In the fall 1997, my father died. My mother and I packed up our belongings and, with the help of my brother and sister, closed up our house on Sophia Avenue and headed out to our new home in Willoughby. Sophia was a small street off Woodhill Road, near the big intersection of Woodhill. Buckeye, and Shaker Boulevard. I was 41 years old and had lived in that house for 32 years.
We might as well have moved to the moon. It was quiet most of the time, people didn’t lock their cars or their doors. The first day that I left for work, I pulled my car out of my garage and dutifully locked the door. When I looked down the street of our condo development, mine was the only garage door handle in the locked position. I was finally in a place where I felt that my mother and I could feel safe in our own home. I could finally breathe. I thought, like many that had gone on a similar journey, that soon I would forget all about that house, that street, and the neighborhood that they belonged to. But then I had a dream, unlike any other I’d ever had, though it started like many I’d had since we moved.
In the dream, I am alone in that old ramshackle house on Sophia, more a boy than a man. The house is dark. It’s a hot summer evening, the air is thick and humid. I go out on our dilapidated front porch in hopes of catching a faint breeze as people often did in that neighborhood. But I seem to be alone. It’s the latest part of dusk, when the sun has all but gone, the street lights begin to flicker, and the air begins to glow a little under the leaves on the tree branches. And the leaves begin to rustle slightly in the breeze as if something is living among the branches. I feel the breeze on my face, a little coolness finally. I am sitting on the old, weather beaten steps that my siblings and I constructed some thirty years before, the last improvement to be made on the exterior of the house.
I’m just sitting there trying to catch the remnants of the breeze when I hear it coming: some sort of commotion down near Woodhill. I get up to get a better look. It’s some sort of a procession—a parade really—coming right up little Sophia Avenue! There are old cars: T Birds, Cadillacs, Pontiacs, and Chevys. All convertibles, all lined up, one behind the other. And there are people, black people, in front of, in between, and around the cars. They are singing and dancing, clapping their hands. There is music playing; sweet, sweet, music. And in the cars are all of the most famous black people that I could imagine seeing, some living, some dead. Aretha Franklin is in the lead car, a giant Cadillac, singing and waving. And there are James Brown, Al Green, and Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson, and Andrea Crouch--all singing and waving.
And the cars and people keep coming, on and on right down my the street! I’m astonished and excited, and I run to the sidewalk. But no one really notices me, they are too busy singing, dancing, marching up the street. I follow along all the way up to the corner of Sophia and East 102nd, Somodies Delicatessen on one side and Mary’s Hideaway Lounge on the other.
The procession turns at the corner, heading down 102nd toward Buckeye Road. But I don’t follow farther, I just stand on the corner, awestruck, watching. It continues, God knows how long, way into the night. And I watch and watch as they pass under the glare of street lights. Then they are gone. And the street is dark, old leaves swirling.
I’m so excited. Wait till I tell them, all the people on the street. “Did you see it? Didn’t you see who was here? Right here on Sophia Avenue, our little street?” But when I turn around the street is empty. There is nobody around; they are all in the parade. So I slowly walk back to my little porch and sit down, a little sad but touched, touched to the core of my heart. Because I have seen it all, the glory and the sorrow. I saw it all here on this street and I am grateful for what I was allowed to see. And it will never be apart from me, for it rests deep within my soul.
Kevin Matlak was born in Pittsburgh but moved around a lot in his early years. After his father retired from the navy, he moved to Cleveland in 1964 and lived on Sophia Avenue near Buckeye Road from 1964 to 1997. During that time, he saw a lot of changes in the neighborhood, both good and bad. He feels there isn’t enough space in a short bio to encompass his feelings about living in this neighborhood for so long. Sorrow and joy are mixed together in a very complicated way. He has a Bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State and works in the grocery department of The Mustard Seed Market in Solon.
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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.