Never judge a person by where they came from!

I grew up in a district in the city of Westland known as Norwayne. It was just…you can guess, north of the city of Wayne. It was recently given Historic District status and hopefully that means the old neighborhood will get some much-needed love as it has fallen into disrepair over the last 20 yrs.

The district was built-in the 1940’s for the workers of the Willow Run plant where tanks were made during WWII. Since money was going to the war effort, the duplexes were put up cheaply. The housing was supposed to be temporary and after the war it was supposed to have been torn down.

That never happened. Some homes were built and those of us who lived in our drafty, creaky duplexes with paper-thin walls were envious.

 Through the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, auto workers and their families inhabited the area. The rent was affordable, a lot of children and plenty of schools were in the area.

norwayne2Norwayne 4

Having lived here since I was a baby and through my elementary years, I never thought anything about where I lived. I had more fun then I ever imagined and am still friends with a lot of people I grew up with.

It wasn’t until 7th grade that I heard the term “Shack Town” used to describe the area where I lived. If you lived there you were considered a Shack Rat and were looked down upon by the kids who grew up in better neighborhoods. Still at this point my attitude was “so the fuck what”. My parents worked hard. We always had what we needed and even if we didn’t have the best of everything, we never knew it. Everyone in my neighborhood was the same. We had big block parties and everyone knew everyone. We could go to anyone’s home and be welcomed.

Yes, we partied hard but the bonds we formed have remained. Memories of the “Swing” in the woods, where hundreds of kids would go to have a good time, sit by a fire, take a swing across the river, make out, whatever we wanted, we did. We acknowledged we were indeed “Shack Rats” but we liked our life. There was plenty of pain, as we lost friends our age. But we also had this great sense of freedom, because we could go anywhere and be safe.

There were plenty of fights. Both adults and kids. It was different then, no one used a gun, it was always one on one and eventually we’d made up. We had long hair boys and girls. Everyone smoked and listened to Black Sabbath and Journey and we could stay out as late as we wanted in the summer.

All that changed when I hit high school. I become more self-conscious of who I was and where I come from. The term “Shack Town” became synonymous with being poor, worthless, not quite fitting in with the other kids. It didn’t matter that there were hundreds of us in the high school. When kids found out where I lived, they’d all get the same look in their eye , a look that said they  felt sorry for you. “What? Sorry for me?” Why would anyone feel sorry for me? Then I started going to my peers homes, those who didn’t live in my neighborhood. For the first time I was ashamed of where I came from. Why couldn’t I have a real home? One with a yard that I didn’t have to share. A place where I didn’t have families living in the same duplex and where I could hear every part of their lives and they mine.

When I left, I swore I’d never again go back to that neighborhood. The place that others made me feel like was a ghetto. It was the same for a lot of my friends. They got out after graduation. Some were lucky enough to go to college but the rest of us went to work full-time. I worked two full-time jobs for a few years because I never ever wanted to go back.

I look back at how ashamed I felt and can now only remember the good times. This place wasn’t the “White picket” fence kind of town. It was tough, most were the working poor. There was drink and drugs, all the same things that, I discovered later, happened in every town and city. Fist fights were normal and you never forget the sound of an aluminum bat cracked against a man’s head.

But, in that place I also learned about love, fearless loyalty, and true friendship. We stood together to protect one another and didn’t think twice about helping someone out. I saw what real child abuse looked like when a girl came to our home with long black and blue belt marks covering her entire back and it wasn’t the first time. If a man beat up on his women, it was the people in the neighborhood who beat his ass with the threat that if he ever raised a hand to her, he’d be a dead man.

When my kids complained about our small, one bathroom home and about all the things they don’t have, I drove them through my old neighborhood and asked them what they thought about the home they now have compared to my old one.  They were shocked by the dilapidation of the homes there now and gained a new appreciation for what they had and where they’ve been able to grow up.

This is the street I grew up on. I lived in one side of the white house, on the left , where the Y is on the map.


Unfortunately, time has not been kind to Norwayne. The duplexes, which were only meant as temporary housing, have fallen into disrepair by greedy owners out to make a buck. The elements have chipped away at the wooden structures. The poorest of the poor now inhabit the neighborhoods and as we all know, it’s very easy to forget where you came from.

Here is a current photo of what some of the duplexes look like now.

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It breaks my heart that things look like this. There are those who’ve been able to convert the duplexes into one large home, but they are few and far between. There aren’t a bunch of kids playing outside or those big block parties in the summer anymore. It has become a place to live when you have no other choices. DO I wish I had an endless supply of money so that I could go into the neighborhood, block by block and turn these death traps into real homes. I do…But…

I’m no longer ashamed of how and where I grew up. Navigating this fucked up world has made me appreciate my former world because I’ve experienced more pain, more sadness and more deception than I ever did when I was growing up in “Shack Town”

In connecting with my past recently, I’ve learned a lot of things. Who I was back then was “GOOD” enough. My experiences and everything I learned about my life, all started in a tiny 3 bedroom duplex with no shower, only a tub.

I began writing there, dreaming of better things. Growing up in Norwayne, I appreciate what I have now. I’ve learned, we are not where we live, not about the money in our pockets and not concerned with those who think they are somehow better.

It’s taken me the better part of forty years to understand and become thankful for where I came from. To understand the lessons I learned there. For a long time, I thought I wanted a different kind of life, but a fake life, one that you think you want, so that others will think better of you, isn’t what I want. Things break, go out of style or are replaced by newer things, leaving you wanting more and more.

It’s the things that you can’t see that are the greatest gifts. The laughter with friends around a bon fire. Twenty kids playing in the front yard. My kids friends and their silly antics filling my home,  a kiss that brings you to your knees and love, so much love. I’ve raised my kids in the home I’ve had since they were born. They don’t have everything but they have what counts. Friends they’ve known since pre-school. Us parents affectionately refer to all of them as “our kids”. I don’t have 3 teenagers anymore, I have more than I can count. They call me mom, or Miss (insert my first name).  In a few years “my kids” will be adults in their own right and off to start their lives.

I hope and pray that I’ve been able to give them a little bit of the same experiences that I had. I’m lucky for the most part they generous, non-judgmental and really good people.

As we age the years start to fly by and happiness, the kind that fills your soul is more important than ever. I’ve stopped asking “what if…” and just remember all the good things that have happened over the years.

A part of me will always be a “Shack Rat from Shack Town” but it’s not all of who I am.

The old saying never judge a book by its cover is dead on. Some of the happiest people I know don’t have much while some of the most miserable people I know have everything and will do anything to keep it that way.

You never know what you might find when you leave judgement at the door. Some of the greatest things can happen from people you never dreamed were capable of it. If you’re brave in your heart and strong in your soul, you will come to know that the outside is nothing more than a facade. And like the state of the home I once had, the walls always come down. What remains beneath is the only thing worth living for and those who recognize this are truly worthy. When you leave this world you can’t take “things” with you but you will take the love that’s been offered up to you, no matter where or who it’s come from.


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