The Way-Back Room: A Memoir of a Detroit Childhood

The Way-Back Room: A Memoir of a Detroit Childhood

by Mary Minock

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781933964492
Publisher: Bottom Dog Press
Publication date: 11/04/2011
Pages: 218
Sales rank: 843,715
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author


Mary Minock is a long-term poet and academic writer, and The Way-Back Room represents her first excursion into memoir. Mary grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in the dense Southwest Detroit parish of Holy Redeemer during a time of remarkable changes. Eventually she left Detroit and went on to live in Columbus, Ohio, Ann Arbor and East Lansing, Michigan, and New York City, and returned to Ann Arbor. She came back to Detroit in 1996, fixed up her childhood home, lived there for a decade, and then moved three blocks away to help restore another stately home. She is an avid Detroit booster, looking at it over the long haul and seeing the city’s continuity. From her strategic location near the Detroit River, she travels to the suburbs to work, and across the river to play--where she sings and plays tin whistle with a group of Celtic musicians in Windsor, Ontario. She also catches up with her son and daughter and granddaughters--scattered from New Jersey to Stockholm, Sweden.

Mary has taught at the University of Michigan, New York Institute of Technology, and Wayne State University. For more than a decade now, she has taught poetry and literature, as well as creative and academic writing at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan, where she is a Professor of Language and Literature.

Her collection of poetry is entitled Love in the Upstairs Flat (Mellon, 1995), and recent poetry appears in Driftwood Review, The MacGuffin, MARGIE, Mid-America, Patterson Literary Review, and in the Detroit anthology Abandon Automobile. Recent awards include: the Gwendolyn Brooks Award from the Society for the Study of Midwest Literature, a Ginsberg Poetry Award, and Finalist status in the Atlanta Review and Nimrod prizes. In 2007 and 2011, she won Springfed Arts Awards in prose for earlier versions of chapters from The Way-Back Room.

Read an Excerpt


CHAPTER THIRTEEN

LOVE ME TENDER

When I lost my baby, I almost lost my mind... Pat Boone croons with a voice almost as smooth as Bing Crosby’s. Again I’ve changed the living room and

dining room furniture around. Mama is still downstairs washing. She’ll review the rooms when she comes up, hungry for lunch, and she’ll interrogate me

about what I did with the smaller things—the magazine rack, the morning’s mail, her purse, her coat, the hassock—anything she can’t immediately see. I know exactly what she’ll say. I know what she’ll complain about in the new arrangement, and I know what I’ll answer. I’ll show her that although everything has changed, nothing is lost.

I’ve set the record player on repeat. When I lost my baby, I almost lost my mind. I stand here and there, checking out the new views in the rooms from each of their corners, adjust the setting of a chair or lamp or doily, see my work is good, see the cool blue autumn sky and golden leaves in the park through the front windows. The song plays again. I’ve earned the pleasure I take in the rooms, having worked to make them beautiful. My pleasure in the song that has accompanied me throughout my work is more than I have

earned. It mystifies me, sensual and cathartic. At times like this, nothing is wrong with my life. Absolutely nothing.

Diane Porter and I used to walk the six blocks from her house on McKinstry near Lafayette up to the record store on Fort Street between Junction and Campbell. Diane was a tiny, dark-haired, skinny girl I’d met in Sister Frederick Marie’s sixth grade, probably the shyest and least talkative girl I knew. She blushed and looked down and sideways whenever anybody looked too directly in her eyes. Still, she was adventurous in her quiet way. As implausible as it seemed for such a skinny girl, she’d already gotten her period.

Table of Contents


TABLE OF CONTENTS

POEM: FREIGHTER HORNS, SOUTHWEST DETROIT ..7

ONE: IN THE DAYS OF BECOMING LONELY. .9

TWO: MAMA GOES TO WORK ..18

THREE: LEFT TO TAKE CARE OF MAMA ..28

FOUR: THAT HABIT ..37

FIVE: THE AGNES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY ..46

SIX: SAINT MARY OF DETROIT ..53

SEVEN: FINDING CUMBERLAND GAP ..65

EIGHT: PATSY’S BURDEN ..73

NINE: DAVY CROCKETT RHODES ..83

TEN: THE DREAM OF THE SUBURBS ..91

ELEVEN: FILLING THE CRACKS ..98

PHOTOGRAPHS ..103 - 112

TWELVE: THE WAY-BACK ROOM ..113

THIRTEEN: LOVE ME TENDER ..124

FOURTEEN: ANOTHER SIDE OF MAMA ..133

FIFTEEN: SOUTHERN BEAUTY ..141

SIXTEEN: GIRLFRIENDS ..153

SEVENTEEN: MORTAL SIN ..158

EIGHTEEN: TRACKED ..166

NINETEEN: A CHANCE TO WIN A NEW MERCURY ..175

TWENTY: 1960 AWAKENINGS ..179

TWENTY-ONE: OUT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD..190

THE WAY-BACK ROOM REVISITED, AN EPILOGUE ..199

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ..213

ABOUT THE AUTHOR ..215

What People are Saying About This


Don't let the title fool you. Mary Minock's new book certainly evokes 1950's Detroit. Her father works for Cadillac, smells of "cigarettes and steel," and dies young of a brain tumor. The old neighborhood on Clark Street is working class, first and second generation immigrant families, transplanted Southern folk, all mostly white, mostly Catholic, but starting to lean more and more Protestant. Teenage Mary walks across the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, as if that Canadian town were a suburb of Detroit. This book may derive its jibe from post-World War II Motown, but Minock's story is foremost an American memoir. After her father dies, her mother trains to be an Avon Lady. Like millions of kids, Mary idolizes Davy Crockett (her father's originally from Tennessee, too), and later, Mary must choose between heartthrobs: Pat Boone or Elvis. She longs for the Memphis King, and at the heart of this memoir is a 1950's girl's sexual and intellectual awakening, the struggle against the guilt of a Catholic upbringing, but it's also the generational guilt that defined an era. I'm not Catholic, I'm not a woman, and I grew up in small, rural town. But I connected deeply to this story, and isn't that the measure of a good memoir? Minock has written her story, and ours: the story of those men and women (especially women) who grew up back then, and a story for younger readers who always wanted the secret history that their own mothers and fathers would never share. ~Martin Lammon, editor of Arts and Letters

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