Life, Stories Told

On the corner of Erskine and Woodside, 1976-1985

Rerunning my post about the street on which I grew up, Erskine Boulevard in South Bend, Indiana, the other day made me nostalgic. So I looked through my photos for childhood images from the old neighborhood.

Here I am standing on the sidewalk in front of our house shortly after we moved in. It was 1976, and I was nine.


I had Verichrome Pan in my Kodak Brownie Starmite II, which my grandmother bought me for a quarter at a garage sale. I hadn’t learned to smoothly squeeze the shutter button; shake marred most of the photos. And then I stored the negatives carelessly, allowing them to become scratched. But I’m still very happy to have them today. Especially this one below, of my brother (right) and neighborhood friend Kevin, who passed away unexpectedly in his 20s.


We played a lot on the sidewalk and even in the street on Woodside, which is the street pictured below. Woodside was only lightly traveled, so it was the better choice for street soccer. That’s my brother there on the left and neighborhood friend Phil crouched on the right. The fire hydrant was painted as a Revolutionary War figure in honor of the Bicentennial the year before, as I shot this in 1977. Hydrants all over the city were so painted. I shot this on Kodacolor II with my truly awful Imperial Magimatic X50 camera, which took 126 cartridge film.


The shutter button was so stiff on that camera it was virtually impossible to avoid shake. Here I aimed the camera east along Woodside a little. The old Plymouth station wagon there is the only thing that dates this photograph, which is also from 1977.


The city repaved Erskine in 1982. I’d never seen a street stripped of its asphalt before. I had Kodacolor II in the Kodak Duaflex II I had recently purchased at a garage sale, and photographed some of the equipment in action.


Soon a fresh, black ribbon of asphalt had been laid on Erskine and cars could again travel our street. From the looks of the above and below photos, I made them while sitting on our front stoop.


1982 was the year I began to experiment with the growing collection of old cameras I had amassed. I made this photo with an Argus A-Four, probably using Kodacolor II film. I feel fortunate any photos from that roll turned out, as I didn’t know what I was doing with f stops and shutter speeds. My guesses were lucky. This is just another shot of Woodside from our front yard. The house on the left was owned by the Mumford family, who had owned a small grocery near my mom’s childhood neighborhood downtown.


In 1984 a friend who was in my high school’s photography class gave me some hand-spooled Plus-X for my A-Four. I asked him for advice about exposure and he said, “f/8 and be there.” It worked out well enough. When I made this shot of the street blades on the corner of Erskine and Woodside, I chided myself a little for wasting a frame. But these unique embossed black-and-white blades, which were on every South Bend street corner, were removed during the 2000s in favor of more generic green-and-white blades with stick-on letters. Now I’m glad I have a record of this time gone by. If I had known the city was going to replace these blades, I’d have stolen this one.


I shot a roll of color film, probably Kodak, probably in my A-Four, as I was about to graduate high school in 1985. I climbed the giant oak tree in our back yard for this view. The van was Dad’s; he used it to haul lumber and finished pieces in his cabinetmaking business. It had, for a few years, been our family car.


Here’s a quick peek down Erskine, showing its distinctive curve, from that 1985 roll of film. I remember being deeply disappointed when the city replaced our minuteman fire hydrant.


Here’s one photo looking up toward our house from that 1985 film roll. Erskine was dubbed a boulevard because of its curve and because it was noticeably wider than other streets on the city’s grid. My childhood home is visible, above and to the left of the station wagon rolling up the hill.


Our house was quite famously green. When we gave directions to our house, all we had to say was “the green one” and people found us with no trouble. We never really liked the color, however.


I left for college in 1985, and moved out for good in 1989. My parents stayed on until 2014. Somewhere along the way they had the house repainted in light gray. I never got used to it. In my dreams, my childhood home will always be green.

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Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

Spring morning, Rose-Hulman, 1988

As a boy, summer was my favorite season, but as I grew up spring began to overtake it. I remember well the day that spring clinched the top spot. It was the day before I took this photograph, one May morning in 1988.

These were my college days, and this was the view from my residence hall’s back door. I walked this way to breakfast every morning, but my mind was always preoccupied. This lovely scene shouted to me so I had to notice, and I stood there a few steps from the door startled and amazed by how beautiful the campus was. I didn’t want to look away from the still pond, so lovely with all the reflected trees. For the first time I smelled the sweet air, noticing how cool it felt on my arms in contrast to how the sun warmed my skin. As I heard birds chirping in the distance I wondered how many days spring’s arrival had escaped my notice.


Captured: Rose-Hulman spring morning, 1988

Music, Stories Told

Driving and singing: Wings, “Daytime Nighttime Suffering”

I sing. My goodness, do I love it. It’s a cathartic pleasure that lets me vent steam. Singing is key to my mental health!

