My family and I lived in a small bungalow on Ossington Avenue in the south end of Flint, MI until 1965 when I was ten years old.
We lived in the middle of the first block east off busy Fenton Road and down two more blocks from us was a factory called Standard Cotton located where Ossington dead-ended at Camden.
Standard Cotton was a GM affiliated factory that provided car seat upholstery products as well as insulation and sound-proofing materials to the various other GM plants around the city of Flint.
Early every week day morning, a particular man in a wrinkly brown suit walked from the bus stop at the corner of Fenton Road and Ossington down those several blocks to the Standard Cotton factory.
Each week day late afternoon this man would then make his return walk down our street to catch his bus ride home.
He was a very unfriendly person. He would yell at us kids if we happened to be on the sidewalk or even near it. He would give us dirty looks even if we were just on our porch playing and not doing anything at all to bother him.
He apparently did not like kids and us kids therefore did not like him. So we quickly learned that when we saw him walking towards us, we got out of his way and stayed off the sidewalk until he had passed us by.
But when he yelled at us or gave us very nasty looks and we hadn’t been doing anything wrong, sometimes we yelled back at him and called him a mean man out of the unfairness of why he was yelling at us.
However one summer late afternoon when I was seven years old, my two brothers and I had been completely engrossed for over an hour playing with our large collection of cars and trucks on the sidewalk. My brother, Keith, was six years old and my youngest brother, Eugene, was four years old.
We had used chalk to draw out streets and houses and driveways on the sidewalk in front of our house and we had a miniature city all mapped out.
We were having so much fun moving our little army of vehicles around our city. We were making different beep-beep noises for our variety of cars and trucks and we were all three coming up with little stories about where they were going and what they were doing.
We were so involved with our elaborate playing that we had lost track of the time and we were not paying attention to anybody who might be walking down the sidewalk towards us.
So it was with great surprise when I suddenly felt myself lifted up from the sidewalk and tucked under somebody’s arm like a sack of potatoes, with my head bobbing along in the front of this person in rhythm with their walking.
I craned my head backwards and up to say Hi to my dad but I got a second shock when I saw it was not my dad who had picked me up for a joke, but it was that brown-suited, unfriendly man who was now carrying me towards Fenton Road.
The expression on that man’s face was very angry and he was most definitely not in a joking mood. I began screaming my head off in fright and kicking and squirming to get out of that man’s hardened grip.
And after smelling the alcohol, fresh and stale, as well as the horrible body odor on that man, I was very glad that my daddy never smelled like that.
The sight of me being plucked up and out from the middle of our playing had shocked Keith and Eugene into stupefied silence but when they heard me scream, that galvanized them into their own screams. My dad ran outside to see why all of us were screaming and crying so loud!
Keith and Eugene were pointing down the street at that man, still carrying me under his arm, yelling that that mean man had just grabbed me up off the sidewalk!
Jack Blair, our neighbor across the street, was outside and had seen what had happened. Jack Blair quickly got into his car, started it up and drove down the street to where that man was walking with me tucked under his arm. Jack always kept a loaded shotgun under the front seat.
Jack had just driven up, got out with his shotgun cocked and ready, at the same time as my dad came running up to that mean man. My dad spun him around, ready to punch his lights out, and yelled at him to let me go.
That mean man dropped me onto the sidewalk like I was a hot potato and I scrambled up and ran down to a much safer distance just in case that man decided to try and grab me again.
The brown-suited man then swiftly took out a pair of glasses from one of his suit pockets, put them on, and stepped back while asking my dad, “You wouldn’t hit a man with glasses on, would you?”
My dad hit that man hard, then him and Jack held that man up, shaking him, demanding to know why he had grabbed me up off the sidewalk and what was he going to do to me?
That mean man said that us kids were always blocking his way on the sidewalk and that he had to then walk around us onto the grass and sometimes the grass was wet and he got the bottoms of his suit pants damp.
