Thursday, August 23, 2012

Close to Home

Close to Home 

I finally learned how to decently parallel park in front of the house. Years had passed since the last time I had to leave the car in middle of the street while I ran in the house to get Ray to come out and park my car. Those cramped spaces just a few inches longer than your vehicle had always scared me.

How long had it been since I’d even lived on a street with no driveways, where cars parked on both sides of inner-city streets?  Just one of the things I’d left behind when I left Cincinnati.  Like my family, including the ones I'd just said goodbye to back at the funeral in Delhi. I missed them already and I hadn’t even pointed my car toward Tennessee yet.

I wanted to take a detour to Clifton and visit the last home I shared with my parents, 236 Klotter Avenue. The tall, narrow, three-story, white sided home with the black iron gate stood in the east block of Klotter, off of lower Clifton Avenue.

The above layout is one I created for one of my guest blogs online, “A Sense of Place,” at Women's Memoirs, which shows the front of the Klotter Avenue house taken from sidewalk level. I loved that the solarium windows were open. They never were when we lived there. After a time, we never opened the door to the sunroom, our special holding place for junk. 

The picture of the empty lot next to Murphy’s Pub is where the first house I remember stood,  the tall, narrow, white-sided building where my Grandma lived in the second-floor apartment with my aunts and uncles, my Dad’s family.  Murphy’s Pub was then the Prosit Café, next door to us.  Lots of memories come from the Prosit, most of them involving family members going next door to get my father to come home. 

Another photo on the layout depicts the McMillan Street apartment building that Grandma moved to next, the third-floor walkup flat where I lived off and on all during my school years.  I could always walk to my Grandma’s from wherever we lived.  We never got farther than a mile from that first house at 2223 Clifton Avenue next to the Prosit.  

Never more than a mile from Over-the-Rhine.

The last picture in the "Sense of Place" layout is of Hughes High School, across the street from Grandma’s attic apartment, the school I graduated from after transferring from Our Lady of Angels Catholic in St. Bernard.  Every afternoon after school, I could stop in Dino’s Pizza and hang out with friends for a while and then walk around the corner to Grandma’s and hang out some more. 

It took my staunch Catholic grandmother a while to forgive the switch to public school, but she enjoyed me being right across the street every day in school, and she liked hearing the stories I had to tell about my friends, the classes, my favorite teachers, my not favorite teachers.

That February day after my aunt’s funeral, I was retracing steps and memories of my hometown, even though it was too cold for my thin jacket, and mushy snow remained in grayish piles in the gutters.  I walked down the block, away from Clifton Avenue, turning the corner and taking a few steps up to Emming, the street my mother wanted to live on instead of Klotter.

Here, at the end of Emming, old concrete steps led down to Ravine Street.  I never counted them, but the rise up to Emming and Klotter from Ravine Street is dizzying, especially when climbing those steps. 

Ravine Street Steps from CityKin Blog

Recent Photo I took, looking down from first landing onto Ravine Street.
I remembered when my sister Phyllis and I, in middle of the night after a fun time dancing and drinking at one of the clubs, made the climb from her broken down car parked on Ravine.  We laughed, in between wheezing and catching our breath, over the mere fact that we were having to do this.  What a place for her car to quit.  And those steps, unfortunately, were the shortest route back to Klotter.  

We remembered Mom had left-over potato salad in the frig, and that drove our weak legs on. 

I miss my sister.  I miss her almost every day now, some 20 years after she left.

Aunt Dot’s death started in me a melancholy sense of loss. So much was gone, and now so much more was going away. I couldn’t stop the progression.

Standing in front of the big white Klotter Avenue house, I knew everything I’d left in it was gone. It was somebody else’s home now. I never got the chance to look in the closets and attic and basement for things I might want to keep. The house was sold without my knowledge when Dad got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was moved to a new neighborhood where for the first time in his life he couldn’t walk back home again.

Dad didn’t drive a car. He’d suffered a neurological disorder as a child, Korea’s disease, or referred to back then as St. Vitas’ Dance,” the only term Grandma ever used when telling me the stories of my father as a boy. 

I remember Dad trying to drive when I was very young and sitting in the back seat of a car,  when my Uncle Norbert tried to help him. Dad got so nervous he vowed he would never try to drive again. And he never did.  He was scared to death he would hit someone and run them over, and kill himself in the process.

My father knew the city like the back of his hand. He’d grown up in Downtown Cincinnati, the West End, Clifton Heights, McMicken in Over-the-Rhine, and he either knew what bus to catch or he walked.

When I was about as tall as Dad’s knees were from the sidewalk, I trotted beside him, holding his hand, when we walked downtown and back again. He crossed the busiest city streets, stepping off the sidewalks and heading into traffic, dodging in between cars, without fear.

