My 60th high school reunion is taking place this summer, the same time as my grandson’s Bar Mitzvah in Boston. I thought about going before the conflict was apparent, but several of my childhood friends have died or are listed as “missing.” I attended my 10th reunion, which was interesting in that pre-Facebook and social media era, because it was the only way I could find out what had happened to my classmates. By subsequent reunions, I was busy with family and career. Unlike my brothers, who settled near where we had grown up and maintained ties with some friends, I have no one left in my hometown other than my siblings, their children and grandchildren, and a smattering of cousins. Can I really go home again when I don’t even remember that life very well?
If home is the place “where everybody knows your name,” where you have friends that date back over 50 years, Evanston is my home town.
I was raised to revere the Motor City. Even after my family moved to Oak Park, a suburb of Detroit, my parents continued to worship everything Detroit represented. My father bought a new GM car every two to three years, working his way up from Chevy to Buick to Cadillac. The Tigers game played in the background at dinner most nights. Detroit bagels were the best, along with restaurants like Coney Island and Buddy’s Pizza (square cut pieces). Getting around was easy due to the ubiquitous Mile Roads that cross Detroit and its suburbs. Nothing was finer than the shops on Woodward, the Fox Theater, and the Art Institute. But growing up, I wondered, if Detroit was such a mecca, why were people I knew moving to suburbs father and farther away?
The things I loved about my original hometown were quite different from my parents’ list. When my cousin and I took the bus downtown to see the orthodontist, we rewarded ourselves with Sander’s hot fudge sundaes. Sadly, that cousin died several years ago. Downtown Hudson’s Department store was fun for looking. Dates in high school included trips to see the Motown Revue, featuring Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Temptations, and Little Stevie Wonder. How I loved that music.
I lived in Detroit until I was just shy of 18, and then in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan for four years, coming home for three of those summers. After that, I left my hometown in 1967 and moved to Chicago before settling in Evanston, the closest suburb north of the city, in 1974. Considering I have lived in Evanston for almost 50 years, I guess it qualifies as my chosen hometown. I raised my family here. I was a community volunteer here. I returned to college for my Masters in early childhood education here. I started Cherry Preschool here. And most recently, I moved to a condo here, just five minutes away from the home I lived in for 45 years.
Evanston is my true community, warts and all. I first discovered the importance of community in Ann Arbor and had hoped to live there. When my husband’s career post medical school was based in Chicago, we looked for a college town with a similar atmosphere. Evanston, home to Northwestern University, fit the bill. While some folks here called it “Heavanston,” I saw it as a community that was striving to be welcoming and equitable and often falling short. I had no illusions that it was perfect, as my parents saw Detroit. But I met many good people working to make it better, and I tried to do my small part in that effort.
In 2015, Evanston was named one of best 20 towns in America, but that is only true of some parts of the city. While Evanston’s population is diverse, its housing is often segregated. This has sadly been true for all of the years we have lived here. The community works on issues of equity, inclusion, and closing the achievement gap in the schools with mixed results. Over the years, I have tried to help with this effort by serving on school task forces and through my work with the preschool. I wish I could say things are better, but there is still a long way to go.
Still, this is my hometown. I love it for the amazing people I have met here and its overall caring heart and beauty. One of my kids still lives here with her family. I know the other two still refer to it affectionately as E-town. The truth is, I can’t go home again. Aside from family, there is no one there to link me to my past. If home is the place “where everybody knows your name,” where you have friends that date back over 50 years, I will always think of Evanston as my home town.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.
Wonderful description of Detroit, Laurie (we rarely went downtown, even when living there, but those Sanders hot fudge sundaes…wow, even the Bumpy Cake- yum!). We went to stores in Northland and I LOVED listened to Motown, but never saw any of those artists in person, much to my regret.
I do appreciate your reflection on changing your idea of “hometown”, now that you’ve lived in Evanston for most of your life, worked there, raised children there, etc. Like you, I’ve lived in Newton far longer than anywhere else and haven’t been back to the Detroit area since 2015, yet that is where I’m from and it shaped me. Wish I could meet you when you are here for the Bar Mitzvah, but I’m sure I will be on the island. Enjoy your time east with your family.
It would be great to meet one of these days when we visit Newton. As you mentioned, the Bar Mitzvah weekend is probably out. We haven’t been in Newton since the pandemic. I’m hoping our kids will be open to more visits after the big event. Had a bumpy cake when we visited my brothers’ families in the Detroit area last summer. Yum!
Your hometown is definitely now Evanston, even though you have fond memories of Detroit. Maybe you would find it interesting to visit and it would evoke some memories, but your home is clearly where you have family, friends and a long history of work and dedication. The pictures are fantastic, especially the one of the three children, and they all reflect joys of friendship and family–thanks for including them.
Having moved from our house of 45 years to a condo in Evanston, I still feel connected. We do visit Detroit annually now that my parents are gone to see my brothers. Nothing there looks or feels familiar.
I love this wonderful story Laurie of how you found a true home in E-town , I would say 50 years there clinches it!
We moved from Quincy, MA to Evanston in 1996, moving to the north side of Chicago in 2000 or thereabouts. I have lived in Chicago far longer than I have lived anywhere else, but Bayonne, NJ will always be “where I came from.” That place gets designated fairly early in life.
I don’t know why I feel so disconnected from Detroit and Oak Park except that the landscape has changed so much. My family there is spread out all over the suburban area.
L, E-Town definitely is your hometown, 50 years is more than enough to call it home. The picture of your friends blew me away. How truly special it must be to have that many serious relationships all within close range. You are home!
That group is our “Chavurah,” which is a Jewish friendship group we started in 1974. So, it’s coming up on 50 years. There are 6 families and we had 15 kids and now too many grandkids to count. Truly a blessing.
This was a sweet reminiscence about both Detroit and Evanston. Your details, so personal and specific and time-bound, about the things that made Detroit special to you were, for me, my favorite part of the narrative.
On a related note: maybe some day we will write to a prompt that features Ford vs. GM vs. Chrysler. Because when you were ticking off those GM products, I couldn’t help but think of another Retrospect writer who always grew up believing that Chrysler was King!
Ford and Chrysler were never options for my father, although when my mother started to drive, she got a used Nash Rambler stick. That’s the one my brothers and I were allowed to drive.