He said so he decided that he was going to teach us all a lesson by throwing me out into the traffic on Fenton Road. I almost fainted when I heard him say that!
Fenton Road can be very, very busy, especially then at 5pm with so many people trying to go home after work.
My dad tried punching that man again but Jack was now trying to turn that man around and keep my dad from harming him any further.
Jack gave that brown-suited man a huge shove and told him to go catch his bus and get the hell out of here and then he grabbed my dad by his shoulders.
My dad then began yelling after him that he had better find another way to get to work because if he ever caught him walking down Ossington again, my dad would kick the shit out of him!
He yelled after that man that his kids had every right to play on the sidewalk in front of their house but there was no excuse for that man to just grab his little girl like that and try to harm her.
Then my dad broke from Jack’s grip and began to run after that man. The brown-suited man, turned around, saw my dad take off after him and then he began to run towards the corner.
A bus had slowed down and that man jumped on it before my dad could reach the corner. My dad slowed down when he realized he would not be able to catch him and so he turned around and walked back to us.
My dad and Jack both came up to me and asked me if I was okay and I nodded my head, not trusting my voice yet. I was also afraid I’d bust out into tears because I was still shaking from my fright.
My dad gratefully thanked Jack for reacting so quickly and Jack replied that that is what neighbors do, they look out for each other.
My dad then picked me up and I nestled my head on his shoulders. I softly told him that I had at first thought it had been him grabbing me up as a joke. But I was so scared when I had looked up and found out that it wasn’t my daddy, it was that mean, mean and very stinky man.
My dad had my brothers come inside the house with us. He sat us kids down on the floor in front of his recliner and he asked us if we had provoked that man in any way, had we said something, anything at all to him?
And we all solemnly said no, we hadn’t done or said anything, that we were playing so hard with our cars and trucks that we hadn’t seen or heard him coming down the sidewalk until he had grabbed me up.
Keith asked my dad why was it okay for that man to use the sidewalk but it wasn’t okay for us to play with our cars and our trucks on the sidewalk?
My dad told us that we could play on the sidewalk, that we had just as much of a right to use the sidewalk as that man did. But that if we ever saw anybody, not just him, coming down the sidewalk, we should always be polite, move our toys so people wouldn’t trip over them, and give the people enough room so that they could use it too. And then after they had passed us, then we could continue to play on the sidewalk. And we all agreed to do that from now on.
Then I asked my dad why was that awful man going to throw me out in front of the cars on Fenton Road when I hadn’t done anything at all to him? It wasn’t my fault that none of us three kids hadn’t heard or seen that man walking down the sidewalk!
My dad said that sometimes people do mean and stupid things without thinking about how mean and stupid those things may really be. That they don’t really think it through about the consequences of their actions, and that they don’t realize that if they do something bad, something bad might happen back to them.
He said that that man had been mad that he had to walk on the grass instead of on the sidewalk because we had our cars and trucks all over but that was still no excuse for him to grab me up like he had done.
My dad told me to never worry that that man would try and do that to me again because my daddy was pretty sure that he had badly scared that mean man. Daddy was pretty sure that that brown-suited man got the message that he would be seriously hurt and beat up if he didn’t walk down other streets.
And my dad was right, that mean man never did walk down Ossington again. He did take other streets to get to his job at the Standard Cotton factory from then on.
I’m just glad that I never saw him again because I had had several weeks of nightmares of replaying when that mean man picked me up, me seeing busy Fenton Road get closer and closer as my head bobbed up and down, then envisioning me being thrown into the air and getting squashed like road kill by a car. Yikes!
This is my childhood Flint, MI home at 931 Ossington Avenue. The front porch has been enclosed and the front door entrance and stairs have been moved from the side to the front of the house. But that is the garage my dad built and it looks like the same concrete driveway he made around 1963.
The now abandoned Standard Cotton Factory, Camden Avenue, Flint, MI. Please click on the image for a larger view.