I sat on the stool and my sister stood behind me for the photos that cost my mom a quarter. I adore those photos — they capture the sweet time between our childhood and our teen years. We were young and innocent and smart, our lives a mystery before us.
I remember the kid I was when that photo was taken: optimistic and curious, awkward and silly, full of joy. I really, really like that girl.
The farthest thing from that girl’s mind that day was violence. It’s both tragic and unfair that kids at that mall these days have to worry about their safety.
In September, a man was shot to death in his car in the Eastland parking lot. At the start of the holiday shopping season, gunfire erupted between what authorities say were “two rival groups of teens.” One teen was shot in the chest; a clothing store employee was shot in the leg. Both survived.
There have been carjackings and fisticuffs, and now German shepherds are starting to patrol the inside of the mall in an effort to increase security.
It’s such a sad chapter in the life of the mall, which was one of the first-ever built in Michigan. It rose in 1957 like a shiny suburban star in the middle of fields that couldn’t sprout brick ranch homes fast enough.
My parents bought their little ranch house in East Detroit before Interstate-94 was dug out at the end of our block, when Eastland was just a topic of conversation. They were second-generation Americans, born and raised in Detroit, and like thousands of their compatriots, they laid down roots in the first-ring suburbs and started having kids — lots and lots of kids.
By my count, on both sides of my block of Lister Street were at least 54 kids.
We all grew up at Eastland.
I’ve got photos of me as a toddler, sitting on Santa’s lap, looking like I’m ready to burst into tears. My dress for my first Holy Communion was purchased at Barna-Bee’s. A saleswoman measured me for my first bra in the middle of the lingerie department on Hudson’s second floor.
I bought my first makeup — a Maybelline mascara and light pink lipstick — at Kresge’s, guided by my friend who lived across the street from me. She had older sisters, too, so I knew I could trust her to help me spend my money well.
It was a great place for kids. We could walk or ride bikes there without fear of a shooting breaking out, but these are different days.
Now there are guard dogs patrolling my Eastland.
“The Lion and Mouse” was carved from limestone by renowned sculptor Marshall Fredericks. It was his interpretation of the fable by the same name. (Fredericks also created the bronze “Spirit of Detroit” statue you see in the Chrysler/Eminem Super Bowl ad.)
The hippo was a favorite of kids of all ages who loved to sit atop it. The two statues and the three animals are featured prominently in this sweet little video I found on YouTube.
As I feel myself slipping into a nostalgia coma, I can’t help but yearn for the hopeful girl in the photo booth; her attitude is something that I miss some days.
And I say a little prayer for the kids spending time at the mall under the watchful eye of German shepherds, the threat of violence hanging over their young heads.