Thursday, November 29, 2012

Baseball at Crosley Field

Summers on Sander Street:  Baseball at Crosley Field

The old home field of the National League’s Cincinnati Reds from 1912 through 1970, was located on the west side of town  at the Findlay and Western intersection, what is today the Queensgate section, just off I-75 South at the Western Avenue Exit.  

Mid-season, June 24, 1970, the team moved to Riverfront Stadium, and old Crosley Field, built in 1884, was demolished. 

I’m one of the lucky ones to remember watching games played there with my father, mostly during the late 1940s and early ‘50s,  before I became a roaming inner-city teenager. 

I especially remember the night games with Dad, including the dark walks home over the lonesome inner-city streets, where my father would be either happy and joking for the win or quiet because our team lost. We always lived within walking distance of downtown, even if some of our homes were a mile or so away through old Over-the-Rhine streets. 

The night games were magical for me.  I remember the cool night air in the stands and the cold Coke in my hands, the hotdogs and popcorn, the strangely illuminated field and the dazzling bleached white of the players’uniforms. 
 Crosley's lights are visible in this photo, taken in the late 1940s.

 In 1948, I was just a little girl, when my favorite baseball star  was called up to start as first baseman, Ted Kluszewski.   Over the next few years, I watched “Big Klu” rise to super stardom.  It was a thrilling time in baseball, never to be recaptured.

                                                   Kluszewski showing his famous short sleeves

The Reds’ office didn’t like it a lot when Kluszewski cut the too-tight sleeves off his uniform, so he could bat freely, but there wasn’t much anyone could do about it.  When people got a look at those huge biceps, it was plain that this was one strong batter.  He told a reporter, “It was either that or change my swing—and I wasn’t about to change my swing.” 

When Leo Durocher, Hall of Fame manager, was asked to name five of the strongest players in baseball, he did not include Kluszewski, and when later asked why not, he answered, “Kluszewski? I’m talking about human beings!”  (

An added fact about Big Klu, that I could personally brag about among my friends, was that he lived in the same subdivision, Kennedy Heights, as my Uncle Buford on my Mom’s side.  When we visited my uncle’s house for family occasions, it was a thrill just to know I was in my hero’s neighborhood.

If my father wasn’t sitting in the stadium for home games, he was glued to the TV at home with his Hudepohl beer.  It wasn’t as much fun watching the games on television as sitting in the stands, but in my house that’s what was playing.

Another favorite player during the 1950s, of course, was left-handed pitcher, Joe Nuxhall, a local from Hamilton, Ohio. He was only 15 years old when he broke into big league baseball with the Reds, for one game only, on June 10, 1944.  This was during World War II, when players were scarce.  Joe came back to the Reds in 1952 as a permanent player.

I think I remember Joe more as announcer for 40 years, beginning in 1967, when he retired as a player.  That was the same year Johnny Bench came to the team, whom my father loved, along with every other Cincinnati fan. 

I believe we kids had more Johnny Bench paraphernalia and shirts than any other Reds player, including Pete Rose.  Dad began working a second job for the Reds and was known to bring home pennants, bats, pictures, calendars, shirts, and whatever else he could get hold of for the kids and grandkids.  I still have the red Johnny Bench bat somewhere.  I wish I still had my Bench gray shirt.  One year I got a ladies Reds hat, kind of a bonnet-type thing.  It became faded in the sun when I wore it, and now wish I’d kept it safe in the plastic.  You do crazy stuff when you’re young.  At least I did.

By this time, the late ‘60s, Sander Street was just a memory, Dad having moved the family to Mt. Auburn in 1957, and then to Klotter Avenue, back in the Clifton neighborhood, in 1963, the same year hometown boy Pete Rose joined the Reds and won Rookie of the Year. 

Imagine my surprise when Dad informed me of the new start's name that year, and I recalled one of my Catholic high school classmates, Karolyn Englehardt, going steady with Pete Rose. Sure enough, when I saw Karolyn on TV and in the news, I knew it was her.  Her personality was unmistakable.  

I followed Pete's story along throughout his career...and the end of his career.  And I always thought of Karolyn riding the city bus home from school every day, swaying back and forth in middle of the aisle, leading us in singing late '50s hit songs. 

Free and happy times, good memories of being young and loving the excitement.  But the thrills end sometimes in divorce, as both she and I experienced. She married a baseball star; I married a blues musician.      We both grew up one day in different parts of the country.

The Reds continued playing Crosley Field until two years after I moved to Tennessee in 1968.  I knew there was talk of  building a new stadium, but it was still a shock when I heard it was final.  There were so many memories for us.  Old Cincinnati was changing.  The building of Riverfront was one of the first reminders. 

And I was living in Tennessee.  I felt I was losing my sense of home.

