Although Mom’s parents had come from New England, she was a Michigan girl, raised in Ferndale on East Woodland Avenue. Dad was originally from Bellaire (“up north”) but came down to the city to find work as an electrician, after taking an electrical course at Coyne Electrical School in Chicago. Mom and Dad each had one sister, and we had four cousins. I probably would have had lots more cousins if tragedy hadn’t intervened early in Dad’s life.
George and Laura Gardner married in October of 1919, shortly after he returned from World War 1, and Laura gave birth to my Aunt Ruth the following August (1920). The next August (1921) she gave birth to my dad, young George. Two children in two years! All of Laura’s sisters eventually had large families, but sadly, Laura would not have that opportunity. Early in 1922, George and Laura went with George’s brother Paul out to Torch Lake to skate one evening. The ice in the lake was often clear, and they did not see danger ahead. While Paul went off to look at a nearby fishing shanty, he heard yells behind him, and turned to see his brother and sister-in-law struggling in the water where they had broken through the ice. He tried to rescue them, but to no avail. Both of my grandparents lost their lives that evening, leaving behind a one-year-old and an infant. Although it was unheard of in those days, the courts allowed Paul, a single man, to adopt the children, because he lived with his mother. So Grandma Gardner and Uncle Paul raised my dad and his sister. They were surrounded by loving aunts and uncles from both families, and never felt unloved, but always wondered what their lives would have been like if their parents had lived.
So we grew up with one set of grandparents, three cousins (Aunt Ruth’s children), Uncle Paul, and Grandma Gardner. Later, my mom’s sister Elaine gave birth to her only child and our fourth cousin, Marti, who is 19 years younger than I. Since both aunts lived in the Detroit area, our families made it a point to celebrate holidays and the August birthdays together (there were a lot of family birthdays in August). Since Nana and Grandpa Doten’s extended families were all back east, they were included with the Gardner family for celebrations. Dad’s Uncle Harold and Aunt Pauline also came, since their children were grown and lived in other states. So we had a pretty large gathering for celebrations. Occasionally other relatives from up north were in town and joined us.
Uncle Paul, who was legally our grandfather, remained single, except for a brief marriage to a widow that did not last very long. He lived in Bay City and was very active in the Salvation Army there. But he came down for visits. Grandma Gardner, who was widowed and quite elderly by the time we were born, lived part time with us and part time with Aunt Ruth’s family. We liked it when Grandma was at our house because she washed the dishes and we got a reprieve from kitchen duty! The house didn't have a dishwasher, but Dad used to say that he had two dish washers (Garry and me), but sometimes they were hard to get started. Grandma slept in my bed and I slept on a sleeping bag next to the bed. I liked watching her comb out her long white hair each evening and braiding it before bed. She died in 1957 when I was ten.
Our family usually got together with Nana and Grandpa for Sunday dinner, either at their house in Ferndale or at ours. In the afternoons, Dad and Grandpa would take us on hikes out in the country. I remember Grandpa saying, “Let’s go out to the Squirrel Road.” Dad and Grandpa would teach us the names of the trees and flowers, and we often came back home with bouquets of leaves and flowers.
Our little sister Dottie was growing cuter by the day. But her life could also have ended in tragedy. One day, Aunt Pauline and Uncle Harold were getting ready to back out of our driveway after a visit, when they heard a little “tap, tap, tap” at the back of their car. Upon investigation, they saw that Dottie was standing behind the car tapping on the bumper. If she had not tapped, she would likely have been killed when they backed down the driveway. We are forever grateful to God that she was spared!
Winter again brought a family Christmas, but also sledding on a hill somewhere in Birmingham. There were no decent hills in Clawson. We also had sets of children’s skis, but I don’t remember using them much, except on a pile of dirt in the yard! Now “flying saucers?” That was another thing! We enjoyed using them very much, on the hill in Birmingham. I don’t know where it was, probably in a park.
Those were good days, and we were blessed to live in Clawson, where we could walk to school, play in the park, ride our bikes and skate on the sidewalks, and even walk to the library or down to Sid’s Drug Store for a cherry coke, or to Ben Franklin to buy our child-budget-friendly Christmas gifts. The new houses attracted many young families with children, so we had lots of playmates. Many today try to downplay the perceived perfection of those times, but I truly believe it was a golden age, and we were blessed to be a part of it.