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How I Remember My Hometown, Gary, IN
My Heart Breaks
It is unimaginable the differences in the place that I call home, the way it looks today and the way it looked in my childhood memories.
I am home for my brother's funeral and the church where the services were held is on the corner of the street where the house that I lived in for twenty-five years sits and I did not recognize it at all. I kept thinking, "where is our house" even though I was looking right at it. The color was different. The brick on the front was missing along with the two trees that had always been right in front of my parent's bedroom window. The two-step front porch was not there and there was no screen door. It was sitting on the lot where it had always sat but I just did not recognize it. My mind was saddened when someone confirmed that that brown rectangle was the place that I had always called home.
Most of the city looked as different as my childhood home did and that was very disturbing but this was much more than disturbing. It was another loss.
DOWNTOWN GARY, IN in 1965
I was three years old when we, my parents, and my two brothers moved into that house. It was 1959. My youngest brother was around 6 weeks old. It is his home going celebration that I am attending.I lived there until I was twenty-five years old which is when I moved to to Houston. My parents lived there until 1992 and I visited them at least every couple of years. So that house was a part of my life for 33 years.
I don't really remember moving into that house, but it is the only memory of home that I have as a child.
Many families like ours lived in my neighborhood. Families with children whose fathers worked in one of the steel mills along with teachers and other professionals. The dentist who took care of my teeth until I moved from Gary, lived right down the street. These were families of color that were living in or moving into the middle class. Families with dreams of being a part of an already growing and prosperous city, a city comprised largely by African Americans whom I choose to call Black.
The city was growing even though many of it's long term residents, white residents, had started moving outside of Gary. I only remember going to school with two children who were white, from kindergarten through 12th grade. I still remember their names even though I have not seen or heard of them since my high school graduation, forty plus years ago.
Mark Kiesling wrote in an article on nwi.com, titled The Burning of Downtown Gary, that "Gary in the 1940's and 50's was riding a crest of unprecedented prosperity." This coincides with my earliest memories.
When I was in college I wrote a term paper titled, "The Disannexation of Merrillville, IN from Gary, IN," and was very surprised to read about the racial tensions in Gary, which I had not experienced. My early memories were of a city that seemed to be predominately black and a great place to live. My parents were from South Bend, IN and did not share stories of Gary before the 1960's.
While I was in jr. high school, teenage gangs started to become a problem in the schools and in many neighborhoods. By the time I was in high school they had become a real problem. Adult gangs were also on the rise. This is how I remembered things, but I find now that these gangs had been in Gary for a long time and I was not aware of them until high school. The violence was growing and infiltrating the whole city by the time I left for college.
As a young child I didn't know the inner workings of what was going on in my city and the city government. I saw change but I did not really understand what was causing the changes. I did not know that the government officials, both local and state were more concerned about their pockets than the citizens of Gary.
I wonder what the city of Gary, IN would be had we had loyal and committed mayors, governors, and other political figures. What if their goals had been to make a difference in the lives of the people who lived in Gary and the state of Indiana? The people trusted in those figures both black and white. The people voted for them and expected the city to continue to grow and flourish. Young people in my generation were going to college and should have come back to be a vital part of this prosperous city. Instead they were choosing to go somewhere that looked more promising. Somewhere with less violence and corruption. Somewhere where their families would be safe. Somewhere that you would be proud to call home.
As I ride through the city that was once vibrant and growing and see the ruin and lifelessness, I am truly saddened and disturbed. How can people who are supposed to be men and women who have taken the job of representing their constituents stand and allow desolation to grow year after year? That also poses another question, How could we the residents of Gary sit by and allow our home to practically die?
I Remember a Great Place to Live
Many of my best memories, memories of happy times, memories of family and friends are from the days and years that I spent growing up in Gary, IN. I had some of the best teachers. I still remember every Teacher that I had in elementary school at Ernie Pyle. I went to Jr. High at Tolleston Jr. High and I remember most of the teachers. I remember that these teachers cared about us and seemed to work hard trying to make sure we got the best education. Sometimes, at the time, I thought too hard because they would call your parent if you were dibbling and dabbling in the wrong things. But they would share the wonderful and amazing things that you were doing in school also.
I had good friends and neighbors who were like family. They were my village and they kept an eye on us children as we were growing up. Even though I did not always like their input, I know now that they were looking out for me. They too wanted me to grow into a productive adult, someone to be proud of.
I live on the other side of the country from Gary but I would love to see my hometown come back to life and thrive once again.
I remember riding my bike safely all around the neighborhood. The parks were green and had fun playgrounds, tennis courts, basket ball courts and swimming pools. People took pride in their homes, yards, and neighborhoods. We would go to the skating rink, the movie theaters, bowling alleys, and talent shows in our high schools. Our parents could drop us off or we would ride the city bus. We walked to school every day.We knew the people in our community. Our community was one in which we could be proud of.