I grew up in a 3-bedroom, 1.5-bath old house on Michigan Avenue in Saline, Mich., where a patchwork of new subdivisions encroached on good old farming territory. It's just a 45- to 60-minute commute from the major automotive employers in Detroit and Dearborn and a 15-minute drive from Ann Arbor.

It was a nice house, lots of hardwood inside. Across the street was the gas station where a dog collected cash and credit cards at the pump, and a block away was a historic-looking mansion that took up a whole block and was doomed (through someone's will, I think) to be repainted the same greenish color for eternity. When I was 12 or so, I delivered newspapers throughout the neighborhood to pay for horseback-riding lessons and holed up in my bedroom reading for hours. I kind of wanted to BE Anne of Green Gables.

The house wasn't exactly energy efficient. My hamster once went into hibernation when I pushed its cage too close to a drafty window. My mom assumed it was dead and tossed it in the garbage; the little guy warmed up, snapped out of it, and bit my brother when he discovered it after school. We called the detached garage a barn because, well, it looked like a barn, complete with wooden doors that swung out. The upstairs bathroom toilet had no tank on the back; instead, the tank was in the basement. I don't really understand how that worked, but sometimes the water pressure or SOMETHING got off kilter and water shot out of the toilet.

With all its 1920s-era quirks (and a rabbit, several hamsters, fish, and a mixed-breed dog named after the Dow Jones Industrial Average), the house was still big enough to shelter all the insecurities and self-loathing of a teenaged girl who secretly - and sometimes not-so-secretly - thought she was never good enough. There, three siblings fought over whose turn it was to use AOL to connect to the Internet. Our parents paid for the Internet by the minute. We shared one computer. And one phone line. Cellular phones weren't accessories for teenagers yet, but I definitely remember marveling at three-way calling and call waiting. Can't remember if we had caller ID; we did have a fax machine, though.

Now, (I think) my house houses some sort of business accounting group, whose owners ripped out my mother's gardens to make room for a parking lot. But they saved the barn. I vaguely remember standing outside the house a few years after my parents moved away, staring at how different everything was and feeling something indescribable between annoyed and irate. Someone (I don't remember who) mentioned that the secretaries who worked there got freaked out because they thought they heard noises coming from the basement, where a concrete cistern collected rainwater.

We used the cistern water to water outdoor plants. There was a time I figured the cistern would be a good place to hide a dead body or two, so I could see how housewives-turned-secretaries could get the heebie-jeebies. But I figured anyone loosely associated with the people WHO PAVED OVER MY BACKYARD deserved an eerie feeling every now and then. Those voices would be the SOUNDS OF MY LOST CHILDHOOD, folks. (In reality, noise likely carried through the large heating vents in an old house that was never updated. But really.)

I've hung my pictures and clothes in several cities since then, many which left enduring marks on my personality. But that house housed me back before I really knew anything and was eager for everything new.

That was back before I knew small towns operated under false (but entrenched) perceptions. Back when I loved the smell of ink as the press printed the Saline Reporter just hours after we slapped the stories on the page using a wax machine and roller. Back when I wrote poetry in honor of coworkers' birthdays and unabashedly gave it to them. And crushed on guys who never seemed to crush on me back. (OH! And a girl was run over by a tractor in my high school parking lot on Take Your Tractor to School Day. She recovered, but seriously, my high school had Take Your Tractor to School Day.)

I haven't been to Saline in years. They built a mammoth new high school a few years after I graduated, and now my high school is the middle school. And somehow I doubt anyone drives tractors there. I'm sure nobody would know me from Adam, or remember the girl who angered old ladies by referencing Barenaked Ladies lyrics in the first sentence of a newspaper article. And I certainly haven't been tempted to use song lyrics as a lede in at least a decade. But Miranda Lambert's song kind of makes my mind wander...
Labels: | edit post
2 Responses
  1. I grew up in a very small town in Upstate New York and I can say with pride that my high school also had "Take Your Tractor to School" Day. You have to love small towns just for their quirks like that.

    ~ Kristen

  2. Anonymous Says:

    haha i live in Indiana and my school (Benton Central HS) has drive your tractor to school day! ITS AWESOME!!! and since theres mostly back roads to school you dont have to be 16 to drive.. i drove mine to school last year and im 13.