Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Thousand Miles Away

From the Mt. Auburn Years

A Thousand Miles Away

After we’d sold our house on Sander Street to the University, we moved to Mt. Auburn, 123 Inwood Place, about a mile from our old house.

In 1957, the little white houses on Inwood Place stood neat and proud down the left side of the narrow street. On the right side, was the Children’s Convalescent Home with its jail-like metal fence to keep the pale, sickly kids from escaping onto our street.

Several years ago, Gary and I drove to Inwood Place  to get a photo for my albums, and this is what we saw.

123 Inwood Place, over 40 years later

I was shocked that the street and its houses had deteriorated to this degree.  Driving to the end of the street toward Inwood Park, the place began appearing like a war-torn foreign village.

When we’d first moved here, I remember thinking of one of my favorite fifties’ tunes “A Thousand Miles Away,” and that’s how I felt, so far away from my old home and my childhood friends, all the kids in my class at St. George School.

I was still a child when we moved. It didn’t take long for me to turn into a street-savvy teenager here in this new neighborhood.

I remember having the daylights scared out of me on one of my first walks through the park on my way home from school when a tall boy with a blond crewcut, looking about 18, stepped out in front of me on the path and put his hand on my shoulder.

The path through the park led down from Hollister Street into a hollow and then back up to the baseball field and steps leading up to Inwood Place.  My attacker must have been lurking in some of the bushes.

It didn’t take me but a second to do what I’d been taught: I screamed at the top of my lungs, aimed my knee toward his groin, and took off running for all I was worth.

As I was sprinting up the hill, a troop of Brownies with their leader were walking down the path. I didn’t pause to explain why I’d just screamed. I never slowed down one bit. I just flew by them and ran across the baseball field and up the steps and didn’t stop until I was inside my front door.

I wasn’t the only one who’d gotten in trouble crossing through the park. My new friend, Jackie, up the street from us on Inwood Place, had a man expose himself to her as she was walking the path. Even my father got jumped late one night in the same spot and came home minus his wallet and with a bloody nose.

Life had moved up a notch on the danger scale with our move from Sander Street.

Nice as our little street looked, one street over, behind our back yards, was Glencoe Place and tenement houses occupied by poor families, and a little grocery store where my mother shopped on credit.

Rats come up from there, through our back yards. One big one made its way into our kitchen bread drawer, and when my mom went to open it one morning to make toast, the ugly rodent jumped out.

Mom made my father nail the drawer shut, never to be opened again, the entire time we lived there.

My new teenage friends in Mt. Auburn hung out at Dunbar’s Drugstore, across the street from Christ Hospital.  We drank cherry Cokes and real chocolate malts at the soda fountain and hung out on the corner by the mailbox.  The guys in the crowd had their own hot rod club, the “Dragon Wagons.” We girls were the “Dragonettes.” I am not kidding.

Yes, the boys wore black leather jackets and sported duck-tail hair styles. The girls wore jeans and big, white, man-size shirts  Girls were still required to wear dresses or skirts in school and at church, but we lived in Levi’s at all other times.

One Saturday afternoon my friend Jackie and I were drinking our Cokes at Dunbar’s, when two little girls came in, one older than the other. The biggest girl looked to be about 9 or 10, the little one about 5 or 6. The oldest girl helped the small one onto a red leather stool, ordered her a chocolate malt and pushed a quarter across the counter.

The small girl nearly inhaled the malt, and the older girl helped her down, took her hand and started to leave.  Then the older girl fell to the floor.

Jackie and I and the clerk rushed to the fainted girl, and before we could do anything, she opened her eyes and began to sit up.

In spite of our trying to keep her from moving, she said she and her sister had to get home, and she tried to stand up. Obviously she was still weak, and Jackie, a robust girl, well developed for her age, scooped the girl off the floor, and I took the smaller girl’s hand. The older girl directed us to one of the narrow, red-brick tenement houses on Glencoe Place.

When we arrived at their apartment, there no one was home. The place was shocking. Bare mattresses on the floor, an empty whiskey bottle on the stove and a pizza box dangerously close to the stove’s burners. Trash overflowing from a garbage bin onto the floor.

Jackie asked where the girls’ mother was, and the older girl said she didn’t know, nor had her mother been home in several days. Pretty soon we learned the girls had not eaten since they finished the pizza their mother left for them.  The older girl  held onto a quarter for an emergency and finally took her little sister to get the malt.  Jackie and I later cried, but not then.  Not in front of this amazing big sister.

We didn’t want to leave these girls, but we weren't sure what we should do.

Then Jackie said, “I know what to do. Come on.”

We told the girls to stay put, and we’d be back.

Then we ran to Jackie’s house and told her father, but he would not allow us to go back. He said it was a dangerous situation, and someone might come home and find us there and cause trouble. Instead, he went himself, after making a phone call to someone, probably the police or some public agency.

He made sure the girls were taken somewhere to be cared for.

We never saw them again, but I’ve never forgotten them, or the horrible conditions they’d been living in, with no food and no supervision. It was the first time I’d seen that side of life. We were poor, but we lived like rich people compared to how some of the people on the next street lived.

Glencoe Place in 2008, after a remodel.   Inwood Place started where the street sign is posted on the right and then curves to the left and runs behind the tenement houses. =

The fall after we moved to Sander Street, on October 4, 1957, the Russians sent Sputnik up into the earth’s orbit.  A bitter pill for America to swallow.   I turned 15 and had my first date and my first broken heart.

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