The mid-‘50s, when Dad was taking me to the ball games, Crosley Field had already began its decline, mostly  due to its location in the dense West End.  The field was bounded on three sides by factories, and with the increase of automobiles as the new main mode of transportation, parking was a huge factor. 

Additionally, the West End was a major crime area, especially for night games.  We could see the changes in the landscape, the slow deterioration of the city streets, walking home from downtown and West End.  But I guess we just figured everything would stay the same in these old neighborhoods both my father and I had grown up in. 

And there were other factors which demanded the need for a new home for the Reds, including the Bengals football team being granted an American Football League franchise, with the reservation that an appropriate facility be built by the start of the 1970 season.  

The Reds then agreed to build a new stadium on the city’s dilapidated riverfront section, and plans were in place for the last game at Crosley Field. 

The last home game on September 28, 1969, against the Houston Astros was to be the final game at Crosley, but delays in Riverfront’s construction caused the Reds to open the 1970 season in the old location against the Montreal Expos.  New team additions included manager Sparky Anderson and shortstop Dave ConcepciĆ³n.

The last game ended up being on June 24, 1970, against the San Francisco Giants, which the Reds won, and then fans watched mayor Gene Ruehlmann take home plate out of the ground at Crosley and transport it by helicopter, which landed on the field, to Riverfront Stadium and then install it in the new turf.

The first game at Riverfront was on June 30, 1970, against the Atlanta Braves, and the Reds lost 8-2, with Hank Aaron hitting the first ever home run at Riverfront.

Today, Crosley's old left field is now a parking lot, and one can still see the “terrace” area there, next to York Street, probably one of the most famous Crosley Field features. 

Notorious Left Field Terrace ~            

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sander Street Summers: Coney Island Babies

The absolute funnest day of the year, besides Christmas, the day we waited for all year, was St. George Day at Coney Island, Cincinnati's version of the famous New York’s amusement park.  Our Coney Island was on the Ohio River, in the neighborhood of California, about 10 miles from downtown Cincinnati.

When you're a little kid, that 10 miles seems like an entire state away.

Coney Island Day started the night before, when Mom and Aunt Vera began frying the chicken, baking the beans, and Aunt Vera upstairs fixing her German potato salad and Mom downstairs mixing up the creamy mayonnaise version.  We'd lay our sundresses and sunsuits out for morning, and go to bed early and try to sleep, mostly drifting off in the early morning hours just before daybreak.

After our normal breakfast of cereal and hot tea and toast, Dad and Uncle Norb picked up the heavy picnic baskets loaded with the cold fried chicken lunch, and the cooler full of iced pop and beer, and carried them up the block to the school, where everyone in the parish stood outside waiting for the three city buses assigned to haul the families out to Coney Island.  

The bus ride was a good way to start the celebration with singalongs, usually my father as song leader for our bus.  He and the other men harmonized “The Old Mill Stream,” and a few more old songs of our parents’ era.  

We’d eventually get to “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on The Wall,” and usually never got to "no more bottles of beer on the wall," before we arrived at the bus parking area at Coney.  Once the bus doors opened, yelping children swarmed out onto the covered picnic grounds, the first stop on the way to our version of the Magic Kingdom.  

While the moms spread the flowered and checked cotton cloths over the long wooden picnic tables, the men dug their first beers out of the coolers to whet their appetite for the feast, while the revved-up children yelled to go immediately to the Midway rides.  

We never, in all the years I remember, pursueded the adults to give in on this point.  It was lunch first.  No discussion.  No amount of pouting won out.

After properly fed, we'd run ahead of our fathers in the direction of the tall roller coaster tracks and ferris wheel, while the moms stayed behind and enjoyed a few extra minutes of clean picnic tables and peace, while they sipped a cold Coke or Pepsi.  They'd join their husbands in due time to enjoy the children's fun and excitement.  

Parishoners were able to buy tickets at our school prior to Coney Island Day, and I remember Dad and his big roll of tickets, about the size of a 33-1/3 record, an album – remember those?   Dad got many laughs when people saw him walking around the midway carrying this giant roll of perforated tickets.  

We got to ride everything, and Dad rode the older kids' and adult rides with me after Mom joined him to supervise my younger sisters.  

He was fearless. He talked me into the front seat of the Shooting Star roller coaster, where we let go of the steel restraining bar and held our arms straight up, and I screamed until I was hoarse.  

Then we joined all my classmates on the “Rotor.”  I had the only parent  brave enough to tackle this strange ride.

Interior of the Rotor at Luna Park Sydney. The ride is in mid-cycle, and the riders are stuck to the wall of the barrel by the force of friction due to centrifugal force. The yellow lines on the barrel wall indicate the level the floor is at during different points of the ride; the higher line is level with the floor when the ride begins. ~

I remember the year the Rotor was new at the park, and Dad positioned himself upside down against the wall, and all the coins and keys in his pants pockets fell out.  My friends were screaming and laughing and trying to unstick their hands from the spinning wall to point to him.  

