Highlights Interview with Doug Tanoury
September 2003

5918 Rohns, Detroit, Michigan 48213 USACan you describe the home in which you were raised?
It was a large Victorian style home built in the 1890's. It was my grandparent's home and was on the corner of Rohns Street & Gratiot Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. The address was 5918 Rohns St.

How many floors were there?
Basement, main floor, upstairs and an attic.  There were a lot of windows.  I remember that every room was full of sunlight.  There were also two stained glass windows, one in the dining and the living room.

How many bedrooms?
Five.
Steam Radiator
How was it heated?
Steam radiators, they were great big iron monsters that stood in the corner of each room. I use to melt crayons on them.

Did you have running water?
Yes, the coldest water in the world came out of the kitchen  faucet.Tony & Me

Did you have toilet or an outhouse?
Toilet.  When you lifted up the seat it said American Standard in what looked like the faded blue ink of a tattoo.

What were your household chores?
I did not have any regularly assigned chores, however, I did mow the lawn with an ancient push mower, and I shoveled snow, ran to the store on command and watered the lawn in summer.

How were clothes washed?
My grandmother had an old washing machine with rollers that squeezed the clothes. I remember the clothes line in the backyard with sheets flapping in the wind.

How were meals cooked?
My grandmother cooked a combination of American and Arabic foods. She was always in the kitchen.  I can say with all honesty that she was an absolutely amazing woman.  This woman who washed my clothes, cooked my meals and did all the boring mundane things that I couldn't do for myself was the most devoted and caring person that has ever touched my life.  She was dedicated to the people she loved in some rare way.  So when you ask who cooked my meals and washed my clothes and took care of my daily needs, I must tell you that a very exceptional person cared for me.  I don't know if a day goes by when I don't think about her.

Were there Saturday night bathsTUB
Yes, I did not go easy into that tub. I had to be ordered and bullied into it. The bathtub was huge. I think it was iron covered in porcelain. It sat on eagle claw legs. I remember the water going down the drain use to give the illusion of fish eye staring up at you. It was some odd quality of the light and water that had always amazed me. It still does, but they could not possibly be fish eyes.
In Jail
Where in your home did you family spend most of their time?
In the living room.  In addition to the kitchen there were three other rooms downstairs, dining room, living room and front room is what we called them.Me
   
Was there a family room?
Yes, same as a living room I guess.

What kind of furniture was there? 
Old solid sofas and chairs that had been reupholstered several times I think. I remember the lamps in the family room were porcelain or china and they had a baroque art scene of men in feathered hats and women in long inflated skirts. It may have been rococo for all I know.  It is strange what a person remembers. I can still see their faces.

Describe the kitchen
The tile floor was alternately red and white squares. The sink and cabinets were along one wall; the stove and pantry were along another. There was a refrigerator and a kitchen table. There was also a door that led to the back porch.

Did the family gather in any usual room?
Mostly the dining room. I remember us eating together. If not there it was the living room to watch TV.

What were your favorite TV shows?The Day The Earth Stood Still
I still love the Three Stooges, but I can remember watching many of the black and white sci-fi movies from the forties and fiTelevisionfties, like "The Day The Earth Stood Still". There use to be a program on Friday nights called "Nightmare Theater" that came on about 11:30 p.m. that I would try to stay up to watch. My brother would also stay up and watch Nightmare with me. I remember that I was not always successful and would often fall asleep on the couch. My brother would tell me the next morning that he tried to wake me up, but I still do not believe him. I was also a Star Trek fan. My brother and I would never miss an episode. 

What was your bedroom like?
Of course it had a steam radiator like every other room. It had two windows, one facing North West and one facing North East. It had a tile floor, imitation terrazzo, I think is the best way to describe it. It had a closet and two twin beds. The morning sunlight use to light the east window and would often wake up and look out on the day. I remember the view of the backyard and tall elms on Holcomb St. stretched out over wood frame homes.  The campanile from Nativity Church rose above the treetops in the distance. It has a bronze dome that is quite distinctive.

Tony & DougDid you share it with anyone?
Yes, I shared my room with my older brother, Butch. We call him Tony now. I do not think I liked him much as a kid, but I have grown to love him dearly. I regret that I had to share MY room with him, but I am so lucky to have him as a brother.

Did you have your own bed?
Yes, a twin. I often shared it with the family dog, Sandy.  She use to fart a lot at night and when I tried to throw her out of bed, she would growl at me. Not a very agreeable dog.

