From Motown to E-town by
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(120 Stories)

Prompted By My Hometown

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Aerial view of Evanston, Illinois

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, Buddy’s Pizza (square cut pieces), Joe Muer Seafood, and Lelli’s. Nothing was finer than the shops on Woodward, the Fox Theater, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. But growing up, I wondered why, if Detroit was such a mecca, people I knew kept moving to suburbs father and farther away.

Still, this is my hometown. I love it for the amazing people I have met here and its overall caring heart and beauty.

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. 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.

Little Stevie Wonder, 1962

I lived in Detroit until I was 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 first hometown and moved to Chicago before settling in Evanston, the closest suburb north of the city, in 1974. Considering I have lived in Evanston for 46 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.

This girl is going to the same high school as her mother

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, I was looking for a college town with a similar atmosphere. Evanston, home to Northwestern University, fit the bill. While some folks here called it “Heavenston,” 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.

Two of my grandkids at the beach

When we first moved here, Evanston was still shedding its reputation for being a sleepy, waspish town. Home to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Evanston was a dry city with a few stodgy department stores, mom and pop businesses, family restaurants, and a pretty good folk music scene. I loved taking my kids to The Main Cafe for lunch, where the owner made them balloon animals and the milk shakes were real. In those days, they had an hour lunch break and we could easily walk there and back and have lunch in that time frame.

Over time, things changed and Northwestern dominated more of the city. The old-fashioned stores gave way to businesses that appealed to college students. Ethnic restaurants bloomed where liquor was served, and mid to high rise buildings like the one I currently occupy proliferated in the downtown area. Aside from Northwestern, Evanston has much more to offer. It is a tree-filled city near Lake Michigan with beautiful parks, an abundance of bike paths, and a lake front dotted with beaches and recreation facilities. Evanston was named one of the wealthiest towns in the Midwest, but that is only true of some parts of the city.

It’s fine to dance in the rain on your block

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.

My granddaughter (back row, second from left) after a dance performance at a local theater

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. I will leave you with photos of Evanston taken by my granddaughter Daniella. She captures the feel of this city better than my words.

Rose Garden, Evanston

 

Penny Park, built by volunteers

 

Penny Park

 

Looking out of Dave’s Rock Shop at Trattoria DOC

 

Street scene near her house

 

The photographer with her preschool teachers

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Very nice descriptions of both your hometowns, Laurie. I, too, loved Sanders hot fudge sundaes, but we never went downtown. We went to Northland or the shops on Livernois to shop by the time I was old enough. I, too, LOVED (and continue to) Motown music. Nothing like it, and I marvel when I think that it was popular at the same time as the the British invasion music.

    You paint a beautiful and vivid portrait of Evanston. I know it slightly, as I occasionally drove there, for something to do on Sunday afternoons while living in Chicago. I shopped in a few of their interesting stores, looking for a few decorative items to brighten up my apartment. But I didn’t really go exploring, just a straight drive north. I applaud your civic engagement and continued interest to diversify and make your environment a better community.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, I think you can still get Sanders hot fudge on Amazon, but I don’t dare! Northland was also a big part of my life. I could easily bike there or walk if I didn’t mind taking more time. We thought the mall was a marvel, and for reasons I will never understand, Fred gave me my engagement ring there. You are so right about Motown and the Beatles/Stones — what a time for great music.

  2. Beautifully and lovingly told, Laurie.
    Thanx for giving this New Yorker a taste of your rich Midwestern life.

    Do you know Detroit’s JET / Jewish Ensemble Theatre? My actor-uncle was in many performances there and we’d come out to see them.
    Happy 4th!

  3. Marian says:

    Laurie, I’ve only been in Evanston once, but your descriptions really resonate to me (my former husband’s aunt and uncle lived there). I think the issues with diversity and inclusion apply to most towns, unfortunately. We all have a lot of work to do.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Marian, we have had this work to do for as long as I have lived here. I think I served on a task force 35 years ago to address what is euphemistically called the “gap” between the achievement of white kids and children of color in our schools. In all of that time, not much progress has been made. Now I fear when students return to school when it is deemed safe enough, the gap will be enormous. Yes, still so much work to do.

  4. Laurie, I love that you chose to focus on your “chosen hometown…warts and all.” (I almost did the same — I have a separate story devoted to my second hometown of Hollywood but couldn’t seem to pare it down to a fair length to post here.) Your feelings and your ties to Evanston run deep and true, and your story beautifully reflects your comfort, caring, and commitment. Daniella is quite the photographer, and her images are the perfect accompaniment to your words. Another wonderful story…thank you!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Barb. I know all of my family that stayed in the Detroit area consider me a traitor, but I am really rooted in Evanston. It’s strange to go back to the Detroit area, although we went less frequently after my parents died. It feels so unlike my home. I don’t think I could find my way around anymore and my family has spread out quite a distance from one another in the suburbs. I love Daniella’s pictures but, being Daniella, once she got her own phone and became obsessed with music, she takes fewer of them. We gave her our old camera, so I hope she returns to taking pictures again. The phone has too many other possibilities that distract her.

  5. Suzy says:

    Laurie, thanks for this look at both Motown and E-town. Do people really call Evanston E-town, or did you just do it for the rhythm? I’ve never been to either place, so I enjoyed learning about them both. I’m envious of your high school dates when you got to see all those amazing performers! I love that music too!

    It sounds like your 46 years in Evanston have been well spent, and that it has been the right place for you. And the fact that one of your children decided to settle there too is a testament to what a good choice you made. Daniella’s photos are wonderful. I’m glad you included one with her in it. (I’m still trying to get all your grandchildren sorted out.)

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Suzy, they do really call it E-town here, as well as Heavenston. The latter seems rather unrealistic because we certainly are not exempt from the problems that plague every city in our nation these days. As far as the grandkids. I’m still trying to sort them out myself as they grow and mature.

  6. Risa Nye says:

    Great photo essay! That dancing in the rain photo is wonderful. This prompt has inspired so many excellent pieces. Really enjoyed reading yours. But I must say that my mother, who grew up in Detroit, left for a vacation in San Francisco, met my dad, got married three months later and rarely returned to her home town! We visited as kids, and all I really remember are the summer lightning storms. So loud!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      That photo was my granddaughter, who could no longer bear being cooped up in her basement zooming the summer dance intensive she could not attend in person. When I think about the carefree summers most of us experienced as kids and contrast that with this summer for my grandkids, I want to cry. So much has been stolen from them by this pandemic.

  7. We loved The Main Cafe, too. Before kids, we would read the Sunday paper there over breakfast, looking for houses. Many great memories, including the balloon man!

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