When I was young my family left the sidewalks and streetlights of Detroit for the wide open spaces of Southfield. Our home was nestled in an idyllic neighborhood with gravel roads and at night dark skies filled with stars we could actually see. A woods for exploration and building forts stood across the street and beyond that grew a cornfield where we played hide-and-seek.
The cornfield was part of the Thompson family farm since the 1870s. Mary Thompson and her brother James, both in their eighties, lived on the southern end of the nearly 200 acre farm where they had a garden and tended a flock of sheep. Their residence was a big, white, two-story wood frame farmhouse heated by a fireplace and stoves. A working windmill stood close by.
The cornfield was amazing! Nearly sixty years have passed and I can still remember running breathlessly through it from the middle of July until harvest time. Its towering green and golden stalks seemed to go on for miles. They reached above my head and I could feel the enormity of their size and number as I’d look up and see nothing but corn tassels and patches of blue sky.
Most memorable of all was the terror of getting lost in the maze of cornstalks and finding no way out. Wandering in circles losing all sense of time and place and sometimes (the scariest of all) coming FACE to FACE with Miss Thompson and her brother!
I thought Miss Thompson was stern and authoritarian like my first grade teacher. I later found out she was a teacher and a school administrator, and graduate of Columbia with a M.A. in Education and New York University with a Ph.D in Education. I’ve read she said educating and bettering the community were her primary goals. In 1959, she and her brother sold 166 acres, at half their value, to the City of Southfield for a civic center.
On March 25, 2015, I will be returning to the “cornfield” to present an illustrated talk on my late husband Charles Novacek’s book, Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance. Of course, the cornfield is long gone, but on its site is the amazing three-story, 127,000 square foot Southfield Public Library with 250,000 volumes, 190 public computers, a career and business center, a glass tower and public art throughout.
Close by the original Thompson farmhouse still stands surrounded by 20 acres of land, a garden and the windmill.
At the age of 96, on October 21, 1967, Mary Thompson died in the fields tending her sheep. She willed her house and the 20 acres to the City of Southfield. At the time of her death, the following tribute was paid to her by the Southfield City Council: “Her agile mind and keen perception might well have earned her accolades in other fields, yet her duty to family and love for the simple life led her back to the land.”
I’m looking forward to returning to this magical and amazing place!
On March 25, 2015 at 6:30 p.m., Sandra Novacek will be speaking at the Southfield Public Library in Southfield, MI about her late husband Charles Novacek’s memoir, a first person account of his life spent in the Czech Resistance during World War II and the Cold War. Mr. Novacek’s idyllic and “amazing” childhood in Czechoslovakia was interrupted by the occupation of his homeland by the Nazis in March 1939. Many years later (after World War II) he escaped the Communist occupation of Czechoslovakia, emigrated to the United States and became a proud United States citizen and resident of the City of Southfield with his family.