Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ann Arbor, Michigan --- Where I grew up

by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.
I lived in Ann Arbor from 1952 through 1965 (sixth grade through my master’s degree from the University of Michigan (UofM)) — 13 years total.  I say this only to provide some perspective regarding this essay.  During that time my family moved twice.  We began our stay in a house at 701 Sunset Road high above the city (as high as you can go above a city in which there are no mountains, only minor hills) and ended our stay at 1476 Kirtland Drive (a Drive my parents named after Michigan’s Kirtland Warbler), in a house just blocks from what was then called Ann Arbor High School (Pioneer High School now).  All of my memories of Ann Arbor are positive, and that, too, colors the nature of this essay.
Our family moved from Raleigh, North Carolina, because my father changed jobs from North Carolina State University to the University of Michigan.  I completed my elementary grades (with the exception of sixth grade) in North Carolina — four in Chapel Hill (where my father taught at the University of North Carolina) and only one in Raleigh (fifth grade).
I don’t remember much about Chapel Hill or Raleigh, nor do I remember much about our move from North Carolina to Michigan.  Obviously, it wasn’t too traumatic, or you would think I would have some memory of it.  My memories of Ann Arbor, however, are quite vivid.  Perhaps that’s because my in-laws lived there, and after we moved from there we returned for visits on a regular basis.  After leaving Ann Arbor, my wife and I spent three years at Bloomington, Indiana (where I worked for my Ph.D.), then six years at Amherst, Massachusetts, where I taught in the Department of Speech Communication.
One of the vivid memories I have of Ann Arbor has to do with the parks.  In our first house, we lived just about a mile or a little more from West Park, and during winters they would freeze an area for ice skating.  I loved to skate.  I even skated when I could at the University of Michigan Ice Arena, and when our family moved from Sunset Road to Kirkland Drive, we were close to Almindinger Park, where the city would freeze an area for ice skating as well.  Many hours were spent at these various places, and I looked forward to winter for this reason.
I always had transportation, and seldom was I totally dependent on my parents to lug me around.  Whether it was a bicycle, motor scooter, or car, I had near-total independence.  I loved my freedom!  Also, I had a room in the basement of these houses, and because of that I could come and go as I pleased (within what was considered reasonable!).  Another thing that allowed me near-total freedom as I grew up in Ann Arbor was that I maintained excellent grades.  Never could my parents complain that all of my extracurricular activities nor my outside-of-school interests (I had many!) were negatively affecting my success in school.  I loved school, and I devoted myself to doing an outstanding job, but, that in no way conflicted with everything else.
I began work at 14-years-old, and during summers I worked full-time; however McDonald’s (among the first McDonald’s restaurants in the country!) had to be careful of how many hours they reported since there were restrictions regarding hiring minors.  When I worked there hamburgers were fifteen cents, fries were ten, and milkshakes were twenty.  I was, by far, the fastest “window man” they had (they hired only men!), and that was not just because of my speed in gathering together what customers requested, it was because I could so quickly add-up orders in my head.  When you’re dealing with products all in denominations of five, that is not an extraordinary task; however, considering many of the other workers at McDonald’s, you would not have wondered why their math skills were slightly deficient!  For most, school itself was.
Another of my vivid memories of growing up in Ann Arbor was my work in the Unitarian Church.  For several years I was the president of the Liberal Religious Youth (LRY).  During my tenure, I built the group into the largest body of youth the church had ever experienced.  There was a specific technique I used, and it had nothing to do with religion, prayer, or anything biblical.  My sister and I (and a group of my sister’s friends) loved to dance to rock n’ roll, so I not only had a portable record player, but I collected 45s.  I had the latest records and more than 500 of the little discs.
It was rock n’ roll music that attracted the youth to our gatherings.  Whether or not their parents came to church because their sons and daughters were interested was totally irrelevant to my activities.  I built a youth group on music and snacks — and a good time.  The youth loved it, and each gathering seemed to get larger and larger.  We met weekly in the basement of the church.
Sometimes, too, our group was invited to visit other LRY groups in the area.  We traveled a lot.  The two visits I remember most were to Birmingham, Michigan, and to Grosse Point.  In both cases, my memory is spurred by females whom I came to know in those groups.  In Grosse Point, the president of the LRY was the daughter of the pastor there.
Besides school, work, and the LRY, I ran around with two totally separate sets of friends.  The first set was all in my neighborhood around Sunset Road, and we would gather regularly to play pick-up football on Beechwood Drive.  We would choose-up sides, and often we would we redistribute members when things were going too well for one side or the other.  Those games were not only fun (they would go on for hours!), but they were totally free of quarrels, squabbles, and arguments.  We were just a group of neighborhood kids having a good time.  (There was David Shawaker, Eric Nagler, Bob Berkely, and Billy Dunlap — all regulars.  Mike Stabler would join us occasionally, and Don Mast (who was older) joined us a couple of times.  Anyone could join at any time, and we would just add them to one team or the other wherever the need seemed to be..)
My second group of friends I acquired because of my Lambretta — a luxury Italian motor scooter.  It was not the 150, which was top-of-the-line and faster than mine.  It was the 125.  But I loved it, and I kept it clean.  My friends, Jerry Green and Eldon Rice, had 150 Lambrettas, and although their motor scooters were faster than mine, that never mattered.  (We could easily go 50 or 60 mph.)  If anyone had any perspective on these associations, they might wonder how in the world would Dick Weaver ever be found “hanging out” with these guys?  We hung out at the Ann Arbor sales store for Lambrettas, rode around a lot, and just had fun.  Most of our “togetherness” had no purpose whatsoever, but we would visit the homes of “females of interest,” attend school functions, and find reasons for traveling to various places in and around Ann Arbor.
As you can see, I was an energetic youth.  You can also tell from just these descriptions, that I led an active life.  What made it particularly exciting was the variety.  I was never still, never bored, never unengaged.  For me, Ann Arbor holds wonderful, fulfilling, pleasant, and satisfying memories.
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There is a web site called Memories of Our Youth (November 20, 2010) where there is a very short essay, “Circle of Friends,” and a second essay, “25 Random Things,” that will stimulate your thinking about the past and your own youth.  (There are other short essays, too, which have little or no relevance.)

I put “Memories of Ann Arbor” into the Google search engine, and a University of Michigan History web site popped up, and the memories of Ann Arbor, here, are provided by Jim and Anne Duderstadt.  It is just an interesting read to see what a former president of the UofM thought of the place after moving there from Southern California.

There is a great web site for the Washtenaw County Historical Society, where the Museum Gift Shop advertises a large number of books about Ann Arbor.  Ordering information, of course, is provided there, too.
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Copyright August, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.


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