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1966 Chrysler Dealers Newspaper Ad

I used to joke that I had motor oil running through my veins. Thanks to my great uncle: Uncle Meyer, as I’ve written about before, most of the Sarasons came north from St. Louis to Detroit to work for GM (my father worked in Flint for the Chevrolet Division starting in 1937, but after WWII, did not return to GM. With a partner, he got a used car lot, which became a DeSoto Dealership, then a Chrysler Dealership. He is the man in the lower right-hand corner of the Featured photo, with pith helmet in waving hand). He had a cousin who owned a Buick Dealership, another with a Cadillac Dealership. One brother was comptroller of GM, another worked at a Pontiac Dealership. On the other side of the family was a Ford Dealership. Motown and all that it entails, is a huge part of who I am.

Woodlawn Cemetery, final resting place of Aretha Franklin, her father, and Rosa Parks, is one block from the little house where I lived until I was almost 11 years old. We moved out of Detroit because the tax that funded the schools was voted down. The school system was already overcrowded and soon it would fall apart altogether. We built a house in a near-suburb, right by the Detroit Zoo and moved on October 1, 1963. Until we moved, I attended an integrated school, with an excellent curriculum, far ahead of what I would move to. I skipped a half grade when I moved (complicated system in Detroit), so was young for the peer group, but had no problem keeping up academically, only with the social life.

The Motown sound was huge as I hit my adolescent years and that was what we listened to (also British invasion music – we loved the Beatles too – but we were proud of our homegrown music) and we learned to dance to that music. We practiced dance moves while waiting for our cooking projects to finish in Home Ec class. My mother wanted to be a professional dancer (she moved to New York in 1935 to study with some of the greats) and I picked up my natural rhythm from her, as we used to dance together when I was a tiny little thing.

As teens, we practiced the dance moves of the Four Tops, the Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes and loved Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Tina Turner and all the other soul and rock singers coming out of our home town. We all could rock out to them, or do smooth moves at our school dances. My dance moves were not unusual. We all did them. I got a lot of attention for my dancing style when I came east to college, but back home I was just one of the pack. Learning to dance the way that the Motown singers did was just what I knew how to do. No biggie.

My new school system was lily white, but I spent my early years seeing integration at work. I also grew up in a liberal, Jewish household, where the ideals of the New Deal were firmly embedded. My family was committed to charitable work, I attended Sunday School at our liberal, Reform Temple starting in kindergarten, going through 12th grade (girls were not yet bat mitzvahed – that would come two years later, too late for me; I was Confirmed in 10th grade. I was an officer of my confirmation class and helped to write the service). Being Jewish was as important to me as coming from Detroit. My father was on our temple board; my mother volunteered for Hadassah, the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee, National Council of Jewish Women.

Confirmation Class, 1968 (first row to the right of center)

All of these influences turned me into the person I am today; a committed liberal, who seeks to “heal the world” (one of the tenets of Judaism), who still loves Motown music and can out-dance most people, though I’d love to learn the new dance moves too. They look pretty cool, even to this 71 year old.

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Nice to have (mostly) good memories.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      The auto industry (Henry Ford in particular) was notoriously antisemitic, so some of that was floating around, even when I was a kid, but by and large, Detroit wasn’t a bad place to come from. But many of us chose not to return as adults.

  2. Betsy, I think of you as a Bostonian and a Vineyarder, but of course I knew your Detroit roots.

    But I didn’t realize how much motor oil runs thru your veins! One day I’d love to hear my Motown friend dance and sing!!!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Motown was a huge influence as I was growing up too. I wasn’t in Detroit, but East Lansing (next to Lansing, the “Oldsmobile capital of the world”) wasn’t that far away, and besides, I just assumed that Motown swept the nation. Listening to it today, it still stands the test of time with its catchy tunes and danceability. Good on you for sticking to your roots.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I love and identify with this, Betsy. Two of my nieces live in Huntington Woods now, one very close to the zoo. No matter that I left the Detroit area in 1967. Somehow, it is still a part of me.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I basically left in 1970 when I came east for college, never to return, but it is bred into us, Laurie. We lived so close to the zoo that I could hear the lions roar (their feeding time was 4pm) and when the wind was blowing in the right direction, we could smell the elephants! I haven’t even been back for a visit since 2015 (when a cousin and I brought her aunt, my elderly cousin, to see her childhood home one last time as she receded into Alzheimer’s-caused dementia). I still have a few cousins there, some in HW, some in Birmingham or West Bloomfield, but the cemetery holds more relatives than the towns do at this point. But Detroit shaped me forever.

  5. Risa Nye says:

    Motown4evah! Although here in California we had a huge Beach Boy presence, Motown came way before that. Nice to hear about your early years in Detroit. My mother grew up there, went to Wayne State, and headed west to San Francisco, where she stayed. She was a proud Detroiter, but not particularly eager to return! Thanks for your memories, Betsy.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I understand about being FROM Detroit, Risa, but not wanting to return there to live permanently. I certainly chose not to! We loved the Beach Boys too (how could one not?), but Motown came before (it wasn’t as radical as Pet Sounds, and we didn’t surf). We just loved to dance to the groove.

  6. Dave Ventre says:

    Growing up in NJ, most of the music I remember loving was Motown. It wasn’t a “thing” to us, it was just amazing music. It has always confused me that Sly Stone didn’t record for Motown, though!

    I also had no idea that there is a Jewish “confirmation” ceremony. I thought only Protestants did that! My confirmation was, in fact, the last religious ceremony I ever participated in as a member of a faith.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, amazing music!

      I think it was only Reform Jews (the liberal denomination) who did confirmation and I’m not sure if they still do. Long ago bar mitzvah was de-emphasized and Comfirmation was the thing, but that is no longer the case (and hasn’t been for 20 years or so).

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