I also remember not realizing at first that the floor would disappear from under my feet as centrifugal force took over.  My breath literally got taken away.  But I rode again.  And again and again.  And so did Dad.

Since one of my brothers inherited all of the family pictures, I don’t have any to post, but Dad took his camera every year and snapped shots of the little ones riding in miniature cars, the airplanes and tiny Jolly Roger boats. 

Strange as it seems, my mother only enjoyed one ride, the “Lost River,”  also referred to as the “Tunnel of Love,” where boats would coast gently through a dark, cool tunnel, gently bumping against decorated walls until the tunnel's light at the end, whereupon the boat you sat in plunged straight down into a small lake, drenching you in a giant splash.  

For someone who was afraid of roller coasters and such, Mom and Dad always rode the Lost River while I watched my sisters, and I wondered if this took my mother back to those carefree years as a young girl, perhaps drifting  through the tunnel with a romantic beau, perhaps my father, before all the children, the work, the bills, heartaches.  She never said, but her eyes would mist over when she talked about her favorite attraction on the Midway. 

Some years we’d go swimming in the "Sunlite Pool."  The year I’d passed my beginner’s swimming class at the Friar’s Club in Clifton, Dad picked me up and tossed me into the 10-foot end of the pool so he could, as he said, see if I could really swim.   Lucky for me, I could.

At day’s end, when the St. George parishoners began loading onto the buses  to carry us back to the school, the whining children protested leaving magical Coney Island land, but allowed themselves to be ushered  onto the leather bus seats, where sleepy eyes gazed out the windows and hands cradled small glass bowls of prize goldfish or Kewpie dolls, while their parents wiped sweat from their foreheads, commented on the humidity and longed to get home to the front porch or stoop and a cold glass of beer.

There will never be days like St. George at Coney Island again.  Some things in life linger only for a while and never return.  I am blessed enough to have it as a well-kept memory.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sander Street Summers: Concrete Yard Stories

Sander Street Porch.  L-R:  Linda, Phyllis, Me, Donna

Summertime in the late 1940s and early ‘50s were spent outside, for the most part.   Television was still new, and programs were televised only in the evenings.   No computers of course.  Moms liked kids out of the house.  One way to accomplish that was to let you know, if you stayed inside, you would be given chores.  We’d practically bust the door down getting out of the house.

Even when it rained…especially when it rained, when the sidewalks could fry eggs, we stayed out, amusing ourselves from  morning to sundown.  I don’t remember what all we did, but I also don’t remember being bored.  We didn’t know what that was. 

Our backyard was half concrete and half grass.  The grassy part backed up to a building on Jefferson Avenue, the next street over, going up toward Vine Street…now called “Short Vine.” 

On either side of us were houses, so we were pretty much enclosed in the back yard.  A low steel fence separated our yard from the one on the left.  There was no yard on the right, just the side of the neighbor's tall house which extended along our side yard and a short row of concrete steps leading to a side door.  

The concrete side yard is where we had family parties, what you would call today “cookouts.”  Mom and Aunt Vera cooked the food inside.  We didn’t grill out.  The prepared picnic food would be spread on a long, narrow table borrowed from the school’s cafeteria.   Dad and Uncle Norb would have a big ice barrel for beer and pop. 

Leading up to street level was a wide concrete staircase, separated in the middle by an iron pipe handrail.  A big landing was halfway up the steps.  It was a perfect spot for us to put on live plays. Neighborhood kids including my siblings and cousins upstairs would act out the scenes which I wrote.  Another one of the older kids would be the director.  

Two Potato Salads

The concrete yard parties were mostly held to celebrate either a church related event, like a first communion or eighth grade graduation, sometimes a baby’s baptism.  We looked forward to these fun get-togethers.  

Everything centered around the food.  It was a chance to  get some of Aunt Vera’s German potato salad.  Mom made her American potato salad too, which was always one of the best of any of the neighborhood moms. 

I was a picky eater, but I filled up a plate with the two potato salads and maybe just a small piece of Mom’s cold friend chicken.  Other than cakes and pies and cookies, that’s all I ate. 

The potato salads were not anything alike.  Aunt Vera’s had a sweet-sour vinegar dressing and bacon. 

Mom’s was extremely creamy with mayonnaise and the only other ingredient was celery.  Because Dad detested onions, we were not allowed to use them in any cooking.  Aunt Vera pretty much told him where he could go and he didn’t have to eat her potato salad.  Everybody thought that was funny because after a few beers, Dad would be eating and raving about that German potato salad with onions.

If Mom had put onions in anything she cooked, we’d all hear about it.  The whole neighborhood would hear about it.  I grew up learning to cook from an early age and never used an onion all those years.  Dad said he was “allergic” to onions, but we’d see him eat them not only in Aunt Vera’s potato salad but White Castle hamburgers and even, when he was really partying, a five-way chili. 

