In 1970, I was 6 going on 7 years old when I rode in the back seat with my brother and sister as we traveled from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Cleveland, Ohio.
I didn’t know if there was family who came to Cleveland before us. I didn’t know what arrangements were made about where we would live. I didn’t know if my mother had a job waiting for her in Cleveland. I didn’t know if she had enough money saved until she found a job. I didn’t know where we would go to school.
I did know that after living with my father and a stepmother, I was glad to have my mother back. I knew that after my father and stepmother had another baby girl, I could at least tolerate a younger sister who I wasn’t entirely sure belonged to us because of her red hair and an even younger brother who was well on his way to being a pest.
We eventually landed in Glenville. I went to a school that I learned was named for the scientist who was famous for inventing the process that kills bacteria in milk. We stayed in Glenville, but moved, and I went to a school named for the street on which it was built. We stayed put for awhile and I went to a junior high that I learned was named for the president who authored the New Deal.
Our family grew to include two more brothers and we continued to move. Sometimes, because we could afford better; other times because we couldn’t, and had to settle for worse. During this mobile time, I grew into skinny legs and a flat chest. I discovered good grades and a love for reading. I harbored secret crushes and sometimes, a broken heart. We moved through, around, into and out of the Shaker/Buckeye neighborhood.
From Linn Drive in Glenville, we drove up Buckeye Road to visit my youngest brother’s grandparents and their swimming pool. We visited East End Neighborhood House when we began to realize that my pesky younger brother would be a gifted athlete when he played Muny League Football. During one of those times when we had to settle for worse, we moved into the Morris Black Housing Projects, a former amusement park site, and presently, an “estate” for others who are settling for worse. I revisited East End for a summer where I answered phone calls and disconnected more than a few when I worked the desk as my summer job placement.
In 1981, my mother sent me back to Alabama to get an education, some maturity, confidence, and independence. I returned with a degree, some of the maturity, little of the confidence, and finally, settled into the Shaker/Buckeye neighborhood.
I moved into my first apartment on South Moreland Blvd., got a job around the corner, and met the man who became my husband. We had a son and bought a home.
I have had a transitory relationship with the Shaker/Buckeye neighborhood for much of my childhood, but as an adult, I stand firmly in the Buckeye community.
I was not born in this neighborhood. I did not go to the school named for a man I just recently learned was a patron of the library. But I have requested of my son that when I am know longer a part of this physical world, he scatter my ashes around the tree that stands firm in front of the library that bears his name.
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.
Visit Literary Cleveland's Who We Are, Where We Live online anthology for more from the Buckeye/Shaker community.
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.