Stomping Grounds: Part 1

We all have those places where we grew up, that we can look back on, and be a little sentimental about.  I can count about five in my life (so far!).  If I counted the homes I have lived in, I think that would be seven.  For the first one of those I was just a baby, and for the second, I have only a few vague memories of.  Okay…here it goes.  I have a serious confession to make: I was born in the South!  And no, I am not proud of that!  My birthplace was in Paducah, Kentucky.  Again, I have zero memories of it.  My father’s job had transferred him there not too long before I was born, and we lived there until I was 18 months old, I think.  At that time, my dad’s job transferred him yet again; and this time “up north.”  On to the Great Lakes we went!

Before my family moved to the great state of Michigan, we had no roots there at all.  No connection to people there.  It’s amazing how much that one job transfer paved the way for the rest of my life.

Saginaw, Michigan would be my hometown for the next seven years of my life.  I really did like Saginaw.  It was a good size city, but definitely not too big either.  At first, we lived in a duplex about fifteen minutes north of town, in Freeland.  The only memories I have of there are not all that great–I fell off of railing I was climbing up, and I couldn’t play on my swing for a while because the Tittabawassee River had just flooded into our backyard.  Not much more than a few years did we live there when we got our first house on Dale Road, Saginaw, Michigan.

Aerial View

Our good old house in the “Township” (Saginaw Township, to be exact).  It was a nice bi-level home in a quaint neighborhood–less that a mile away from the city limits.  I have plenty of memories from there: the list would last forever!  It was in this house that I accepted Jesus as my Saviour as an eight-year-old.  I can remember my dad taking my sister and I on bike rides constantly.  It was such a treat for us to ride to one of the nearby 7-11 convenience stores and grab a little candy!  The really big treat was riding to McDonald’s, getting a Happy Meal, and playing in the Playplace.  It seems like we rode our bikes everywhere!

We also had an in-ground pool at our house.  Before we moved there, my dad was planning on filling in the pool, fearing for our safety.  Then, I think he thought of how fun it would be, and figured that he would just teach us how to swim instead.  So, soon after moving in, we were taught how to swim the old-fashioned way: just throw the kid in the shallow end until they figure out they can float and paddle!  So there I was as at four years, and my sister at two, already “masters” at swimming.

Some of the best days were fall afternoons and evenings.  There was an awesome apple orchard that wasn’t too far away where we could get fresh cider and cake donuts.  Unfortunately now, that same orchard has been so commercialized that it is but a shadow of its former self.  Currently there’s a golf resort, huge gift shop, and hotel.  This is what it is today.  Oh well!  I still like the simple cider mill and rows of apple trees.

Saginaw is a city of contrasts separated by the wide Saginaw River.  It started as the lumber capital of the state, and midway through the last century, began to see a severe downward spiral.  The eastern side of the river became a crime-ridden slum, while the west side tried to maintain its identity as much as possible.  It’s probably still like that today, and even worse.  When I lived there in the early 90’s, there was still some of the automotive industry; now there is virtually none.  The city is still shrinking.

Of course, I didn’t know about any of that as a kid.  I just knew that I loved to get a donut from “Dawn Donuts” on a weekend morning.  At that time of my life, I didn’t appreciate good food yet.  My top restaurants were still McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Chuck-e-Cheese’s.  I do remember, though, Guido’s Pizza.  The funny thing is, I hated it because it was so thick!  Pizza was supposed to be thin!  Little did I know that it would be the first taste of my now favorite “Chicago Style” pizza.

I started school in Saginaw at Plainfield Elementary.  I think that I fit right into school.  I liked the friends, playing on the playground, and yes: learning.  There I learned some of the public school stupidity.  In gym class, we learned to square-dance for a whole three months.  In reading, we got to learn all about Frog and Toad’s “feelings.”  My second grade teacher taught us all how great President Clinton was.  In second grade, soon after we started going to church, the teacher held up a small box for all of us to see.  In it, she said, was the most important person in the world!  We all were in awe of what might be in there.  She asked for guesses on who it was.  I was the first one to raise my hand, and of course, being a new Christian, I knew that God was the most important person in the world; so I said who I thought was in the box: “God!”  “No,” the teacher said.  “He isn’t real.”  Another few kids guessed incorrectly as well after me, until the teacher finally answered the question herself.  She opened up the box, and in it was a mirror.  “Who is in that mirror?,” she asked.  “You are.  You are the most important person in the world.”  That, my friends, is the fundamentally flawed philosophy of public schools and the world today.

Thankfully, just a month into my second-grade year, my parents enrolled me in the Christian school that was administered by our church.  There I learned cursive writing and real phonics for the first time.  I am eternally grateful that my parents took me out of the government school system at such a young age, and that I was able to have a well-rounded, God-centered education the rest of the way up.

At church, for the first time I was introduced to things like AWANA, missions, cantatas, and progressive dinners.  This post isn’t necessarily a testimony, so I will just save that for another time.  I had and excellent second-grade teacher, and a lot of good friends at that church and school.  On the contrary, one of my friends was home schooled.  To me, it was one of the craziest things I had ever heard of!  “For real,” I thought.  “Your mom teaches you???  You get to be done at lunchtime!”  I didn’t know that it would be me in the same situation several years from then.

We moved away from Saginaw when I was eight, and yes, I missed it and didn’t want to move at first.  However, I still visited my dad every other weekend there until I was sixteen; so I guess I kind of lived there until then.  Saginaw will always be a part of me.  I learned so much there, have a multitude of memories, and will always call it one of my homes.