When he came to visit me after I got married, I had to be careful to not have any onion odor in the house.  He’d walk in my house and say, “I smell onions.”  Mom and I would just look at each other and roll our eyes.

The yard parties would last usually an entire day, until the sun stated going down, and after we cousins were getting tired from playing so hard all day.  Me,  Phyllis, Terry, Linda, Marylou, Tommy, and Ruthie were the oldest of the cousins and were allowed to roam around the neighborhood.  I’d take them down the street to my friends’ houses and we’d play tag, hide and seek, and sometimes just running up and down the street enjoying  abandon wildness.  Everybody got along just fine.  Including the adults, the aunts and uncles. 

The Cutting

On the left side of the backyard, where the yards were separated  by the fence, a little girl named Linda lived.  Her mother’s name was Celeste.  My cousin who lived upstairs from us was also Linda, Aunt Vera and Uncle Norb's daughter. 

The reason I remember Celeste is because she was one of the few women who could go up against my Aunt Vera.  They had similar personalities that said, "You don’t push me around."

The other Linda next door was very, very spoiled.  She had long blond hair and clothes a lot nicer than me or my sisters and cousins. 

My job was to watch the little kids when we were out in the yard.  Terry was almost as old as me, but I was definitely in charge, according to Aunt Vera.  Besides Terry, there was Linda, about the same age as my sister Phyllis, and my cousin Cathy, who was about the same age as my sister Donna.  My sister Nancy was a new baby.  My brother Ray wasn’t born yet, nor Aunt’s Vera’s boy Kenny.

This particular day, watching the kids play outside in the yard, I noticed my cousin Linda talking over the fence with the other Linda.  Then an argument broke out, but I just watched.  Then  the other Linda went into her house, and our Linda began playing with the other kids. 

A few minutes later, I saw the other Linda come back out and climb over the fence.  She seemed to be mixing with the other kids, so I didn’t think there was a problem.  I was swinging Donna around in circles, making her laugh. 

Then our Linda ran over to the fence, and the other Linda ran after her, got up behind her and did something with her hand on Linda’s back.  My cousin Linda, was wearing one of those little sundresses with the elastic at the time and a strap that tied at the back of the neck.  Her whole back, in other words, was pretty much exposed. 

I didn’t think anything was wrong until the other Linda moved away, and I saw a red line running from one shoulder town toward the other side of her back, stopping at the top of her dress.  I remember being confused about the red line, but only for a few seconds.  The red line began getting wider and fresh blood began running down Linda’s back.  I ran to the fence, where the other Linda was climbing back across the fence  to her own yard.  I screamed.  I remember screaming.  I didn’t know what to do but just scream for help.  I must have screamed loud enough, or Terry ran upstairs to get his mom, because Aunt Vera was suddenly there. 

Of course, her shocked eyes rested on me only for a second, but I understood I was in trouble for allowing something to happen to one of the children.  I said nothing, but when I looked down at the wood crosswise rail of the fence, there lay a razor blade.  The same kind my dad used in his razor when he shaved. 

Then my cousin Linda began to wail, the other kids began to cry too, and Aunt Vera yelled so loud, “What happened,”  that Celeste opened her door and came out.  My mother had heard the commotion and ran back inside for a towel, which Aunt Vera took and began applying pressure to Linda's sliced-open back.  

I showed Aunt Vera the blade and told her quickly what had happened.  She looked over at Celeste and began chewing her out for having such a sicko kid.  Celeste spat back that her little girl wouldn’t have done anything like that unless she was hurt first.  I had to relay to Celeste, on Aunt Vera’s orders, what I’d witnessed.  Aunt Vera picked up the razor blade and showed it to Celeste, who looked shocked.  She could not see our Linda’s back, but Aunt Vera spun her daughter around and showed her as she held the blade up.  Celeste turned and went back into her house and closed the door.

Linda had to have stitches, but I don’t remember how many.  That cut was the meanest looking thing any of us had ever seen.  I still remember that incident and how unbelievable it was, like seeing it in a nightmare, which I did more than once, waking in middle of the night and being glad it hadn’t happened again for real.

Cousin Linda Dean

Needless to say, Aunt Vera, and really none of the other neighborhood women, were friends with Celeste after that, and none of the other kids would play with her Linda.  They were too afraid.  They didn’t need to be told not to get around her.    

The other Linda was a little smaller than my cousin, so she was maybe five or six.  She was scary.

I believe that's the goriest thing I've ever watched, that cutting.  One of those memories you don't forget.

Wednesday's Why

When I began writing my family history, I hadn't thought exactly why I wanted to do it, other than my father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and I suddenly needed to know more about him. 

I'd grown up with him and knew him as my father.  I wanted to know more about where he came from, more about his roots.  Thus, I began researching online ancestry sites and creating a family tree.

Over the last 10 years, my initial reason for writing my father's family history changed. 

