It had been a couple of weeks since we’d moved from East Cleveland to Morris Black Place. My sister and brother and I had gone back to our old neighborhood for my brother’s football practice. He’d played for the PAL 5 Raiders when we lived in Glenville.
We laughed and joked with the other cheerleaders and the players who were on the sidelines. They were supposed to be paying attention to the coaches and the players on the practice field. But I think they were having much more fun joking around with us than watching the starters on the field. My sister and I cheered and jeered at perfectly thrown spirals and dropped passes. We didn’t have to think of our return to the projects, our new home, until practice was over.
“Goodbye, Mrs. Young," my sister and I said to our cheerleading coach as we began walking towards my brother who was gathering his equipment.
“I heard you guys moved," she replied.
“Yes mam, we did.”
“Where did you guys move to? I can take you home.”
I paused and my heart beat quicker. My sister looked at me. “That’s okay. We can take the bus”.
I hemmed and hawed a bit more as Mrs. Young thought she was doing us a favor. She didn’t know that I was dying of embarrassment. All of my friends were poor, but we’d just become “projects poor.”
Vonita Burke is a Buckeye-Shaker resident who is passionate about reading and learning. She teaches yoga at the Harvey Rice Library, where she found her way to a Who We Are, Where We Live workshop.
Just like his father, our father worked for the United States Postal Service as a mail carrier. As children, my sister and I imagined our dad as you would John Henry or Paul Bunyan. He was a black man that carried America’s mail by the ton, through rain, sleet and snow. With his carrier bag slung over his shoulder and our needs on his back, he walked this entire city. He knew the streets and sidewalks, homes and addresses, the people and faces that made up Cleveland and our Buckeye neighborhood.
One day as my father was eating his meal in his powdered blue post office shirt and navy blue cardigan, I watched him, patiently waiting for my chance to ask him something.
“What’s up boy?” he said in his familiar way.
Just when I started to go into my pitch, my kid sister interrupted, “Damien wants this stupid, ugly jacket with yellow sleeves. They aint gone do nothing but knock him upside his fat head and take it.”
When she was done, she stuck out her tongue. “Gurrrrlllll if you don’t shut up and eat your damn food I know something!” Mom was a disciplinarian especially at the dinner table.
I ignored her shenanigans and stay focused on the goal, which was to get “geared up” for my birthday. I went in with, “Dad I think I need a new coat.”
Looking at my mother, then back at me, he said in a perplexed tone, “Why you say that son?”
“Because the one I got is old, ugly and it doesn’t keep me warm any more."
My mother shook her head, rolled her eyes and said, “He does need a new winter jacket.”
I continued my pitch. “Man, you should of seen the new starter jackets at the mall today.”
“Oh yeah?” he said.
“Yeah! They got the new pull-over ones, with different color sleeves!”
“Whud? COLORED SLEEVES -- huh!” he said mockingly.
“You should have seen the one I want, though. It’s black with gold sleeves and Steelers on the back in block, gold letters.”
My father said abruptly, “Steelers – you mean the Pittsburgh Steelers?!” Our father is a Browns fan and is all about the Cleveland Brown vs. Pittsburg Steelers rivalry.
“Yeah – the Pittsburgh Steelers! They got the scarf, hat, gloves and jersey to match.”
He took another bit of his food as he contemplated my pitch. My father had this way of not saying yes or no at the moment you asked for things. He chewed his Oxtails and rice, wiped his mouth and said. “Okay son, we shall see. We shall see.”
The final score read 17-9 Cleveland and my father was excited about the win: "Wroof, Wroof, Wroof, Wroof..." He had this way of turning our living room into the "Dawg Pound" when the Cleveland Browns where playing, filling the space of our two bedroom upstairs flat with family and friends.
That year my 13th birthday was the same day of the Browns vs. Steelers rivalry and our downstairs neighbor came up to watch the game with us. "Wroof, Wroof, Wroof, Wroof..." they chanted in unison.
"I can't believe you were crying over that piece of toilet paper your wearing son!" My father said as he shaped his fingers like tweezers pulling at the sleeve of my brand new Rod Woodson away jersey.
At the beginning of the game, Mom and Dad presented me with my birthday gift – the Pittsburgh Steelers jersey I wanted. At the end of the game, I was handed a shopping bag and inside was the Steelers jacket. My eyes lit up with glee.
"Try it on," my mother said as I pulled the jacket out the bag. In the sleeves of the jacket were the hat, scarf and gloves with the gold fingers to match. My father teased me: "Boooo". As our neighbor went to leave he said, "Nice jacket but the Steelers Suck! Happy Birthday." He gave me a wink and a soft jab in the arm. He put a 5 dollar bill in my hand before he left.
“What time is it ?!" my father said in a panic. "I gotta catch my numbers!" He played the number everyday faithfully at the neighborhood check cashing storefront.
"Can I go ?" I asked.
“Sure son” he said.
“Can I go to hot sauce Williams? Mr.clemens gave me five dollars" I added.
“Okay let me get my coat.” He said. “
I want polishboy and fries!” said my kid sister.
I was already to go. I had on my new Pittsburgh Steelers jacket, hat, scarf and gloves. Walking down the back steps, I followed my fathers lead out the door and into the neighborhood.
Damien Ware has organized as well as hosted various public performances and open mics and facilitated creative writing workshops for all ages. A zine-maker and poetic video blogger, Ware loves to share his talent for writing with the community, through self-publishing and public / web-based performances. He holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Wayne State University and a Bachelors Degree in African American Studies from Eastern Michigan University. He is a husband and father of three and writes daily.
I moved into the neighborhood back in the early eighties, before crack came on the scene. It was horrible and devastated the entire country. All of a sudden, it was everywhere. Many think it was a problem mostly of men, but I believe it especially affected the mothers and children. I have lived in the Buckeye-Shaker area for many years now. I raised my children in this community and especially at the East End Neighborhood House. We attended plays and other programs. I’m glad it was there, a safe haven.
Linda McMiller is an active member of the Senior community at East End Neighborhood House and still lives in still lives in the Buckeye neighborhood today.
Dad slowly backed the 1978 Delta 88 out of the garage and then put the key in the trunk. The trunk popped open and two large hinges held it high. I could have put all of my belongings into the vast space. The car sparkled in the sunlight because it was only used on Sundays - truly “the Sunday car.” It had four huge, heavy doors and an electric locking system. It scared us kids when we first heard it. My mother was amazed at how roomy and clean it was inside - plush, beige velveteen bench seats. We knew we were moving up in the world as we cruised through the Cleveland streets.
Toni Chanakas is a Cleveland native who first connected with the Who We Are, Where We Live program in Collinwood in 2015. Since then, she has been busy making posters, lugging books around and staffing Who We Are events. She wrote this memory piece at an East End Neighborhood House workshop.
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.