Growing up in a poor neighborhood in Detroit in the early fifties, our neighborhood gang was composed of Black kids as well as the kids of European immigrants and there was even the girl next door that hung out with us for a while.
We did fun things like exploring empty lots, laying in the grass making animals out of passing clouds, catching insects, playing cowboys and Indians, building rocket ships, making rubber band guns from clothes pins, and prowling allies for discarded “hidden treasures”.
We never stole anything, but a neighbors cherry or peach tree was open season. Pity the unfortunate neighbor who had planted watermelons.
We also had a “code of ethics”. You never cursed or used profanity on Sundays, you shared your candy with your friends even if it meant only getting a tiny piece of the Babe Ruth bar you just bought. If a friend was at your house at dinner time, you always invited them to dinner. We played the dozens with each other, a game where you’d talk down your buddy. However, if he disgraced your mother, it meant a fight. “Yo momma” was a call to action. However, even fighting had it’s own code. You never used a weapon, that was cowardly. If you knocked your opponent down, you reached out your hand to help him back up. And you NEVER kicked someone when they were down. Usually, when the fight was over, it meant a trip to the candy store together or just sharing another candy bar.
We played in the streets until dark when the street lights came on, then, we could play around the house until bed time. Our parents always seemed to know what we were doing without even looking. Neighbors watched out for us and if ole lady Byers down the street caught me doing something improper, she’d grab me by the ear and drag me home where my mom would make me get my own switch.
We also respected the police. Kids would crowd around a patrol car when it came into the neighborhood. Black cops were hero figures.
We went to the movies in groups, sometimes with as many as seven or eight, it made the scary movies more fun and you had someone to walk home with when it got dark.
In the winter, mom made ice cream from the snow and we played outside until our fingers were numb. We built snowmen in the yard and had snowball fights. You felt like you were growing up when you got your first pair of real gloves to replace the awful mittens your mom would make you wear.
Fredric Durrette served one tour in Vietnam, retired as E8 in the navy submarine service after 23 years. Major hobbies are collecting old stuff from the 20s and restoring old racing bicycles. Worked as a commercial photographer at JL Hudsons in Detroit and continue photography as a hobby. Love Sade, sixties soul, seventies rock, and all jazz. Attended Woodstock in 69!