 I changed.  

What I always thought about myself began to change.  How I felt about my life as a kid growing up in the house where we lived, the neighborhood, my family...everything took on new life.  

Some forgotten good things came back to memory.  I made peace with the bad ones.  

My "why" I do this changed.

Writing family history teaches you about yourself as well as your ancestors.  Writing family history passes on stories and events that your family members need to read and pass on to their children and grandchildren.  When you write family history, you are giving the best gift possible to the people you care about and the ones who will come after them when you're gone.

By publishing your family history on the web, in other words "blog," you may even help others you don't know.  

This morning I read a blog that helped put my Why into even more focus.  It answers the questions by others of ...

"Why do you blog all that stuff?"   

"Blog" being the key word here. 

Aren't blogs supposed to be merely what we're doing in our day-to-day lives, or here's how I made a fortune blogging.  

The author here refers to the early "Facebook syndrome."  Here's what I had for breakfast, now I'm going here and there, then I'll have a meeting somewhere...

We family history writers should say instead.
“I write and publish my family history on the web”
“I write my family stories and share them on the internet” 
“I write my family history and share it world-wide”
By reframing it and calling it by the content of what we’re actually doing, it gives the activity a clear weight. We are writing and publishing our own and our family’s stories as an alternative, or a prelude, to writing a formal manuscript. Along the way we gain other benefits, and I shared my experiences a while ago in this post. ~    courtesy of

So we have the Why of writing family history in the first place, and now the Why we put it in a blog.

One of the best questions to ask when you begin writing family history is Why?  Having the why keeps you going.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Family Traditions: Liturgical Celebrations

Catholic families, when I was growing up, celebrated the traditional church holidays as well as the mile-marker sacraments such as Baptism (or Christening), First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage.   In a big family, such as mine, this involved a lot of celebrations throughout the year. 

These celebrations hold some of my most treasured memories.

My First Communion Party, May 1950.  Sander Street

Our celebrations revolved around food, like most other families’ parties.  And beer and pop.  The kids, the cousins, had a blast.  We ran and played, grabbed cookies and sipped pop,  without the adults paying us much mind as long as they knew where we were.  They were busy catching up. 

These Dean Family parties were the best times  for all of us.  My father and his four siblings teased  and joked while Grandma smiled proudly over her five grown children, still close to home, and her growing herd of grandchildren.  Life was good then.

A Christmas Celebration with Aunt Clara and the Mertz and
Berding Cousins.

My fifth-grade Confirmation celebration was one of those parties, but even better because it included  my mother’s famly too, the Joneses.   

My cousin, Marilyn, Uncle Buford daughter, was my Confirmation sponsor.  Uncle Buford was my mom’s only sibling. 

The   sponsor didn’t really have to do anything, just stand behind you  as you knelt at the communion railing, as the Bishop came down the line, slapped you on the cheek and said your Confirmation name.  You had to have picked a saint’s name to be confirmed. 

I remember pouring over lists of saints’ names for several weeks before the grand event.   I thought about “Ramona,” after my Dad, Raymond. 

Seriously, there was a St. Ramona on one of the lists the nuns gave us. 

Mom said,  “No, you will not.”  She obviously didn’t care much for that name.  Dad liked it of course.

I cannot tell you how many girls in my class chose “Mary.”  The ones whose name were not already Mary.   I was always a noncomformist, so I wanted a “special” name no one else would choose. 

Mom reminded me of my long departed grandmother’s name.  Cecile.  Mom thought that was a pretty name.  I looked it up, and there was a St. Cecila, the patron saint of music. 

Except my maternal grandmother’s name was “Cecile,” not Cecilia.  Close enough, we decided.  Cecile it would be.

 It made sense, seeing as music was a huge part of my life.  And it made my mother happy.  Not having her mother around like other young women raising families always hurt Mom.  She missed her mother.    Dad said choosing Cecile was a good thing.  I don’t think he really cared about “Ramona.” 

Most of all, since I had no memory of my Grandmother Cecile—having died before my first birthday—her name would be part of me forever. 

St. George

Confirmation was an evening ritual inside the low-candle-lit,  cathedral-like church.  I almost felt like I was going to a special party in my brand new,  black suede, first-time-ever pumps—shoes with no straps!  And nylons, which I’d only the Easter before been allowed to exchange for white cotton socks.  

 Grandma had bought me, on one of our shopping trips downtown, a navy blue satin, circular skirt with an iridescant-like sheen to it.  We’d found it on a sale rack in Shillitoe’s Bargain Basement.  I wore a white frilly blouse and felt like a movie star. 

I guess Confirmation was sort of like a debut, at least for the girls.  We got to dress almost like adults.

