She still keeps here Bible on the nightstand, but the .38 revolver is now locked in a box.
That’s because Paulette Bouyer, the brassy little grandmother with the pink lipstick, has left Detroit for the suburbs. Forever.
Click on the video player to watch Charlie LeDuff's report and an interview with Paulette.
She is not alone. Over the past decade 238,000 people fled the city, many fed up with crime, crumbling buildings and a city government deaf to their cries for help. Like Bouyer, the majority of them are black and most of them have chosen to move to the overwhelming white suburbs, casting their lot with the whites rather than leave their lives to chance.
“I do have to say that I feel strange sometimes being a black person here, wondering what they’re saying or thinking about me,” she said. “But when they see that I am a quality person, a good neighbor, that feeling goes quickly away.
“Besides, it wears on your mind carrying a gun. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
Bouyer, 63, was a member of a peculiar little sorority in Detroit. A church lady who carried a firearm. And it is not a small phenomenon. According to the Michigan State Police, more than 5,000 women over the age 55 legally carry a concealed weapon in the city.
You can’t say she didn’t try. Bouyer committed her life on the west side of Detroit, in the area of Greenview and Eight Mile, preferring to see sunshine on the horizon, only to be greeted by broken street lights. She endured the riot of 1967, the murder of her husband in 1977, the crack epidemic of the 90s, the blight of an abandoned nursing home at the end of her west side block in 2002. Then the drug addicts squatted in the foreclosed home next to hers. She endured the wild nights, the strange men, the house fire.
She stayed, and as a line worker at Fisher Body she was able to send her two sons through college. She also cooked for the hungry, attended city council meetings, trying to hold the neighborhood together. She even started a block club: Show You Care. Few did.
Then someone broke into her house in broad daylight, peeling the bars off the window. She got a gun and last year, she got gone.
“I got tired,” she said, stirring soup in her freshly painted kitchen, the archway of the door adorned with a God Bless Our Home doily. “I got tired of being lied to. Tired of the people in control telling me things were getting better. Trying to make it look a certain way even though it’s not.”
Cops that don’t come. Ambulances that come late. Drug addicts and punks loitering in the nursing home they promised to tear down but never did.
So she moved away. Boarded up her house. Put it up for sale. No takers. And so the city can count another vacant home.
“I love that memory of that city,” Bouyer said. “But that’s no longer the city I remember.”
Bouyer is happy in her suburban life. She walks in parks where children play. There are shops and restaurants. The insurance is cheaper and there is no tax on her electricity.
“Everything’s different here,” she says, as if she had moved to Europe. “They say hello at the gas station. Can you imagine that? I’m feeling fantabulous.”
No one person makes a city. But the loss of an honest and decent woman like Bouyer is a devastating one for Detroit. But Detroit’s loss is Bloomfield Township’s gain. Good neighbors always are.