Independence and autonomy sent my parents to South Bend, Indiana from Michigan when I was two years old. They needed to regain the freedom they’d enjoyed as students at Michigan State. Inexplicably, both sets of parents were criticizing their parenting choices, dropping in at all hours, and calling the police if more than a day passed without a phone call. I remember an exciting move to a newly constructed house, on a street full of kids, on the eastern edge of Notre Dame’s campus.
Peachtree Lane pooled in a cul-de-sac toward the wooded campus, but it began on Ironwood Road. This forbidden boundary, a two-lane artery, shrouded in lead exhaust, hosted traffic as steady as a pop-over jump rope. To reach Edison Elementary, we needed to cross it. Taking a detour to the crossing guard crimped our style. With the good toe planted on the edge of the curb, arms raised, eyes scanning right, left, right, left, we’d hear heavy metal bearing down on thick tires. Like the whirling jump rope, we’d wait for our chance. “Go!” We’d span the asphalt, spurred by fear. Every crossing raced my pulse and stabbed my heart. I always breathed a sigh of relief to gain the opposite sidewalk.
Ironwood hugged us to the University. Like a strong-arm, it gathered our senses toward marching bands, referee whistles, crowds roaring, and Good Year blimps hovering. On game days, we lined Ironwood’s sidewalk and rattled newspaper pom-poms, stained in thick blue and gold paint. We sang the Fight Song for laughing, drinking adults hanging out car windows. Frequently, they tossed us extra tickets. We’d hop on our bikes and head for the stadium, not needing to cross.
For ten years, my confidence grew with every crossing while Ara Parseghian led Notre Dame to consecutive wins. On New Year’s Eve, 1973, TVs tuned to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Our team faced Alabama as a football independent. It was a nail-biter. When the victory occurred we headed outside to hear the campus roaring. We met silence instead. Huge fluffy flakes, fresh from Lake Michigan, muffled the winter night. They floated gently as white kaleidoscopes on wool coats, doily patterns on black asphalt, and knitted white rows upon bare branches. We knew our boundary would soon span across town to John Adams High School. We sensed the end of Ara and the beginning of Devine. But, as snowflakes collided in the night and stacked into airy piles around us, we reveled in our own quiet victory of independence and autonomy. We slowly walked the center line of Ironwood Road.