Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother Detroit

Mother’s day, we celebrate it by buying cards and flowers, going to brunch, and spending quality time. At least, those of us who have been lucky enough to have a mother in our lives, live within distance, and whose mothers are not deceased or time travelers.

Today I celebrated mother’s day with my sister, brother-in-law, and of course mother. We prepared a breakfast on the Dobson’s new griddle, in their beautiful ranch home.

As the afternoon pressed on we took the get-together outside. My mom brought old photos, documents, and magazines to help my sister with her genealogy research. Spread on the table are my grandfather in front of 1950s Studebaker, his Marine duty record, and a Newsweek and Time Magazine from late July 1969. Most of the ads in the magazine are for Michigan companies, many of which were at their zenith: GM, Michigan Bell, National Bank of Detroit, McLouth Steel, and Detroit Bank & Trust. In these ads Detroit stands at the dizzying height of its industry. These ads are not in the Free Press or a Farmer Jack circular, they are full page ads in Time and Newsweek, two nationally syndicated magazines.

Not that advertising is the sole barometer for Detroit’s success, but seeing all the companies in print proclaiming their product and overcrowding other ads in two of the biggest issues to date. These magazines contain the first major articles on the moon landing, published just five and eight days after the initial landing as well as the editorial with the heading THE NATION with the title “THE WAR: DECISION TO LOWER THE PRESSURE”. All in Helvetica typeface, this is another discussion, but gives indicator to the time. I include Vietnam because this time is not without its own problems. The term Golden Age often seems to preclude the presence of shit and death.

There is more to see here than the usual requiem for Detroit industrialism. Yes, we now live in the rust belt, a city that has dropped from the Golden Age height of Detroit as seen in the 1969 issues of Time and Newsweek. But I see the advertisements as a fair representation of Mother’s day, for me at least. My mother’s role in my life has changed, and for many of us our parents strength and power will wax and wane, and they will all eventually rust require aide and assistance, she deserves to be celebrated. Mother’s day allows reflection of where we come from and the nature of family. The ads of Time call to me, they echo the youth of my mother, which coincides with the vigor of Detroit. My mother inherited the grit and grace of Rosie the Riveter (bee tee dub: the real Rosies were more often African American women), and was part of the group of who would break the glass ceiling. The same women who would eventually want to look like line backers in the 80s with their shoulder pads.

1969, when the Excalibur restaurant was full of Frank Sinatra’s photographs and the decadence of the 1950s still ebbed in the streets, a time that stands in the quiet period between the 67 riots, civil rights and the crack epidemic. A time that is complicated. The shortness of this post does not allow all of the complexities and contradictions to flow, but stands to represent the Golden Era of Detroit and our mothers.

When we celebrate mother’s day some may have a difficulty in selecting a card. We may be upset with our mothers, or find the cards too cheesy. The desire burns for an accurate representation of our relationship.

Stand contrary to those feelings.

We can write off our parents with the same ease that many write off Detroit. We know that for individuals to come to a low point they have of stood high and felt the vertigo of coming so far standing above their offspring. In our early 20s it is easy to stand with disdain to our families, certain that we never join the ranks of such silly bourgeois experiment; let us instead recognize that we are the fruit of that experiment and celebrate where we came from with a little thanks and family time.

Detroit stands as a representation to what I know my mother has endured. We often receive glossy views of our parents. The quick blurbs present in current issues of Time magazine that shrink the history of Detroit to a few brief leads and establishing paragraphs. But, Detroit’s history is complicated and full of grandeur, adventure, and the buzz of a mechanized city that was known to the nation as a tough place to be.

Nostalgia can by a siren song, and can soften the past. Nostalgia creates want of a different time, and simplification of that time. We can sit and desire the Detroit, or mother, of old days. We can allow that nostalgia to blind us and leave us dissatisfied with the current state of things. Or we can look upon that time with fondness and allow it to drive us to a new vision; let our pasts be a foundation not a stumbling block, for there is everything to gained by re-visioning ourselves and our mothers, and everything to lose by letting them dry and crystallize to become brittle in the amber of the past.

1 comment:

  1. This intrigued me: "In our early 20s it is easy to stand with disdain to our families, certain that we never join the ranks of such silly bourgeois experiment..." This is exactly where I am at.

    And this: "...let us instead recognize that we are the fruit of that experiment and celebrate where we came from with a little thanks and family time." This is where I would like to be.

    Keep writing, and I'll keep reading.