (A), Com, Detroit, Michigan – 1900, Page 1470 – Spry. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
City Directory (A), Com, Detroit, Michigan – 1906, Page 1980 – Spry. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
City Directory (A), Com, Detroit, Michigan – 1916, Page 3671 – Spry. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
Michigan Births, 1867-1902, Family Search, Ethel Spry – 3 Sep 1902. “Michigan Births, 1867-1902,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NQFN-9XY : 10 March 2018), Thos. F. Spry in an entry for Ethel Spry, 03 Sep 1902; citing item 1 p 419 rn 1673, Ypsilanti, Washtenaw, Michigan, Department of Vital Records, Lansing; FHL microfilm 2,363,098.
S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, Ancestry.Com, Thomas Spry (1874-1974). “United States Social Security Death Index,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JYKD-8PF : 20 May 2014), Thomas Spry, May 1974; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Ancestry.Com, Thomas Frederick Spry. “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K6XQ-X74 : 13 March 2018), Thomas Frederick Spry, 1917-1918; citing Detroit City, Michigan, United States, NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,675,372.
For this week’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’m looking at several vaudeville clippings from three different pages of the Donna Darling Collection. All of them relate to the Colonial Theater. One to the Colonial Theater in Lancaster, PA. The second one the Colonial Theater in Washington DC, and the third Colonial theater in Detroit, MI. Determining the various locations and dates was challenging but led to new words for my vocabulary and some amazing finds.
Lancaster, PA – Colonial Theater
The first venue was easy to analyze. Donna wrote on the clipping “Lancaster Pa Apr. 15.” It appears that she also wrote “Intelligence.” but I have no idea what that might mean in this context.
Colonial – Keith Vaudeville – Best in the World Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday—April 17, 18, 19 Special Easter Show Miss Donna Daring and Co…. Bruce Morgan and Tom Moran, Valentine Vox, Transfield Sisters, [Movie] “Haunted Spooks: A Two-reel Lloyd Comedy…
PROGRAM AT COLONIAL STARTS WITH WHIRL
Yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s program at the Colonial Theatre, opened with a whirl at last evening’s show. “A Song, A Dance and a Cocktail,” was the feature of the show. Miss Dona Darling eclipsed the limelight in brightness, wit and personality of exceptional quality combined with a vein of rascality that had the audience in constant bursts of amusement.
The rest of the program….
Donna Darling and Company was a show that she had during 1922. A quick check of a 1922 calendar confirmed that April 17th, 18th, and 19th, were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in 1922. Then on Cinema Treasures, I confirmed that there was once a Colonial Theater in Lancaster, PA. It opened before 1914 and later became the Boyd Theater. Besides the newspaper ad there were two short write-ups regarding the show. This was a new date and location for me. Of particular interest is that the newspaper clearly says, “Donna Daring.” This is a new search parameter for me to use in the future.
Washington, DC – Colonial Theater
Colonial Theater – Two Shows 2 P.M., 7:30 Tom Rooney Presents Donna Montran and Her California Bathing Beauties presenting “A Classy Beach Promenade” An Up to the Minute Musical Tabloid A Carload of Scenery and Fetching Costumes
Also, on the bill:
Little Dolly Dimples and her “Man O’ Wars Man”
Taylor & Brown – Daring Doings Herbert Trainor – Pleasing Magic Davis & Kidaire “Make ‘em Smile Boys” [Movie] Alice Calhoun Vtagraph [sic] Favorite in Princess Jones (6 Parts)
The second clipping was dated March 15th. Donna still went by Montran and she did her California Bathing Beauties in 1921. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of March 1921 were the 14th, 15th, and 16th. Her mentioning it was the Washington papers that the ad ran in, tightens the location to the Colonial Theater in Washington, DC.
Detroit, MI – Colonial Theater
Featured in Vaudeville
The following features are announced for the week by the leading vaudeville houses:
Temple –May Wirth….
Colonial – A beautifully stages singing and dancing act in a futuristic version of the nether regions[ii], offered by Donna Darling, former Follies performer, is to headline the vaudeville. Miss Darling and Sammy Clark are both well known stars of terpischore[iii] and are assisted in the act by Barring, Lazure and Hal Dixon. Other acts include…. The Colonial announces a special New Year’s eve show, starting at midnight.
This third clipping confused me a bit. I misread the last sentence which says, “The Colonial announces a special New Year’s eve show, starting at midnight.” I misread that it to mean the special show was while Donna was playing there. I searched and searched for a place that had both a Temple Theater and a Colonial Theater. I could only find two places, Chicago and Detroit. Being in Detroit during the holidays made sense as Donna’s mother lived there. I found she played at the Palace Theater in Rockford during Christmas and at the Orpheum in Des Moines in New Years. During my search I used many new search parameters to look for Donna. I ended up finding well over a hundred new dates and venues. It was truly amazing what I found. I have added the new dates and venues to my Donna Montran page.
I eventually came to the conclusion that the note regarding a New Year’s Eve show doesn’t apply to Donna’s show.
Three new dates and venues directly identified because of Donna’s Colonial Theater clippings.
Mar 14-16, 1921 – Washington, DC – Colonial Theatre – Donna Montran and her California Bathing Beauties. DDC Part 27
April 17-19, 1922 – Lancaster, PA – Colonial – Donna Daring and Co., DDC Part 27
December 19, 1926 – Detroit, Michigan – Colonial – Donna Darling Revue – DDC Part 27 – Also see: Genealogy Bank
There were also over 100 new dates and performance venues I discovered while doing this research. They have been applied to the Donna Montran Vaudeville Page.
Genealogy Bank was used extensively during this research.
Further search my newspaper sources for “Donna Daring.”
[i] I have cropped and sized all images for the web – Original scan’s available.
[ii] Wikipedia – Hell, the Underworld, or any place of darkness or eternal suffering
[iii] [sic] “terpischore” should be terpsichore – Wikipedia – In Greek mythology, Terpsichore (/tərpˈsɪkəriː/; Τερψιχόρη) “delight in dancing” was one of the nine Muses and goddess of dance and chorus. She lends her name to the word “terpsichorean” which means “of or relating to dance”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terpsichore
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.