Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Summer's Eve and Grief: Michael Wilson (Jan 12, 1962- May 31, 2010)

The older I get the more nostalgic I become. I spend more time each year thinking about my childhood summers, revisiting a time when my family was large and I felt secure knowing my family was close and I was loved. This summer's eve marks the year my familial net came undone. My cousin Michael passed away on Memorial Day in the early afternoon.

I don't want to be in this space, this time so wander with me. I want to go back to where I grew up, a neighborhood where if you did something you had no business doing, news of it got to your house before you did.

I want to hear the bell from the ice cream truck. I want to get a headache from eating a Bomb Pop too fast or guzzle a Faygo Red Pop. I want it to be the end of the school year and its getting warm and my sister and I save our bus fair and buy ice cream instead from the small ice cream shop next to University of Detroit High School. Having that ice cream was worth walking the fifteen blocks home.

In the third grade my sister and I were catching the city bus to school. By fourth grade I was a taking the bus regularly to my Auntie's (we were each other's favorite). She lived on St. Marys, a good twenty to thirty minute ride and I had to walk from 6 Mile down to her actual block closer to Puritan. I spent most of my summers and free days with my aunt who was childless until I entered high school.

I remember a gazillion kids piling into a car to go to Edgewater Park. It had a wicked roller coaster and the park was nestled in the middle of a residential area on the west side. And it wasn't summer without long days spent at Boblo Island, another amusement park on small island on the Detroit River. The boat ride was an affair unto itself. Everyone I knew regularly had family picnics at Belle Isle and I remember running the perimeter of the island for track practice.

I remember when the Renaissance Center opened. There were only four towers and I had my first real job there shining shoes. I met stars like Marvin Gaye and Gino Vannelli during my time there. I spent a lot of time checking out spaces still under construction in the RenCen during those early days.

I grew up with my cousins. My mother's other sister, Joyce had six kids. All of us except my brother attended Cass Tech. Mikey was the second oldest among us. Losing him has been hard. I've lost someone who looked out for me, someone who cared for me even when I messed up. I was the oldest among my siblings and being the oldest meant a lot was expected of me. It was my job to take care of my brother and sister. With Mikey, I knew there was someone to take care of me.

We had a large extended family. Holidays meant huge gatherings, too much food, loud talking, drinking adults and kids playing till they were exhausted. Many members in our family were poor so there was always family helping family: money, shelter, taking in someone's child or caring for the sick. I grew up knowing family took care of each other. I never felt alone. I grew up knowing no matter how bad things might get, I had my family.

Then I grew up and what I had taken for granted began to change. More of our large gatherings were funerals instead of holiday get-togethers. All those elderly uncles and aunts and those third and fourth cousins I didn't know well but whom I was accustomed to seeing annually began to die. Our family circle grew smaller until it wasn't just senior members passing on but in 1984, we lost my Auntie (Mattie) and in 2001, my Aunt Joyce, Mikey's mother. And now death has snatched someone of my generation, someone who was an anchor in my childhood and young adult life.

With Mikey, it's not our elders but we who are dying. We are burying one another. That's just too much. I'm not prepared for the gulf between my memories and today. Losing Mikey is too much. I've lost a part of me.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm so sorry! My deepest sympathies to you and your family!

TheEnglishist said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

Jodie said...

Oh I so hope you're all able to come together and help each other.

susan said...

I am glad to say we do know how to come together. I was looking through photos of Mikey and thinking, "He's so good-looking". He was a big guy, a big guy you liked towering over you. And it wasn't just his size. When he spoke you were impressed again. He was a motivational speaker and businessman.

Charlotte said...

Oh, I'm so very sorry...and truly, I agree that our generation is much too young for this dying thing to start.

Much sympathy.

Just Mom said...

Susan, You have my sympathy and prayers. Mikey was my age - and you are right, it's not our time yet. I'm so sorry for your loss.

ewf1965 said...

I too am a cousin of Mikey's, and i was searching the net thinking about him, craving to find some piece about him from detroit.
Your writing speaks for a lot of us, and my daughter voiced the other day that it must be strange to have someone I grew up with & close to my age pass. It was a hard way to end this month, so i keep thinking of his sly smile and his voice. You voiced what I feel, so i thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Stephanie D

susan said...


It's so good to hear from you. Sorry this is the occasion.

Deb said...

I'm so sorry to hear this, Susan. My sincerest sympathy. Hugs. Memories that come back and back and sustain you.