Aunt Vera had shampooed and pin-curled my hair early that morning and brushed it out after I was dressed.  It wasn’t my favorite hairdo, but I had poker-straight hair and my mother and grandma both wanted it curled.  Aunt Vera was the Pin-Curl Queen.  She fastened the tiny spirals as tight as she could, and your scalp finally became numb after hurting for hours. 

When we arrived at church that evening, I remember being proud beyond words of my cousin Marilyn.  She was tall and beautiful, and mature.  She was older than me and my classmates. 

The only dark spot on my confirmation coming-out, was when the Bishop came down the line and stood in front of me, and lightly slapping my cheek, pronounced me “Cecil.”  Without the  “e” on the end.  Cee’-sul!  Like a boy’s name.  Emphasis on the Cee. 

And Marilyn heard it.  The girls kneeling on either side of me heard it.  Next day the whole class had heard it. 

Mom said some people had called her mother Cecil because her name wasn’t Cecilia, and they didn’t  realize the  “e” on the end was there for a purpose.   It should be pronounced Ce-seel’, accent on the second  syllable. 

It didn’t make it any better that my dead grandmother had to bear such disgrace, but I decided to look down with contempt on anyone not learned enough to know how to pronounce a simple name.  A beautiful lname. 

Finally one of the nuns informed me that the Bishop had pronounced the Latin version of Cecile.  I don’t think that was true.    

Eventually the teasing died down as it usually does, and I still liked my Cecile name. 

When I began doing family history in earnest, I liked my name even more when I wrote about my Maternal Grandmother Cecile Leeds.  I hope she knows I am proud to have her name.

My Maternal Grandmother, Cecile May Leeds

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Three Flights Over a Bakery

Me and Grandma on Sander Street , circa 1948, when
Easter Hats  were worn to Church on Easter Sunday, and I finally got
to wear "nylons."

 Grandma and Uncle Junior moved from 2223 Clifton Avenue, the house next door to the Prosit, before the 1949 city directory was published.

 Frank Junior was born in 1931, on my birthday September 22nd to be exact.  A fact he never let me forget.  So he was approximately 18 years old then.  I was seven.  Perfect age for teasing.

One of my vivid memories is breakfast at Grandma’s, watching Uncle Junior eat his Wheaties cereal in a very large bowl, like a vegetable bowl for mashed potatoes or something.  He could eat one whole box of Weaties every morning if Grandma let him. 

A fairly recent photo of Grandma's Apartment building.  The bakery
was where the white door under the yellow awning is now.
Another memory of Grandma’s apartment on McMillan Street, Apartment #3, is the German bakery downstairs.  I don’t remember the bakery’s name.  I wish I did.  The bakery was similar to all of the other  bakeries in the city, mostly German, some Greek and Jewish. 

The bakeries are different now.  That era is gone.  For instance, the one-of-a-kind cheesecake.  Cheesecakes now don’t consist of a sweet yeast cake foundation; it’s graham cracker crumbs instead.   

Granndma's bakery went out of business early on, but Virginia Bakery on Ludlow Avenue continued business well after I moved to Tennessee, and every trip home I went there to buy a cheesecake.  I begged for their recipe, promised I wouldn’t share it, but the sweet, older lady I dealt with said, “Now, Honey, you know I can’t give you that.”  Yes, I understood. 

Well, now – Huge FYI – the family of the Virginia Bakery owners have published a book, and it has the most popular recipes along with the history.  And the cheese cake is included in the recipes! 

Visiting my grandmother usually included a delicacy from the downstairs bakery.  She’d wait until I got there and then send me down to purchase the goodie myself.  She often instructed me on what specifically she wanted.  Almost always the Cherry Royal Cake.

Actually getting upstairs to Grandma’s apartment was a process to begin with.  Entering the tiny hallway with the mailboxes on the left with their corresponding buttons, you pushed the button to ring the the person you were calling on.  You then waited for that person to push the button on their end which sounded a loud buzz and unlocked momentarily the door in front of you. 

This made my grandmother very nervous.  For some reason, it scared her that you might try to turn the doorknob before she pushed the buzzer, and she would say every single time, no matter how many years you’d been visiting her, “Now, don’t try to open the door until you hear the buzzer.” 

Then you had only the length of time the buzzer sounded to open the door.  This worried her too, that you might forget to open the door while the buzzing was in process.  If this happened, then you had to go through the whole process again, starting with, “Now, don’t try to open the door until you hear the buzzer.”

Once inside the heavy, leaded glass door, you faced three flights of wooden stairs.  The second landing was outside Grandma’s brother Clarence’s apartment door.  Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie seemed to always know when I was visiting, or they simply opened their door every time they heard footsteps on the staircase. 

I always stopped to visit with them and watch Aunt Marie’s parakeet stand on her outstretched tongue.  Which I thought was totally gross, but I marveled at the feat because it made her so happy.

