From my 2009 Journal. Home, to me, will forever be Nigeria, but part of me got left behind in Indiana. Every 4 years we packed up our suitcases and returned to our passport country to visit our supporting churches. In 1966 (my 6th grade year) we landed in Elkhart, Indiana, and then again, one more time 4 years later, when I was a junior in high school. When my missionary parents returned to Africa again, I stayed behind with a local family for my senior year. These 3 years of my life left me with strong memories, and in July my big sister Grace Anne and I decided to revisit our old haunts.
It’s the middle of the night and my thoughts are ricocheting so fast I can’t sleep. How does one record thoughts, emotions, and impressions, and for whose benefit? I’m experiencing this trip with my sister, which is hugely satisfying since we share the bond of one year’s memories, and I’m eager for the next day’s adventure to begin.
First, we drove over to the old Lindahl’s home where Grace Anne lived during her senior year of high school. Then on to Concord High where she’d attended. Those memories are hers alone, but I’m happy to go with her. We stopped by 137 Parker Ave, where I lived with the Muehlbergs, my host family for my senior year. The new owner invited me inside to see their renovations. “Uncle” John got me my first job working at Accra Pac, an aerosol packaging plant where he was a chemist.
We drove to Central High School where I attended for two years and from which I graduated with 900 other seniors. Too many memories to recount of race riots, loneliness, and cultural adjustments.
Next, we visited the Grace Bible Church Tabernacle on 2nd Street where I dedicated my life to the Lord. I’d forgotten there was a laundromat next door. I recall Sunday school, Wednesday night prayer meetings, playing marimba duets with Grace, the ladies giving a Tupperware shower for my mom to take back to Africa, and hanging out with Debbie and Dennis and other kids my age. The elderly saints in the church left such an impression
on me. The current pastor (the 7th occupant of this building), who has a ministry to inner city dwellers, invited us in to look around. The ceiling had been lowered, there was no central aisle, and the platform was changed. I was glad to see that God is still at work here.
Two blocks down the street on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Pottawattomi Drive was the old parsonage, our home where I first learned to use the telephone. This is my story, my history. I’ve relived it in my mind many times. My mom was sick with Hodgkin’s that year, and we didn’t like Dad’s cooking! Snapshots in my mind of Grace Anne collecting fashion photos, of finding marbles in the heat register in my brother Paul’s bedroom, of packing for our summer trip across the USA.
I wanted so much to peek inside and see my old upstairs bedroom and feel the pulse of my mother’s piano and experience again the joy of the Young People’s gathering at our house when we played “rhythm” and ate cherry cobbler with red hots (my mom’s favorite dessert) in the living room. Christmas excitement and playing with Duke our dog and ironing in front of the TV in the basement. Marimba lessons and slip-sliding in the oversize bathtub and begging my mom to buy a new brand of toothpaste because I’d seen it advertised on TV, another novelty to us.
The neighborhood is seedy now and multi-racial. The neighbor across the street came out to chat and fill us in on the state of the house: it’s in foreclosure for $10,000 and no one lives there. So sad.
I stood outside our home and “watched” my 6th grade self playing Jingle Jump on the sidewalk. I saw me climbing the tree out front with my boyfriend Terry Bunn and climbing out the bedroom window onto the roof. I see the black walnut tree in the back yard and me practicing baton twirling. When I pose for a photo in front of this old house that’s falling down around itself, my immediate thought is that I want to send the snapshot to my mom who died earlier this year.
My best friend Kathy lived on the same block, we walked to school together each day, and we lived at each other’s houses and formed the TGTG (The Glued Together Girls) club. She taught me to make snow angels, and we played king of the mountain. Besides hundreds of
games of Yahtzee, we biked down to McDonald’s in the winter for a warm bite of hamburger and French fries; and when the A&W opened a root beer stand, we were in heaven. It was the year that Kathy preferred to be at our house because her daddy was raping her at hers, and I was too ignorant to know. Grace and I drove slowly past her house, and memories flooded back.
My Samuel Strong School building now houses a business. Memories, memories. How do I record them all? Open stall bathrooms in the basement, volleyball in the low-ceilinged gym, cheerleading for the guys’ teams, fire drills, skating on ice for the first time, giving my testimony in class, being teased for being the teacher’s pet. My teacher, Mr. Mann, got saved that year. One time I picked dandelions on the way to school to present to him, and the boys ridiculed me for giving him weeds. (How was I to know?) I was elected to be a crossing guard, but I was too scared to accept since I didn’t know what that was!
Kathy and I would stop on our way home at a Mom-and-Pop grocery store to buy candy cigarettes (yes, I did) and wax pop bottles or wax lips filled with sweet liquid. We sucked on enormous icicles dripping from the eaves in winter and kicked fall leaves across the sidewalks.
Next, Grace Anne and I attended the evening service at Grace Bible Church (now located on Edwardsburg Ave) where in high school I had sung in the choir, attended youth group, taught Sunday School and determined where I’d go to college.
The next day, we drove by the 1432 Okema Street house where Mom and Dad and I had lived for my 11th grade, and where I learned to babysit for the first time. I rang the doorbell, and I could sense movement inside, but no one answered.
Our short visit had come to a close, and my heart was full. These are MY memories. With whom do I share them? I record them for myself so that in my old age I have somewhere to refresh and keep the memories alive. I don’t share these with my children because they weren’t there. But maybe someday they’ll visit one of these spots in Elkhart and stand there and say, “My mother’s spirit was here.”