What was your favorite room?

My bedroom. Matchbox
 
Why?
It was the most private place to play. I remember I played a lot of music as I got older, but when I was very young, I would set up toy solders and have rather extensive battles. I also collected Matchbox cars that at that time were made in England by Lesney Ltd. They were fine die cast miniature models. I had a cherry red Jaguar and a metallic green Ferrari.
Uncle Harry
Do you have anything in your home now that you had in your home as a child?
Yes, there is a wooden corner niche in my living room that was in my home as a boy. I took it from my family's home before it was sold. There are a number of photographs that I have had restored. Now growing up these were always kept in the attic, but years later, after my Dad died, I rescued them from the basement of his house.

Describe the items.
Beyond the wooden corner niche, I think everything else it put away. It is funny; the corner niche still holds the mostly odd collection of nick knacks and worthless junk. Things so odd there are no good places to put them. I also have a photograph of Uncle Harry, my great uncle, in native costume. He is dressed like an Arab with a musket rgrandparentsesting across his shoulders and a pistol in a holster at his hip. This portrait was always in the attic, but a number of years ago I had some restoration work done on it and a new photographic negative created. I also have my grandparent's wedding picture, circa 1920, on my living room wall. It was a sepia print that I converted to black and white in 1990 and had it custom framed.

Was there a room that you were not allowed in, a for guests only room?
I had the run of the house, upstairs, downstairs, basement and attic.

Did you often have company over?
Of course, my grandparents did often. I remember my grandfather's brother Uncle Milhelm and his wife Sayiede. They liked to play cards with my grandparents. I remember it was an Arabic card came called bustra. My uncle smoked cigars and as a child, I could always smell his comings and goings. He did not look like my grandfather at all. I do not think he smiled as much and his demeanor was rather stern.

Describe your yard?
In the summer it was spanned by drying clothes. There was a wooden picnic table, a dog kennel where my uncle's dog was kept and a plum tree. That is all. It was a very small yard. My grandmother had a flower garden. Oh, I forgot that next to the picnic table, there was a large lilac bush. I remember the color and smell of it blooming in late spring and early summer.

Did you have a favorite place as a child, or a hideout?Nativity Church
My favorite place was over my best friend's house. His name was Craig Swann, and he lived on Crane Ave. the next street over. He died of a brain tumor in 1996. I never even knew he was sick. I wasn't at home, but his brother Christopher called and spoke to my wife to tell us. I went to his funeral that very evening at Nativity Church. It is still very sad to me. We both went to grade school and through our first year of high school together at Nativity. There is something special I think about the friends from your childhood. There perhaps is a pure and genuine innocence that we lack in later relationships. I am sure that when I die, my funeral will be at Nativity too, for I strongly believe that unless one becomes like a little child again, there is no hope of entering The Kingdom of God.

How did you deal with the sadness you felt?
I wrote a poem called "Winter Pears"; It helped me a great deal. I sent a copy to his family, and I hope it was able to help them. The strongest things I've ever felt have worked their way out in verse.  The creative process has always been healing, therapeutic and restorative for me. Let's talk about something else...
 

2nd GradeDid you have a tree house?
I did have a tree house in the plum tree. Now plum trees are not very tall and sturdy, so I wedged some planks between the bricks of the garage windowsill and the tree trunk. It could not have been more than six feet off the ground. Perhaps it was only three feet and now somehow seems much higher to me.

Did you get rainstorms and thunderstorms?
Yes, it would rain often in the summer. There were severe storms I suppose, but I never was afraid of tornadoes or any other weather. Not lightning either. You see I lived in the heart of the city and if a tornado was going to carry me away it would have to go through most of Detroit to get to me. The same with lightning, there were just to many things taller than me to strike. The odds were in my favor and I knew it.

Did you get much snow in the winter?
Yes, I can remember a few snow days when school was canceled. I walked to school about five blocks away. I never got a ride, so in rain, snow, darkness and cold I would walk every day. I remember going to school in the snow and dark at 7:30 a.m. on January mornings. 

PlayingDid you spend much time in the yard playing?
I did, I would do mostly dumb things like did a hole for no particular reason. I remember melting led fishing sinkers with a butane torch. The propane torch was not really a toy, but how else can you melt lead.