I loved Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie a lot, in spite of the bird in the mouth.  Their granddaughter, Sharon, was about my age, and sometimes she came to visit when I did, and we’d play games together in Grandma’s attic room where the wringer washer, stationary tubs, and clothesline were.  Grandma kept a box of dress-up clothes out there for us among other fun things to play with.

After leaving Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie, as you started up the last flight of stairs, you’d see Grandma’s house slippers waiting on the top step.  The farther up you got, she’d stoop down so you’d finally see her face.  And she always had this big smile greeting you.

I walked to Grandma’s apartment anytime I wanted to on Sander Street, but I always called ahead on the phone, because Grandma did not like to be surprised.  Her buzzer intercom system kept her feeling safe, and I guess her brother living a flight down checking out everyone visiting gave her added security.  I used to wonder if she was afraid my Grandfather Frank would try to come back.

And I’ve wondered often what my life would have been like if I hadn’t lived within walking distance to my grandmother, if she hadn’t welcomed me visiting her as often as I did.  If she hadn't enjoyed having me around as much as she did. If she'd had better things to do than taking me shopping and riding buses all over Cincinnati and watching her favorite television shows at night.

I have to say I would have been a pretty lonely child who would not have had the guidance Grandma gave me.  I wouldn’t be writing family stories, because she was the inspiration for that.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Organizing Memories Monday: Corralling the Information Flow

I love my news feeds.  Let me just say that first.  If I can read someone's blog or website via a feed, so much the better.  Otherwise, I have to go to all of their sites individually.  Yes, news readers are gold.

I can't think of a better way to stay on top of all the information on the web that I'm interested in, that helps me with writing, inspires me, provides such useful tips and education.  If you're a wise subscriber, it's all there for you on one awesome page.

There's a problem, however, if you use Google News ...Google's refusal to allow one to cancel a subscription.  

Oh, sure, it looks like you're cancelled, but if you've tried it, you know it doesn't work.  I venture to say I cancelled some of my subscriptions a dozen times and finally gave up and decided it was just a lot easier and quicker to delete them every time I read my news.  Still, I love Google.  

I only use Google now to collect all of my subscriptions, and I read them on Feedly , an attractive magazine-like venue that's easy on the eyes.  It  also places a feedly mini strip at the bottom of most sites you visit allowing you to click various options for saving the site, including adding the site's news feed to Feedly.  

So every few days--I wish I could do it everyday to keep up better--I'll pull up my Feedly to see what info is out there that I need to either read or save.

The first thing I do is go through and delete every subscription I would opt out of...if I could.  

Then, with a clean list of possible feeds, I to through them quickly.  After you've used a news reader for some time, you learn how to do this.  A quick scan sometimes lets you know you're not interested.  If I'm not sure I want to read the feed, I "save it for later" along with the sites I know I do want to read.  

After culling the articles, I pull up the saved ones.  This time I stop and read certain ones right then and there and then delete them.  If I want to hang on to the article for later quoting of reference, I send it to EverNote. If I don't have enough time to read all m saves, it's easy to come back later and finish them.  They stay safe in the "save-for-later" folder.

Also some get liked on Facebook, or tweeted for followers.  

This is the best solution for me at this point to read all of the good stuff on the information highway.  

Please leave comments on other tips and tricks,  I'm always open to new ways to stay efficient.  

Sander Street: A Father's Classic Gift

Dad takes a picture of me on a sick day from school
A more modern Amazon set of
Children's Classics


Sometimes during those long nights on Sander Street, waiting for Dad’s heavy footsteps on the wooden porch,  We'd get a surprise. He might come through the door carrying a big sack of White Castle hamburgers.  Maybe Empress Chili.  One night it was Chinese in those little white cartons with the wire handles.

But one particular middle-of-the-night, he really gave me a surprise.

With an eighth grade education, my father had a secret fondness for reading  and education.  Grandma and I may have been the only ones who knew it. 

Dad harped on me all through school for one reason or another.  First it was my handwriting in the second grade.  He called it “chicken scratching.”  Indeed, he had beautiful penmanship on his side.  Next, it was reading, and had it not been for his pushing me I might not have become a book  junkie. 

To reinforce the reading wish he had for me, one night he came in a little earlier carrying a brown rectangular box, which I spied through my half-closed eyelids from the rollaway bed.  He went to the living room first to talk to my mother, which was usual.  I wondered if he’d brought her a present, if that’s what was in the brown cardboard box. 

Then I heard Mom say, “Wait until morning.”  With that, he turned and huffed into the bedroom, still carrying the box, then stopped, and knelt by the side of the rollaway bed.   I opened my eyes before he could say my name.  Excitement danced in his eyes.  He lifted the box onto the bed next to me and said, “Look, I got you something.” 

I sat up and pulled back the already opened flaps on the box top and saw eight hardback book spines in a neat row, all in different colors. 

Dad loved giving gifts.  He always gave them immediately, as soon as he got them.  He couldn't wait.  
He pulled one of the books  out of the box and proudly announced, “Look, this is Heidi. This is a set of children’s classics.”  He handed the Heidi book to me. 

