morning with mom
P U T T I N G P I E C E S
T O G E T H E R
“Turn down my old street,” my mom suggested, as we traveled east on Euclid Ave.
We’d just had ice cream at Mitchell’s in Uptown Cleveland, in honor of our cousin Babs who would have turned 77 today. Ice cream was her favorite food; she always saved room for a tin roof sundae, no matter what was on the menu. My mom and I sat out front of the ice cream shop in the pleasant breeze traveling up the alley like a pedestrian. It was the first time she’d seen that strip of Uptown, as it’s pretty well hidden from view when passing in a car. “How different it is now!” she reflected. “I remember walking from home on East 123rd to my dentist on Euclid Ave. It was nothing like this then.”
So when we finally headed home, still thinking about her “old neighborhood,” my mom asked me to turn down her old street. I had seen the house on 123rd many times, but I had always approached from Mayfield Rd., not around the bend from Euclid Ave. I had heard stories about how, when she’d return from work at night and felt brave, she’d hurry from the rapid station down 123rd, down that block-long stretch bordered by a Lake View Cemetery wall and a wide, weedy lot and once-functioning factory. Familiar with Little Italy from the get-go, I couldn’t quite imagine what was so jarring or why she’d feel so apprehensive about walking down any street in the neighborhood, with the houses packed so tightly there seemed seldom an opportunity to ever feel alone.
But then I turned right off of Euclid. And there was the cemetery wall, and the empty lot, and the now-abandoned, partially burned out factory (as well as a new archive building, which is great!). Finally, I could put the pieces together. And I had to pull over to explore all the details, so much brick and metal and debris in this space my mother had hurried past so many times, her arms often loaded with a stack of library books. She stayed in the car and watched me explore, no doubt thinking back to what it was like then, ready with more stories when I returned.
And in that space of our own personal reflections as we drove away from the neighborhood, it occurred to me that my intention when starting this project was to be immersed in a place, to notice the details wherever I happened to be in Cleveland, whether the lake, one of the museums, or a walk of a neighborhood. But now, I found it’s thinking about the bigger picture, too. What did my mom see in this spot when she uncomfortably walked past 50 years before? Or how different were her experiences at Murray Hill School before it became a collection of art galleries, running to class as a bell rang, passing up her homework to the front of the class? Did she sidestep goose poo and look down at her little girl reflection in Wade Lagoon, as families strolled past in their Sunday best?
Yes, it’s texture and details and contrast and color, but it’s also honoring places by hearing their stories and putting the pieces together. There’s seeing, and then there’s feeling. Just as previous visits to Lake View to explore historical structures like Wade Chapel or Garfield Monument were different than today, before ice cream: visiting Lake View because Babs is now buried there.
How much does the feeling of a place change when you hear a personal story about it?
Abandoned Factory on E. 123rd St. Texture