College with Linda

Home Is Where the Heart Is

A love for Detroit brings a writer back to her roots

WALKING DOWN EAST Canfield, heading toward Cass Avenue, the chill in the air reminded me it had been years since I happily jaunted down these streets with my sister Linda (right),  a freshman at Wayne State University. I’d skip out of my junior classes at Allen Park High and ride down to Wayne with her in her turquoise ’64 Falcon Futura

Sometimes I’d sit in the back of her classes, where I could take in a lecture or sketch the panoply of students: hippies in fringe and ripped jeans, and preppies in Harris tweeds with suede elbow patches. On other excursions, I’d head to Gow’s Little Acre, an artsy gift shop, or the Detroit Institute of Arts, where I’d sketch visitors.

Thus began my undying love affair with Detroit, whose hard-edged streets, spectacular architecture, and the promise that something intriguing was just around the corner always held my attention. I never became an artist, but my writing career started right after high school and has lasted more than 45 years — and most of those were spent in Detroit. Then, sometime toward the end of the last century, my husband and I became discouraged with the city.  We had no streetlights. Crime was moving into our neighborhood. It was time to try something shiny and new. We moved to northern Michigan.

Beauty was the thing that drew us. And northern Michigan was all that and more. But deep in my heart, I pined away for this place. After 15 years, we realized that beauty alone can be boring, and so can seven months of snow every year. The thrill was gone, baby. 

Out on this, my first writing assignment  after we moved back to the area, I felt lost. In 15 years, so much had changed. There were new shops, and different types of people walking up and down the streets. In an area that was forlorn when I left, the energy here could light up the town. As I walked up and down East Canfield from the parking lot, unable to find the address I was looking for, my feet began to hurt and my coat didn’t shield me from the sudden gusts of chilly evening air. I stopped a student and asked if he knew Nora, the shop where the Detroit Culture Lab was holding a popup opening.

“Sure. I’m walking that way. I’ll take you there,” he smiled. As we walked, he told me he was studying computer science at Wayne. I told him I just moved back to the area. I mentioned how cold the night had turned, and how I wore the wrong coat, and he offered me his parka until we got to my destination. In that moment, he wrapped me in the sweet warmth of Detroit. A great-big welcome home. And as I entered the Nora soiree, I joined about 300 cognoscenti who were streaming in and out, sipping Veuve Cliquot, and schmoozing with the big names of the international design world. Truly, it could only happen in Detroit.

— Patty LaNoue Stearns

This story appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of Detroit Home magazine.