I remember touching the book gently, running my fingers over the bookcloth, reading the imprinted title and author’s name, Johanna Spyri.   I’d already read the library’s copy of Heidi, and Dad must have noticed me sitting on the bottom step of the old staircase reading when no one was around. 

He pulled the rest of the books out of the box, Treasure Island, Five Little Peppers, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Little Men, Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn, and-one-by-one placed them in a pile on the crumpled covers.  I was spellbound.  I was shocked.  I didn’t know what to say. 

We were not a demonstrative family, especially when it came to outward shows of affection.  I must have thanked him, though.  I don't remember.

I stayed mad at my father so much for drinking and driving Mom crazy, and here he goes and does something so amazing. 

All Mom said was something to the effect of, "He should've waited for your birthday."

The next morning, or when it was time to go to school, I lugged that big heavy box of books the two blocks to St. George to show my prize off to everyone.  I was so proud of my father that day.  I wanted the nuns and other kids to see what a good father, what a smart father, I had.  He bought me BOOKS!  

I had to hide those books of course, up high, in a closet, so the little kids wouldn’t get them and tear them up.  I wish I still had them, but teenage years soon came around, and they were put up in an attic somewhere, at one of our houses, and I never saw them again. 

But the memory of that night is still with me, as well as another night a few years later, when Dad surprised me again.  But that’s another story of the years in Mt. Auburn.

When I showed my books to Grandma, tears shone in her eyes.  My father couldn’t afford books when he was young.  Grandma said my father was always a reader and loved books.  He wanted me to have something he wished he could have had. 

The gift of those books, when it wasn’t Christmas, or my birthday, or anything, changed me in several ways.   I learned to treasure books more than I probably would have otherwise.  And I felt different about my father.   I would continue getting angry at him, but it was like I learned something about him I hadn't known before.

The book junkie's wall of books today.  My husband Gary and youngest son Jeff
are also book junkies.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sander Street: Rock 'n Roll at the Friar's Club

St. George First Communion photo, May 1949.  First Row, second from left. 
                         In my own world, daydreaming, as usual.

We moved to Sander Street in Corryville about 1949.    

We were the “war babies.”  Peace and prosperity was the theme…at least for a couple of years.

We were worried about Russia.  They had exploded an atomic bomb.  One morning the  Enquirer’s front page headlines warned Russia was going to bomb the U.S.  The story even had maps detailing where the Communists would strike.  Dad laid the paper aside, mumbled something with cuss words in it, and left for work. 

I looked at the paper, the maps, understood what bombs were and wars.  My Dad and Uncle Norb had been in one.  Though I never told anybody, I was scared half to death one of those Russian atomic bombs was headed for Cincinnati. 

I already had a hard time sleeping at night because of Dad coming in at all hours, making noise and arguing with Mom, the baby crying for nighttime feedings, and now the bomb threat. 

I listened every night for airplanes coming to bomb us.  Would Mom and Dad even be aware of it?

I figured it would be at night when the bomb came, like most bad surprises. 

Then the Korean War came, and Uncle Junior went to fight.  Along with the rest of the family, I prayed he’d come back home in one piece.

Uncle "Junior," Frank Dean
When I was about 12, I joined the Friar’s Club on the corner of McMillan and Ohio Avenue to take swimming lessons with the rest of neighborhood girls.  The Friar’s Club was a boys’ club,  but in the summer, every weekday morning, girls were allowed to come for swimming, playing games, and just hanging out and listening to music on a jukebox. 

Friar's Club in Clifton.  Torn down now.  Courtesy of QueenCityDiscovery

The club also had a huge ballroom that had accordian doors to close off certain sections depending on the need.  Every month or so, there’d be a guest artist come to perform, and the big ballroom opened up to accommodate dancing.  The first I remember were the Isley Brothers, an up-and- coming local Cincinnati band that later made it big with “Shout!” 

Also Brenda Lee came to sing at the Friar’s.    She was just a little girl at the time.  I think she sang “Jambalya.”  Her family lived in Cincinnati in the ‘50s, and she sang country hits for Jimmy Skinner’s Record Shop over WNOP radio in Newport, Kentucky.

But those weekday mornings the neighborhood girls and I listened to early ‘50s  rock ‘n roll. 

Fats Domino’s  I’m Walking, I’m in Love Again, and  of course Blueberry Hill.  The Dell Vikings’ Come Go with me.  And the Satins’ In the Still of the Night, which we harmonized. 

That’s when I discovered music could help me tolerate what was going on at home.  It became an escape from my reality.  Rock ‘n Roll had made its first appearance, and I jumped on that wagon as fast as I could.  Like all the other kids my age at the time, it was “ours,” our music.  We defined ourselves apart from our parents. 

And this was all before Elvis went into that studio in Memphis.