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The Dead Black Guy

Susan emailed me a memory two nights ago and I asked her if I could share it here. It's here, so you know she said yes! :)

I so enjoyed this glimpse into Susan's childhood. I love who she is now and I love who she was then, even though I would have been the girl named Colleen at the end of the story that she was laughing so hard at.

Susan grew up in Windsor, Ontario and she and her husband Ron happened across this news article with the attached photo. That brought back the memory in this story. Now, over to Susan:

A public meeting to discuss Ojibway Shores is scheduled for July 3 between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. at
 Mackenzie Hall in Old Sandwich Towne.
Ron asked me if I knew where along the river that was and I know EXACTLY where it is.  The house where I lived until I was 11 would be located near the top of this photo if it hadn't been torn down a few years ago.  (To make room for the new bridge to Detroit.)

This exact section of the shore of the Detroit River is where I used to play as a kid.  Oh, my goodness, I think about it now and I just shudder.  God's hand of protection must have been on me and my brother.  We weren't allowed to go that far from our house, but we did anyway - from the time we were about nine years old.  We would play all in that woods and along the riverfront.  It was always littered with dead fish and slimy debris.  But we waded in it anyway.  (If we'd gone out very far the current could easily have carried us away.  It's very dangerous to swim in that river.)  

See where that lake freighter is "parked".  We knew that as the "Morton Terminal".  It was much smaller when I was a kid - maybe 1/3 the size.  We would ride our bikes up there and swim between the lake freighters and the dock.  Usually with most of our clothes on because we never bothered with bathing suits.  Yikes...  The pollution alone should have killed us.

We would wander all through the areas on this photo all day long..  from sunup until hunger drove us back home at suppertime.  (We usually packed a sandwich for lunch to eat on our adventures but very often we would go without eating all day.)  I can tell you the names of those streets, and show you where my friends lived.  And where we found "the dead guy" once.  He was a tall skinny black man, who had big white teeth that looked to us white kids like big marshmallows in his mouth...  Those were the days.

"Was the dead black guy really dead?" I wanted to know.

No he wasn't really dead, only sleeping.  But we (me, my brother, Bernard Knoll, and Owen Corrigan - my childhood BEST friend - pretended he was dead and talked about him, sitting there in his car, head lolling back and mouth gaping open - as though he were "really" dead.  We were really just pretending, though, and we knew it.

And then when Colleen Kenney came riding by on her bicycle, we couldn't help teasing her shamelessly by saying, "There's a dead guy in a car down by the river!"  So she went tearing down there (we were on foot) and then came tearing back.  I can still see her standing on that dusty gravel road, straddling her chrome fendered bike with one foot on either side of the navy blue frame. 

"You're right! He IS dead!" she shrieked.  And then she took off towards home. 

We laughed our heads off at her gullibility and went on playing, wending, and wandering our way towards home.  It didn't seem so funny, though, when we were playing in a ditch along Chappus Street and a police cruiser pulled up next to us.  There sat Colleen Kenney in the back seat and she was pointing at US!  We stood up and faced the cops.  

He asked in a booming voice.  "Did you kids see a dead guy down by the river?"

We nodded wordlessly, not able to think of a single thing to say.  We knew we were in BIG trouble.  We didn't want to lie, but we didn't want to tell the truth either.

"Get in the car," said the police officer.  

We all piled into the backseat.  There must have been five of us with Colleen Kenney in there too.  We were stunned.  WE were in a police car!  But we were so afraid of getting into trouble that we couldn't enjoy it.  And we started to wonder, with all this kerfluffle, if the guy we saw sleeping really WAS dead after all!

The cop drove us down to the river and there sat the brown and beige two-tone car with the monstrous fenders that the "dead guy" had been sleeping in.  

"Is that the car?" boomed the officer.  We nodded.

Just then the black man who had been asleep all along came walking up, bait pail and fishing pole in hand.  He was laughing sooo hard.  "I ain't dead! I sho ain't dead!" I can remember him saying.

Apparently a second police car had gone down there, found him fishing and must have helped him to piece together what had happened.

We were so scared. The cop drove us home after that, and I was expecting the belt from my dad.  I got it all right, as I probably should have, wandering away that far from home.  I thought back then that the licking I got had something to do with the dead guy, and being wrong about his deadness, but I think now that it must only have been that I was down there at all.  But I'm pretty sure also that we were probably right back there the very next weekend!

And that's the story of finding the dead guy in an old Chevy, down by the river.  :)

(Thank you Susan for taking us back to a summer's day in Windsor, 50 years ago or so.)


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