My Humongous Playpen

Arial view today of where I played 50 years ago
Arial view today of where I played 50 years ago
I was born on April 2, 1955 in the maternity ward of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor Michigan. My mother Jane had gotten her bachelors’ degree in sociology two years earlier and my father Eric at this point was a graduate student in English Literature. Based on what I was told by both of them I was a project jointly planned and profusely anticipated.

As part of that plan, around the time of my birth, Jane and Eric moved from the apartment where they had been living to one a couple miles away on South State Street, closer to the University campus, but also uniquely suited to their idea of raising a young child. Just across the street from their upstairs apartment was the practice field for the football team, a large enclosure of manicured green grass lawn maybe 150 yards on each side, surrounded on three sides by a brick wall and on the fourth side by railroad tracks of a small rail yard (where freight cars seemed always to be parked) separated by a high chain link fence. It had several entrance doors that were latched but not locked, so it represented a contained space where a young child could wander, but not leave, all the while easily in view of an adult seated anywhere within the space. Though the football team practiced their often in afternoons during the fall, most of the time it was vacant.

Now I can’t tell you whether this field across the street was part of their plan in moving to this spot or a fortuitous bonus to a campus adjacent location. But the two places we lived in Ann Arbor after the State Street apartment were both across the street from parks, Almendinger and Burns parks to be precise, and I was told that the locations were picked for that reason.

I was a toddler, too young then to remember that time now, but my mother told me how she would take me across the street to that field, find a nice spot to sit with a book, and let me roam the space to my hearts content. Yes I lived within boundaries but they were almost beyond my ability to reach. I also developed a love of railroad trains that has persisted through my life.

I think I was about three years old when my parents bought the little white house on Prescott Street across from Almendinger Park, and ten when we moved to the brick house on Martin Place, across for Burns Park. But I have strong memories of having the run of both of those parks, knowing intimately every bush, tree, swing set, slide, baseball diamond, tennis court, fence, gate, hill and water fountain. A kid found community in those parks and could let their imagination loose, re-fighting World War Two or exploring alien planets.

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