Friday, October 25, 2013

Cleveland: The ugly part of change, at least to me





When we moved from the little mountain town in Western Maryland of Frostburg in 1952, we landed in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. It was near Dad's work and the loveliest little town you'd ever want to see. Don't believe me? Check the town web site here. See what I mean? Every building has that Colonial design and flavor about it, and some date back to the founding of the village in 1845. Cute, cozy, charming: those were the words my sis-in-law and I used from the back seat to describe what we saw on our recent visit to Cleveland.

After a short while, and I have to ask Mom exactly how short but I think it was about a year, we moved to the bedroom suburb of Maple Heights. Mom and Dad bought their very first house for about $20,000, as I remember. So of course we had to visit Maple Heights on our trip to Cleveland last weekend! The houses were all there and just as tidy and well-kept as ever, but much older, 50 years having passed since we lived there. You can tell the area homes were all part of a post WWII building boom: all Cape Cod style and almost identical in size and floor plan. Here was ours, below.

Grandpop Kelly (John Lee Kelly 1892 - 1969) on the right, me holding baby brother on the front steps of our house in Maple Heights.

Our house, this photo taken on our last trip to Ohio in 2007.

As we drove from downtown Cleveland to Maple Heights there came a point when I saw my old library, now a senior center, and I knew exactly where I was. Next stop was my old elementary school: Saint Wenceslas School. What a sad sight! It was all boarded up and there was a "for sale" sign out front! First the demolished the nun's residence and the candy store on the opposite corner disappeared too. Now this!

Here's the video I took on the spot as my brother navigated around. As you can, see it was a rainy day.


video

Saint Wenceslas parish was a heavily ethnic neighborhood full of hard-working Polish, Czeck, and Hungarian folks. I was the only "Irish" in my class, so I was a minority and knew it because the sisters who taught there made a point of it on a few occasions. (Here, we could start with the nun stories, but I'll pass on that for now. And yes, there were hard rulers involved!) As you've probably guessed, it was a heavily Catholic neighborhood back in the 1950s.

The church year drove the local lives of those kids who attended Saint Wenceslas. Celebrations and processions, first communions, confirmations were all milestones in our little lives, and the big guns were Christmas and Easter. I remember clearly going with Mom downtown to shop for Easter hats at Higbee's Department Store. That was fun!

There were other events that were kind of spooky for a little girl: word spread that every girl or woman was not to be alone with one of the priests. "Do not go into the priest's rectory alone under any circumstances," my good friend told me. I didn't understand then but I do now. Click here for more info. A sad shame.

Classes for us Baby Boomer were gigantic by today's standards and the 48 students in my class was not an unusually large number. Some classes easily reached 50 students. Those poor nuns really earned their pay. Somehow we all learned.

I got sad, I have to tell you, when I saw the old boarded up school. It was as if a part of my young life had been boarded up and closed out. I would never be able to go in that school with its attached church in the future, never be able to see the old classrooms, never be able to walk those halls.

Well, that's life: we live it and then it passes into our personal history.



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