When anyone from the East or West End of Dearborn hears the name "Southend Dearborn" immediately (at least from my own experience) what comes to mind is "The other side of the tracks". I lived in the Southend from the time that I was born until I was nearly twelve years old before my parents sent my twin brothers and I to boarding school in Lebanon. So when I hear this expression (even as a joke) I really don't take much offense to it as much as I think that maybe there is this misconception of our old neighborhood that needs to be clarified.
When I came back to the states at a little over sixteen years old and boarded the bus to Fordson High School the look on everyone's faces was bemusing. There were whispers and pointing of fingers as everyone wondered if it really was me. When the door of the bus opened to let us out at the Horger entrance of the school, a small crowd had gathered and I wondered what the commotion was all about. It turned out that the commotion was for me as old friends and acquaintances pounced on me. It made my transition back to the states so much easier. That's just the way the Southend worked. No one ever forgot their friends and neighbors.
Much of my childhood in the Southend was pretty normal, much like the fifties where neighborhood kids hung out together and played baseball in empty lots. At the nearby Canterbury Park in the summer, you couldn't miss a day without going there as you would feel as if you had missed something important. In the winter, our skates were shined and sharpened as we spent our evenings circling the ice rink. My late older brother who worked for the City at the time managed the rink and would often stop the hockey players from hogging up the ice to allow us younger kids to skate freely without fear of harm.
Lapeer Park was of course, the highlight of our summer with its pool and most of the neighborhood hanging out. If you were lucky like we were, your parents owned a trailer or rented a tent and headed out to Camp Dearborn. Even there families from the Southend placed their temporary summer housing next to one another and enjoyed late nights of camp fires, early morning Chicken Dances and Canteen hangouts. Years later, our spring break vacations were often spent together in Hollywood, Florida and to this day, you can catch a glimpse of 50-60 Southenders at a time catching a tan at Garfield Beach.
I can still remember the late night coffee and cake gatherings and the complaints each mother had about their kids running a muck. Most parents bragged about their kids but not ours. Each one would try to out do the other on who had the most troublesome and what punishment they used to discipline us. When it came to our education, they were pretty liberal with us. They would come to Salina School and tell the teachers and principal to punish us any way they saw fit, if we got out of line. Our teachers loved that about our neighborhood as they knew that all they had to do was call our parents or even threaten to and we would quickly straighten up.
Our parents were also very protective and involved. I recall when a fight broke out in the middle of the main stairs between two older neighborhood girls, the crowd was so massive, it took a long time for me to go out to my mothers waiting car. Once I got out there, she demanded to know why I was late and I told her what was going on. Without even thinking my mother put me in the back seat of the car and stormed into the school. No sooner than a blink of an eye, the crowd started to break up and my mother holding on to one of the girls, stuffed her in the back seat with me and took her home.
No matter where we were, Southenders watched one another's backs. If you happened to walk home from school alone, your friend's older sibling would make you walk with them. In fact, they would treat you no different than if you were family. When you came to a friend or neighbor's house you ate what they ate and you did as they did. What was so great about the Southend is that our parents were friends, our older siblings were friends and it continued down onto the rest of the generation that came later. Our children were the last of the Mohicans as they say. They too talk about the unity of the Southend and how much they miss it.
Since most of our parents or grandparents came to this country from various parts of the world because of Ford Motor Company we were all extremely close friends. The common ground we had was that everyone was looking for a better life whether you were Lebanese, Italian, Polish, Puerto Rican or Yemen. What many people didn't know was that a lot of powerful quiet people lived in the South End and almost no one was ever unemployed if you knew who they were.
There was this sense of belonging that is hard to explain. Not like today, where kids believe their followers on Twitter or Instagram or their "fans" on Facebook are their friends. There was real interaction and communication and we all thought we were the same. There was no stereotyping or fear of the other's culture.
Southend friendships have lasted well over 40 or 50 years. Just recently, members of our old community formed a reunion of Salina School that was not only a success but probably one of its kind as Salina School was just an elementary and junior high school back in the seventies. Most reunions are boring and stuffy. Not ours. There were hugs and high fives and talk of how much we missed growing up together. We reminisced about the old days when parents chased us out of gardens and apple trees, when we broke neighborhood windows with our baseball and the things kids do at Halloween. We talked about how safe our neighborhood was as we could sleep with the door wide open and no one dared to invade our homes. We also remembered and honored the many teachers who came to the reunion and who never forgot any of us.
I ride through the Southend today and it has changed. I pause momentarily in front of Canterbury Park. There is no more ice rink, no more towering Rocket Ship, no more ball on a pole, no more picnic tables for arts and crafts and no more kids laughing and playing without a care in the world.
I can still remember how Rhonda Berry pushed me out of the Detroit Free Press picture for the unveiling of the Rocket even after the reporter told her he wanted me in the picture because I was cute and little. I also think about the little gangs we formed and how sometimes like kids do, we get into heats of battle. I smile and remember Brenda Lowe pinning me to the ground and how I managed to con her into getting off of me by reminding her of how "tough" I was.
Of course, my fondest memory is of my dad walking home after a card game at the coffee house. He would stop at the corner drug store to pick up Hostess Cupcakes and Twinkies just to lure us home before the street lights came on.
Maybe we were from the other side of the tracks but it was "our side" and we loved every inch of it.