As the days become warm, green colors the dead trees of winter, my jacket comes off, and my mind begins to wander. My heart becomes mellow. My car turns from LeForge Road to West Clark Road. I stop for a few minutes at 415 West Clark Road. My God how many changes have occurred since I lived there from age 5-18, before leaving for a tour of duty in the U.S. Army? Memories of days and years that passed so very quickly flood my mind like motion pictures. Days of youth gone by. This time of year along the dusty road I remember the beauty of wild blood root, violets, asparagus, Queen Ann’s lace, and purple or white lilac trees that filled the air with their sweet smells. Occasionally cars hummed by the front of our house and disappeared in the distance except in the time of “spring thaws” when they sometimes became stalled in axle deep mud. No, roads were not paved! I remember the “question” from kids during school when they found out I lived on West Clark Road “…Oh, what is it like to live in the country?” The distance to the business center of Ypsilanti was only one and a half miles! Oh well, with only four nearby houses, a couple of farms and lots of vacant land I can see where they thought we were really “…out there?” We even had our own baseball field! However, there was no back stop behind the catcher to stop missed balls and when a ball was hit into the corn field behind the outfield it was an automatic “home run.” During the fall of the year our side yard was transformed from a garden into a football arena! I still have the bruises to prove it. We had an acre of garden too! We grew our own food which Mom canned, and we used a root cellar! We grew everything, well before the current local produce movement. With ten mouths to feed we needed to cut costs and it gave Dad something for us kids to do during the summer. I still remember carrying buckets of cow pies (yep, nice fresh cow pies) and scooping them into the dirt mounds where the cucumbers were planted. We had mighty big “cukes” all summer long! Then there were the cows from the farm on LeForge Road that sometimes wandered down the lanes stretching all the way to Clark Road. We often played in the fields which surrounded the neighborhood being careful not to step in the cow pies. The cows loved that area. One time they even cornered me in a tree where I had to stay until my brother finally rescued me. I was the butt of jokes for weeks after that. The area included wild thistles with purple and yellow flowers, grass (which the cows helped mow!), trees, butterflies of all colors, birds of all kinds, frogs, turtles, and sledding sites for winter. Through all this flowed this slow meandering “creek” which varied from ankle to shin deep. To this day I don’t remember finding the source of the creek. I do remember it flowed under Clark Road and into the fields, down past our house, and all the way to empty into the Huron River. It was a lifeline for nature, cows, and boys wanting adventure either in catching frogs, wading, maybe an occasional skinny dip, and ice skating rink (at the largest big enough for four people to skate single file). To us it was the best. Many a frog and butterfly were captured and studied. At night the darkened sky was lit with fireflies by the thousands and sounds of crickets and frogs filled the night air. At our house I slept in a room with three brothers. In those days sharing a bed was common. I watched my four brothers grow, drive their first cars, complete school, marry, have children. Sometime later I would be an uncle to 22 nieces and nephews! My mind comes into focus. I decide to try and look where I remembered the “headwater” for Sneak-a-Leak-Creek flowed. Today, there is housing, housing, and more housing. There are now over fifteen houses on West Clark Road. A patch of woods is where we had talks, and explored the attic of Gerald Everett. In the attic there were many papers, letters, and books. Gerald would tell us of relatives who studied Egyptian hieroglyphics and he gave me two letters from the early 1800’s which I have today. One letter tells of how it is thought that as one travels south “it gets warmer and warmer.” The Gerald Everett house is gone and a jungle of trees now invades the land where this home stood. Mr. Everett was a grand old man and often Mom would take him pies and holiday treats. I drive down the road looking to find Sneak-a-Leak-Creek. Finally, after searching for some time with the sound of horns in the background, the wind rushing by, and avoiding countless speeding cars I see a place in the fence, pushed in, filled with branches and full of trash blown from the road. In a burst of reflected sunlight I see the slow meandering water of Sneak-a-Leak-Creek! I can only stare with disappointment and am overcome with disappointment that wells into a sigh. A jewel, a remembrance of days gone, boyhood adventurers where the creek, fields, and Highland cemetery provided relief from problems at home, adventures, an appreciation of the beauty of nature, and even today a love of water (from showers to oceans). When I was young I could be anyone, anywhere, and live free! I could hide in and smell the earthiness of cornfields (no one could see me) or lie beside wheat and eat the kernels. I could gather shafts of straw, mix dishwashing soap and blow bubbles. I could sit on hot summer days, when allowed, and share washtubs with the other kids pretending it was a pool. To escape the heat we would sit under the weeping willow tree in the front yard. Ok, you are probably wondering how did the creek (which really had no name that we ever knew) get the name Sneak-a-Leak-Creek? Well, like all good stories “You Decide.” Those fond memories filled with colors, smells, and adventures on the banks of “Sneak-a-Leak-Creek” will be with me forever. (George Ridenour is an historian, researcher and volunteer in the YHS Archives and a regular contributor to the Gleanings.) Photo Captions: Photo 1: George Ridenour as he looked in his pre-teen years on West Clark Road.
Photo 2: Sneak-a-Leak-Creek can still be seen through the rusted fence along side of West Clark Road.