Dad taught me enough early on that by the time I was 10 years old I was able to catch a city bus, travel downtown, sign myself up for dance classes, walk to Woolworth’s and go shopping, and walk back home because I spent my return bus fare. It never occurred to me this was unusual.

That was when we lived in Corryville, on Sander Street, 1952, right around the corner from St. George School and Church, and the Georgian Club, where my father worked managing the bowling alley in the school basement. If Uncle Norb was absent from his work as a janitor for the school, Dad would be the one to come into the classroom to spread the green pine sawdust over the spot where one of the students threw up on the floor and then sweep it up, or to change a light bulb for one of the Sisters of Notre Dame. 

I was embarrassed when he did one of these chores in a classroom I sat in. I wish now I hadn’t been embarrassed.

Uncle Norb and Aunt Vera lived in the third floor and attic rooms in the Sander Street house with my cousins, Terry, Linda, Cathy, and Kenny. We lived on the first two floors. When we moved from that house in 1957, I was the oldest of four younger sibs, Phyllis, Donna, Nancy, and Ray. Bobby would be born in 1960, in Mt. Auburn, on Inwood Place.

We had to move from Sander Street because the city needed it for expansion of the University, UC.  My old street turned into Sander Hall.

I’d basically spent the biggest part of my childhood on Sander Street. It was not an easy move for me. After we moved, I  walked through Inwood Park to Hollister Street, across Vine, and up to Calhoun Street to school and church, but my street and my friends were gone. Everything changed.

Now, in 2010, I still missed Sander Street. It was like someone had wiped all the memories of that house out of existence, and I was probably the only person still alive who remembered the stories that took place there.

Before Sander Street, we lived in a small three-room apartment downstairs from Grandma in the house next door to the Prosit.  Just like Sander Street, that first house of memories was torn down, though I don’t know the reason. 

Grandma, my two aunts and a friend in the side yard of 2223 Clifton Avenue.  The steps on the right lead to our three-room apartment, downstairs from Grandma.
The home at 123  Inwood Place, where we lived after Sander Street wasn’t demolished, like almost every other house on the tiny cul-de-sac.  But street had deteriorated to the point that it looked like a war-torn, third-world village. I hardly recognized the street or our old house.  Patches of dirt and rising dust took the place of the missing houses. None of the previous neighbors lived there anymore. Everyone had moved away just like us. More stories without a home.

Remembering my old homes that bleak February day on Klotter Street, my hand rested on top of the heavy iron gate, wanting to pull the latch and walk up the steps to the front door, but I didn’t. I couldn’t walk away either, not just yet. At least this home was still physically here. I felt empty. I needed something to fill the space but didn’t know what it was.

I wanted to be a kid again and play with my cousins at the celebrations, the Baptisms and First Communion parties, where the adults drank beer and laughed and were happy and we kids drank cold bottles of “pop” out of the ice tub, chased each other around and screamed, ate Aunt Vera’s German potato salad and my Mom’s cold fried chicken. I didn’t want to leave my home again.

I wanted Grandma to be alive, in the house next to the Prosit, the "saloon," just around the corner, on Clifton Avenue.

I wanted my mother and father and sister to still be alive. And I wanted to wake up and find out I just dreamt that Aunt Dot died. I wanted to visit her at least one last time and tell her how important she’d been to me when I was little and scared and confused.

I wanted to go back to 1961 when Dad brought me here to see this house and told me he was going to buy it. My father’s eyes shone bright with pride that day. He thought this house was a palace. He said the house cost $12,500, and he was going to buy it for us.

Owning a home was success to my father. Grandma, from the time of her birth to when she died, never owned her own home. She had lived in cramped city apartments all of her life, the earliest ones in poor neighborhoods in downtown Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine, or somewhere close, like Camp Washington, where my father was born.


  1. Beautiful expression of these remembrances, Bettyann. I'm so glad we have connected.

    1. Thanks, Jacqi. I really like your blog, so well put together. Mine is a work in progress.

  2. What a great story and by the way, welcome to Geneabloggers.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    1. Thanks for the welcome to Geneabloggers. Been wanting to join and finally did, now that I'm focusing on the blog. Jumped over to your blog and enjoyed the book review of the Journey Takers. Think I need to read this. Thanks.

  3. Welcome, so glad you've joined us. Enjoyed your story. Looking forward to reading your articles.

    1. Thanks, Kathryn. I'm glad I joined too. Finally! I like your use of the daily themes on your blog. I don't know if I could come up with an appropriate story or mention for all of them. I could try a few I guess.