While I’ll never be a singing star, I’ve got a decent voice, I can carry a tune, and I can sing out. If you want to hear, just join me at church on Sunday morning. But I do most of my singing in the car, alone. I plug in my iPhone and sing along to my entire music library. I know the words to most of the songs, a couple thousand in the library so far. They are the soundtrack of my life, and I love them.

In the weeks to come I’m going to share with you the songs I like to sing most. I’ll tell you something about them: a story about how they came to be, or how I came to know them, or stories from my life when I discovered them, or why I like to sing them.


The first is “Daytime Nighttime Suffering,” the B-side to Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1979 disco-flamenco hit, “Goodnight Tonight.” That song was a staple of my school’s dances when it was new. I will always count it among my favorites, too.

But I didn’t know about “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” until college, when I bought my first copy of “Goodnight Tonight.” (It was actually a used copy of the 12-inch dance single!) “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” is so infectious and well constructed that it could have been a very successful hit, too. Who but Paul McCartney has such talent that he could afford to make a B side out A-side material?

When I finally did discover this song, it instantly became one of my top ten favorites from McCartney. And that’s saying something, because I’m an enormous McCartney fan and own all of his records.

But I find most of McCartney’s songs to be frustrating to sing because his vocal range and mine don’t line up. I’m forever straining to hit the highs or lows. Sometimes I just give up and switch octaves as needed to keep up with him. I’m sure that doesn’t sound all that great. But I can sing Daytime Nighttime Suffering all the way through in the same octave, and that’s satisfying!

Click Play to listen to “Daytime Nighttime Suffering:”

History, Photography

South Bend in the 1980s

I’ve written a lot about my hometown of South Bend this year. It’s because my parents have sold the house I grew up in and are retiring in Indianapolis, where both of their children and all of their grandchildren are. This is moving week! I’m excited to have them much closer by and am looking forward to things like weekend whole-family dinners.

But I’m feeling a sense of loss as well, because no more will I have a firm connection to my hometown. I left home almost 30 years ago, but it’s always been centering to know that Mom and Dad were still where I left them. I really could go back home.

I’m in Indianapolis because this is where the jobs in my industry are. But I love and miss my hometown.

And so when I scanned all of my old negatives recently, I felt wistful when I found a few photos that I took around town.

This first one is from the spring of 1985. I intended to shoot a whole roll of film of scenes of town, making a record of my hometown before I went off to college. But after I shot this one photograph I felt so self-conscious that I shot no more. I feel some compassion for my introverted 17-year-old self, but wish I had found the courage to complete my mission because wow would it be great to have those photos today. The one photo I took is of the building that housed the WSBT stations (TV, AM, and FM). WSBT moved to a huge new facility in neighboring Mishawaka several years ago.


I don’t remember now why I was in Howard Park that summer. But I was, and I had a thoroughly crappy camera with me. The park is on the river and gives this good view of the Jefferson Blvd. bridge.


I didn’t really appreciate that bridge then, but I do now, and I’ve photographed it several times in the past several years. Here’s a 2009 photo showing the restoration this beautiful four-span concrete-arch structure received in about 2001.


Also in 1985, I photographed the high school I attended. It was evening and the sun was beginning to set. I was just about to graduate.


This building no longer stands. A new Riley High School was built behind it in the late 1990s and this building was demolished. Tennis courts occupy this land today.


In 1988, I finally found some of that courage to walk around downtown with my camera. I shot about half a roll of film but wish I had shot five or six rolls. Here’s a shot of the river and downtown from just north of the Jefferson Blvd. bridge.


The East Race is a narrow downtown waterway that connects with the St. Joseph River on both ends. It was filled in during the 1960s, but was excavated and reopened as a recreational area in 1984. I rafted down it once, just after I graduated high school.


Here’s the scene from around the way a bit. You can still raft and kayak the East Race during summer weekends.


That day I walked onto the Colfax Ave. bridge and took four quick photos in series, capturing the river, the Century Center, and the Marriott Hotel. After digitizing them recently I combined them into a panorama in Photoshop Elements. Click it to see it larger.


I so very wish I had photographed all of the sites of my childhood back then. I’d love to have photographs of Miami Village, a strip near my home with banks and restaurants and a Burger Dairy Store and Brant’s five-and-dime with a gleaming stainless-steel soda fountain. I wish I had photographed Cira’s, a five-aisle grocery four blocks away from home where Mom sent me for milk when we ran out, and its neighbor across the street, Hans-Burkhart Pharmacy, where I used to buy film for my cameras.

Alas, these were mundane, everyday scenes. It never occurred to me that thirty years hence I would feel almost desperate for a connection with those places that made up the fabric of my young life.