What do you remember about the neighborhood?
It was an old neighborhood. It was always tough, but the older I got the tougher it got. I imagine it is like many other city neighborhoods. It was founded by German immigrants that gave way to Polish and then Italian and then African American. The homes were mostly wooden.  There were some brick homes, but the vast majority were old wooden structures.
 
Were you in a rural country town, or a large city?
Detroit is a big city and I grew up in its heart. Now many of the houses in that neighborhood are gone and it looks very rural. I think it is actually a rather peaceful place. The population density is quite low. The house where I grew up is a vacant lot now.  It's just like thousands of others. Detroit is turning green again.Me

What stores do you remember?
There was an A&P market about a block away and three little party stores.  I especially remember the candy store by my school.

A &PWhat stores were your favorites?
The A&P, after I learned to read I understood that A&P stood for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company and I was impressed by the name. I would often shop there for my grandmother. She was one of those people that thought you should buy no more food than you would use in a day or two. I shopped for her almost daily.   Also the candy store by the school was a favorite of mine too.

Why?
Around Christmas time the A&P would put toys above the produce coolers. Out of reach of children, but you could still look at them. I would go there just to loCandy Storeok at the toys. What I remember most about the candy store by the school was the penny candy, like Squirrels, Mary Jane's and jawbreakers. Two older women ran the store. They always looked very cross. Every movement they made seemed to take every bit of energy and came about only as the result of extreme effort. What I loved about that store was the smell of wax lips and mustaches, licorice and peppermint. I think that a woman who smells like penny candy would simply strike me as irresistible. I just want a woman to smell like a candy store or like the Good Humor truck on a summer afternoon when the freezer door firstGood Humor Truck opens…

Describe how the town was decorated at Christmas time?
Downtown was decorated with every street lamp looking like a candy cane and the large department stores had holiday exhibits set up for children. They toy departments were extensive and I would spend an entire Saturday walking from one store to another.

Do you remember the games you played as a child?
The first game I remember playing with my brother was checkers, monopoly and then as we got a bit older chess. We played hide and seeks when there was enough of us and tag. We would all put our foot in to select who was on what team or who was IT. I remember the rhyme: "Engine, engine Number Nine, going down Chicago line. If the train should jump the track, would you want your money back? Y-E-S spells YES and you are not it."

Was there a special kind of pTony and me earlylay that you enjoyed alone?
I had a set of plastic Eskimo figures with igloos, kayaks and dog sleds. It was a great way to celebrate native peoples and pretty progressive for the early 60's. Later I had more traditional toy solders and a GI Joe. I wenVac-U-Formt through a phase where I got all the toys with a heat source and plastic like Vacuform. You used heat to melt a plastic sheet and press it against a mold using vacuum suction to shape it. Actually it was a great toy. I loved it. I can smell the plastic heating now. I also had Creepy Crawlers, that also had a heat source and you would cook liquid plastic in a mold to create rubbery spiders and other bugs. I cannot imagine children playing with these toys now. They were dangerous and I would never let my children have toys like that, but they were so much fun.

Do you remember any of your old special sayings, rhymes, poems, songs, etc?
When we were very young, we played ring around the rosy. I do remember as I got a bit older, I found an English textbook somewhere with some poems that I liked. Robert Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee was a favorite along with John Masefield's Sea Fever. Perhaps I was eleven or twelve when I became interested in verse.  I would commit them to memory.  I especially liked to do that with Poe.  I can still recite El Dorado and Annabelle Lee.
The Nutcracker
Did you have your own bicycle? 
No my brother had a yellow bike and I had a scooter.  I was a deprived child.  I never saw The Sound of Music as a child.  I never saw The Nutcracker at Christmas time.  I could go on and on . . .  You had better hurry and ask the next question.
Red Scooter
Can you describe you scooter?
It was bright red and it got older it got rusty in various spots. It never went very fast and in truth I never could ride it very well. Too much energy was required to keep it going and balance was everything. I think I would compare it to a skateboard that you could steer.

Did you lean to ride a bike and if so who taught you?
Sam did on my brother's bike. He was a friend of my uncle and he said that he would hold the bike and run behind me, but he let go. I was unaware of this until I heard him calling me in the distance and I realized I was riding solo. Then I fell.
Me
How would you describe yourself as a child?
I was very independent and self reliant, and I did things that I had absolutely no business doing. However, I am very glad I did them. I would like to say like the Edith Piaf song, "No Regrets", but that would not be entirely true. I was independent and self-reliant, but I was warm and feeling and in that aspect I was a venerable child and still am.









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