Still Cool to One Girl
May 24, 2010
Dear Big Fox.
I spent last night in the city and finally got my father to talk about growing up in Detroit. He drove me by the house where he was raised, a duplex across from the baseball diamond in Clark Park. As we passed what are now taquerias and supermercados, he talked about Bagley being a different type of shopping center. For once, there was no judgement in his voice. His old neighborhood has stood the test of time, changing hands from immigrant group to immigrant group. Before Grandma Mary occupied the duplex on the park, she had a difficult time finding a landlord that would lease to a single woman with three kids. As you know, Grandma Mary had already been married a few times before she met my father’s father. Aunt Mary’s father was a young sailor named Hernandez whom Grandma Mary fell hopelessly in love with while still living in Windsor. Grandma Mary also met my father’s father in Canada, where the lout remained after being deported for rum running. My father does not talk of his father, but the family rumor is that once the Ambassador Bridge was built between Windsor and Detroit, he would occasionally walk across to visit my father, his brother, and Mary. You can still see the bridge from the stoop of the Clark Street house.
My dad always describes himself as a “mean” kid. While we are eating at one of the Mexican restaurants on Bagley I ask him if he was mean like me. “Meaner” he says and tells a story about smashing the windows out of his Uncle Joe’s new car when he was refused a ride. Mom interjects, “Uncle Joe was mean, too. I am sure he did something to deserve it.” It is not like Mom to defend my father in this way. I think she was caught up in his nostalgia. I noticed she would sometimes try to take the reigns of the story away from him, connecting who was related to who, how many siblings my grandma had, who was first to traverse the sea in the infamous Queen Mary. I let her talk, but direct my questions at Dad. He was talking in a low voice and acting like he couldn’t hear, a trick of his to get out of engaging in a conversation. I just had to pull at the right strings to get the stories flowing. I take after my dad in many ways, we both like to tell grandiose stories about ourself.
All my father’s cousins tell me we look alike. Steven looks like mom’s side of the family with my dad’s coloring, mother’s ruddy skin. As we get older we look more like brother and sister. I take after the Connor women, that ivory skin. The red hair could come from anywhere, our mom’s kin kicking up dust from the South or the Irish cop who is rumored to be my great-great-grandfather. “The Connors are a bunch,” my dad says. “A bunch of liars!” mom confirms. The lies and exaggerations from my paternal family are not meant to harm anyone, they are not those kinds of lies. I come from a family of charmers. They tell lies to amuse themselves, to amuse others, to keep from being bored. They are a bunch of distracted storytellers.
If nothing else, this craft is something I come by honestly.
I love the city. Even hearing its name announced over the speaker at Chicago’s Union Station made me tear up a little. If my father ever had any patience with Detroit, it has long since left him. Mom always claims an allegiance to Downriver, something I will never know or feel. The history of this city is the history of us, Detroit’s illegitimate biographers.
Your birthday was last week, May 20th. I am sorry this is coming to you late. I know you will always be there for me, especially when I need you most, when I am not looking for you, when I am being reckless.