Things I Know About Detroit Circa 1948

My grandparents lived in Detroit after the war, and every time I talk to my grandma on the phone, she tells me stories about Detroit. More often than not, they’re the same stories I’ve already heard, but she’s 91 and has earned the right to repeat herself. It occurred to me this weekend that I should probably write some of this stuff down, if only so that I can remember it for future trips to Detroit:

  • There used to be a buttermilk bar in Eastern Market, where you could go have a glass of cold buttermilk, just like you might go to a soda fountain for an chocolate milkshake.
  • They lived on a street called Orchestra Place, which no longer seems to exist, and both worked at Harper Hospital.  One of their neighbors was Hawaiian.
  • I think Grandpa was doing his residency at Harper.  Occasionally they would get to go to the theater or the opera because in those days, they always had to have a doctor in the house.  They once sat behind the heir to one of the major auto companies.  Said heir had just married the heiress to a major tire company.  That was one of my grandparents’ brushes with famous people in Detroit.
  • Grandma was the head nurse on the ward where famous people were treated.  Said famous people would bring their own food and linens, and occasionally the nurses would catch a famous person in bed with a lover.
  • There was only one washing machine in their apartment building, and each household got it for one hour per week.  With two kids in cloth diapers, that one hour was precious.
  • Grandma would take the trolley downtown to do her grocery shopping.
  • Living in a big, diverse city was a big shock for two kids from Iowa, but no one bothered my Grandma when she walked to and from work in her white nurse’s uniform.
  • One time there was a knock at the door of their apartment, and it was a big African-American guy.  He had heard that my grandparents had gone to the University of Iowa and wanted to meet them, as he’d gone to school there as well.
  • There was a place where you could go pick out your chicken, and they’d do all of the cleaning and other stuff for you.

These are some things I know about post-war Detroit.  My grandparents lived there until around 1950, when they moved to Davenport, Iowa, where they still live.