Not long ago, a friend of my dad’s gave him a kitchen table and chairs to dispose of. A nice set – farmhouse-style, relatively newish looking, consisting of a beechwood topped table with three matching chairs. Rather than seeing it tossed into a landfill he asked me if my best friend and her husband, who live in Hamtramck, would like it. Of course they said yes, so one evening last month after dinner I helped my dad load the set into the back of his pickup truck and we set off south towards Hamtown, as it’s affectionately known by the locals.
My father was born in Detroit in 1925 and grew up in Hamtramck, which, at the time and up until the 1980’s, was a haven for Polish immigrants. There are still a lot of Polish people in Hamtramck, but it is definitely more multicultural today. He lived there until he went off to join the Navy during World War II, and it is to Hamtramck he returned when the war was over. Although we live a mere 15 minutes away, he doesn’t get down to the old neighborhood much. There’s no reason to. In fact, I don’t remember the last time he was in Hamtramck. So when he decided to take the “scenic route” to my friend’s house, I didn’t say anything, but just smiled to myself.
Hamtramck is pretty easy to get to from my neighborhood – westbound I-696 to southbound I-75, straight to the Holbrook-Caniff exit. However, rather than take this (read: faster) route, we took Mound Road, which ends at Mt. Elliot and takes you directly into the east end of Hamtramck. Once we passed McNichols my dad stepped into his past. I could see the look in his eyes change, going back in time. His eyes are still blue but they have seen so much since his days as a towheaded boy growing up during the Great Depression. He told me how he and his friends used to play baseball in the cemetery, which had a lot more open space back then, as it wasn’t as occupied with the graves of those who came before. We came to the oddly named Simon K Street, and turned right to drive past Transfiguration Catholic Church, which is now the seat of the newly named Blessed John Paul II Parish. He told me of how he went to Catholic school there for the first eight years of his education and how his family would walk to the church for Mass from their home just a couple blocks away. Continue reading