The Cleveland inner city park with its delightful lake was a gathering spot for many in the 1950’s where Yiddish and Polish were heard as often as English. Our family often visited there. By the edge of the lake was a water slide, where older children would climb up the ladder, slide into the water, and then splash back to shore.
At age four, this looked inviting to me. One time, seeing all the other larger children, I walked over to the slide while mother was changing and my grandparents were talking in the language of their youth. I waded into the shallow water at the base of the stairs, waiting as the big kid in front of me raced up, positioned himself at the top and then joyously slid down. It was my turn next.
I was large enough to climb up the slide, sit for a moment at the top and enjoy the view. Then, following the example of the other children, I slid down the slide into the water, which quickly rose over my head as I hit the bottom. My eyes were open and I clearly recall the startling blue-green color that surrounded me.
Four, five, six seconds, then an older lady who was miraculously watching reached down, picked me up and carried me back to the shallow area. She told me, in Italian, not to climb up the slide without first having my mother with me, leaving as suddenly as she had arrived. I understood most of her advice thanks to listening to and occasionally speaking with our elderly next door neighbor, on E. 153rd St., near Kinsman Ave.
I enjoyed the rest of that long-ago summer afternoon, more appreciative of the wondrous blue sky and the familiar sounds of various languages that drifted all about, seated close to my grandparents by their favorite shade tree, and living on borrowed time to this very day.
Stuart Terman, M.D. is a Cleveland physician who lived for a time with his grandparents in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood as a child. He has published in numerous medical journals and loves Cleveland, both past and present.
A big smile came on my face as I left church that Sunday afternoon in July of 1967. Our choir had sung some heavenly songs and I wanted those music people to continue to be with me.
So I called my Grandma, Bertha Frost, and said, “Please allow me to bring the choir home for dinner.” Food was not always easy to come by in our household because of income, but she loved to cook and love and laughter were always a part of her house. She said yes.
When we got there, we crowded into her small apartment , at least seventeen people—ladies all in dresses, men in suits and ties. The table was too small, so we made our way out back to the picnic table. Laughing, talking, sharing how good the food looked—talk of the mashed potatoes and meat loaf and collard greens. The Kool-Aid was so refreshing going down our throats. The sun was shining and God’s love was moving in our hearts. We prayed and blessed the food and the house and the people.
Mary Jernigan began working as a receptionist at East End Neighborhood House less than two weeks before she attended the Who We Are, Where We Live workshop there in May, where she wrote this sketch piece. She loves East End and the Buckeye neighborhood because she finds it a great place to keep busy and meet with friends.
After d.a. levy's "Suburban Monastery Death Poem"
Levy said Cleveland is outside history--
the Cleveland Underground
growing – growing ever-patiently;
Not long ago, the sun would break through
the mulberry leaves on Wymore Ave.,
but in between then and now, something changed:
In between the mansion on the corner
had a lion chained to a tree in the yard
[what, I wonder now, did they feed it?]
We only ever drove past, aching for a glimpse,
the fenced-in yard measuring its own block,
the curtains on the house always shut.
[and why now, when it’s not even raining, am I aching?]
What was sought in the glare of the lion’s white teeth?
Nothing, I’m reminded by the weeds in the yard...
The steel mills hang in the air, limp and lifeless.
We drive along and I’m told to stop asking questions.
The lion is gone, you wouldn’t want to walk around there now.
[would it be more difficult to shoot something
through a chain-link fence?]
Cleveland’s history is now,
suspended in some other dimension of a city defunct,
a game we pretend, in faith, is living.
Kelly Konya was born in Cleveland, Ohio and holds an MPhil in Irish Writing from Trinity College Dublin. Her journalism and poetry have been featured in publications such as Icarus, Banshee, the Irish Times, and Chimes. She says this poem was inspired by a childhood memory of a house in the Buckeye neighborhood and hopes it “touches on the way memory shifts as location shifts, and the way Cleveland’s history is continually rewriting itself.”
I was a 15 year-old wannabe hippie rebel trapped in uptight, English-speaking Shaker Heights, where vegetable gardens and clotheslines were illegal and my parents were so formal with each other they barely said a word. Luckily, only a three-block walk away on Buckeye Road, tomatoes grew from the cracks in the sidewalks, neighbors flung Hungarian out their windows at each other, and for Mardi Gras, the parishioners at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church dressed like gypsies and took nips from flasks while the mock bishop used a toilet plunger to bless the corpse of a bass fiddle along with the chortling congregants. It wasn’t Haight Ashbury or even Coventry, but the floors at Buckeye’s Elegant Hog Saloon were three inches deep with peanut shells, and the bartender serenely poured us pitchers of mind-altering Guinness despite our tender age. One night he actually paid my brother to sing and play on their piano, which is when I decided to become a troubadour instead of a Vice President of Sales like my father, who gave up everything for Lent except his secret mistresses. At least the parishioners at St. Elizabeth’s didn’t hold back about having fun in public, and neither did the pastry chefs at Nagy’s Bakery whenever they made Dobos tortas, seven stories high of sponge cake and chocolate butter cream topped with caramel burnt clear and hard as a window pane. I could always see what I was getting on Buckeye, including my own woozy reflection in that Dobos glaze and whoever else it was possible to become, maybe a piano player, maybe a storyteller, maybe a gypsy who knows all the laws worth breaking and lives to drink deep from the unruly fruit that grows up in the cracks of the world.
Katie Daley is a poet and memoirist who’s lived in several paradises around the globe, and she keeps coming back to Cleveland, the most unpretentious and nitty-gritty Eden of them all. To get the best of CLE distilled into an afternoon, she hangs out at Dewey’s Café on Shaker Square.
Community Anthology Table of Contents
About the program
Who We Are, Where We Live is a free community writing program giving voice to people who live and work in the Buckeye/Shaker community. Participants write stories, learn about their neighborhood, and share with their neighbors. Annually, selected writings are published here in an online anthology and presented at a final reading and celebration.