Roll on Mighty Frank and Poet
I grew up in the 50s and 60s, 20 miles south of Detroit, in Trenton, Michigan. Old Trenton was located on the Detroit River, and along with the other adjacent communities it was collectively known as “downriver”. During the late 50s Trenton benefited from the post-World War II boom. Western Trenton was rapidly transformed from farming fields to subdivisions. There was plenty of work. Within the Trenton city limits. There was a steel mill, a Chrysler plant, and a Monsanto chemical plant. McClouth steel employed 6000 men. On the west side of Trenton, a family with little or no down payment could purchase a three-bedroom brick home, with one bath, and a full basement for less than $20,000. For a generation that grew up in the depression and who came of age in world war II, it was a dream come true. Families moved in with next to nothing. It was not uncommon for there to be initially sparse furniture in the house, a wringer washing machine in the basement, no grass surrounding the house or any landscaping. And a garage was considered an upgrade. Most homes had a cement pad to park your vehicle on. Visitors and the rare family with two vehicles would park on the street. As house after house was built, families with their few possessions moved in. Often a few personal demons rode shotgun.
As things were, It was not a bad place to be a kid. There was a buzz of excitement in the air, the schools were brand-new. There were fields and parks to play in. The most rewarding and magical topographical attribute was the Frank and Poet drain. The Frank and Poet. Drain wound its way between 2 massive tracts of post WWII housing. It was lined with trails and trees, it was inhabited mostly by crayfish, bloodsuckers, and frogs. Most of the year it was less than 2 feet deep. However, with the drainage from the snow melt and rain, it would often swell to 3 or 4 feet deep in the spring. Thus allowing the carp from the Detroit River to travel inland, only to be left high and dry flapping on the banks as the water receded. To us kids. The Frank and Poet was our interface with nature as well as a journey to never never land.
Our house was adjacent to the field that was bisected by the Frank and Poet Drain. All you had to do to get there was run across street cut through my best friend Tommy’s yard and continue on for about 75 yards. And there it was, a reprieve to the overall barren residential landscape, green grass, trees, alge, trails, insects, and birds. A plethitude of fauna and flora.
Shortly after moving in at age five, I remember asking my mother if the river had a name. She said it is not a river; it is a drain. She said it was polluted and the water would make me sick. I was forbidden to go near the drain. This limit did not last long as it was practically impossible to enforce. But I never called it a river again, nor did I call it a drain. It was known as the creek (pronounced crick). I never forgot her warning however, from that day forward coming contact with creek water was tantamount to exposure to the vilest of posion.
The creek naturally divided the child’s world much in the same way mountains, rivers and oceans have done for millenniums. The kids on the other side of the creek were viewed with suspicion and occasionally fear. Often a verbal altercation would escalate into a dirt clod fight or snowball fight, depending on the time of year. Occasionally stones were thrown however I do not remember anyone getting seriously hurt. We would hunt blood suckers, crayfish and frogs with our bb guns. Tommy my best friend had a daisy rifle fashioned after a Winchester which successfully reeked havoc. My gun was a dime store special that my brother bought for me that was under powered to the extent the bbs would bounce off the backs of frogs. When complaining to my mother, she responded. “What would you want to kill frogs for anyway?” In winter months we would sled down its banks, jump into drifted snow, ice skate and break ice. There was a ice skating rink that promoted recreational hockey on the other side of the creek and participants walking or skating home often threw away their broken sticks Tommy and I were always on the lookout for a hockey stick discarded because of a broken blade. They were great for steadying you balance and for breaking ice. We played a game called icebergs in which after breaking off a shelf of ice we would jump on it hoping to float down the creek. Unfortunately they only floated a few feet before breaking up and forcing us to jump to safety. Occasionally we would fall short or misstep and the frigid water would pour in over the tops of our rubber boots. All play was abandoned with the announcement, “I have a soaker.” This was tantamount to “game over” and resulted in a dash home to dry shoes and procure warm socks.
When I was about ten the creek was widened and rerouted to prevent spring flooding. It was exciting because of the heavy equipment and subsequent mounds of dirt to play in but the trees and trails were destroyed. This forever changed the character of the creek. We lost our privacy, shade and trees. Without nesting opportunities the birds moved on. While the creek remained of interest and the flooding was curtailed, we mourned the trade-off.