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April 15, 2024

Hamtramck Walk 03

By Amy Probst

Walking the alleys of Hamtramck is a tour not only around the world, sample cultures, but through time, as well. The structures bring to mind Chekov stories, peasant Slavic landscapes from another time --- like this garage, built by hands that built the America I grew up into. Tiny squares of land here, miniscule lots without driveways between them, are farmed to impressively maximize each square inch, growing rows of corn, vines of squash, and always sunflowers. In miniature, these yards replay a relationship to the earth that is about sustenance, self-reliance, renewal and growth.

Different, the world back here on alley walks, than the world in front, where first-generation fathers and second generation kids unite in their efforts to aluminum side over calloused hands and old world roots.

These are American families.

Backyard views from alleys and trains show us a soft, vulnerable view of life. We are sneaking in the back door, spying on real lives. Looking up the skirt of a carefully coifed and mascara'd dame who would be horrified to know we can see her frayed underthings, the run in her hose.

I like real life. Even though it breaks my heart more often than not.

I like seeing old men with yellowed fingers and tall furry hats, pinching cigarettes and talking over backyard fences, throwing hard consonants at each other and nodding thoughtfully.

I like waving to the tiny great-grandmas in housecoats and hair nets, outside in the early morning sun to nurture exquisite rectangles of roses, peonies, morning glories.

I like hearing the tiny little middle eastern kids, shyly clumped underneath a clothesline, shout "Cat!" at my fuzzy little dog as we walk by.

Alley walks are easier to breathe on than sidewalk walks. Time is different back here, slow to the point of stagnancy, like when I was a kid. My dog and I roam, sniffing under rocks and discovering things uncared for. My pajama bottoms and giant boots aren't looked at funny by the dogs we know on these walks. And when it's freezing out and I'm bundled so thick I can barely bend, I am tempted to sit down by a weathered garage or a hundred-year-old tree, and watch the sky. Or the squirrels. Or the air.

Morning is best. Even troubled homes are peaceful and at their best when the people inside are in their socks, sleepy-eyed, holding mugs and looking out the back door. Or frying eggs in bacon fat with the radio playing in the kitchen. Or mindlessly watching low-volume cartoons in messy pajamas. The backyards are still, pretty, and hopeful. And down the alley, a small dog and her human lose themselves in a gallery of life's art; medium: the human family; so varied, heroic, and fragile.

Article © Amy Probst. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-12-27
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