with Doug Tanoury
you describe the home in which you
It was a large
Victorian style home
built in the 1890's. It was my grandparent's home and was on the corner
Street & Gratiot Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. The address
was 5918 Rohns St.
How many floors were there?
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?
How was it heated?
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?
the coldest water in the world
came out of the kitchen faucet.
Did you have toilet or an outhouse?
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
How were clothes washed?
had an old
machine with rollers that squeezed the clothes. I remember the
line in the backyard with
sheets flapping in the wind.
How were meals cooked?
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.
Saturday night baths
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
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
Was there a family room?
Yes, same as a
living room I guess.
What kind of furniture was there?
sofas and chairs that had
been reupholstered several times I
think. I remember the lamps
family room were porcelain or china and they had a baroque art
men in feathered hats and women in long inflated skirts. It may
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.
the family gather in any usual
dining room. I remember us
eating together. If not there it was the living room to watch TV.
What were your favorite TV shows?
I still love
the Three Stooges, but I
can remember watching many of the black and white
sci-fi movies from
the forties and fifties, like "The
use to be a program on Friday nights
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
dressed like an Arab with a musket resting
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?
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?
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
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
How did you deal with the
sadness you felt?
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...
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
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.
Did you spend much time in the
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
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
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.
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.
stores were your favorites?
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
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.
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 look at the
toys. What I remember most about the candy store by the school was the
penny candy, like Squirrels, Mary Jane's
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
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 first
Describe how the town was decorated
at Christmas time?
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
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."
there a special kind of play 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
Later I had more traditional toy solders and a GI
Joe. I went 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
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
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
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
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
Christmas time. I could go on and on . . . You had better
hurry and ask the next question.
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
How would you describe yourself as a
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.
To Main Page