Cleveland 28, Ohio

The ’Burbs 1951-1962 (The Red Arrow Was Our Home)

In 1951, we moved to the Harvard-Lee area of Cleveland, the extreme southeast corner of the city. Buckeye Road was only a few miles north and west of us and easily reachable by way of the Shaker Rapid light rail line. The next stage of my life was to consist of seven years attending Saint Henry School (which is no more) and the next four attending Chanel High School (which was just demolished this summer).

Several things were different in the suburbs. For one thing, there were a lot of bullies around, including our neighbors Jimmy and Joey Fordosi and Jack Rulison, three doors south of us. I guess that was because I reached the age when bullies magically appear; and it didn’t help that I was very young-looking for my age. Could it be that my pituitary tumor had already begun, stunting my growth? Throughout my years at Saint Henry, I was either the shortest or second shortest kid in class, including both boys and girls.

Chanel High School as It Was 1958-1962

When I “graduated” from eighth grade (there was no real ceremony), I was surprised to find that I had won a scholarship to Chanel High School in nearby Bedford, Ohio. In fact, my parents never had to pay a penny for tuition, because in each of my four years at Chanel, I received the highest grades in the elite, or “A” section. I had outgrown my slowness in the English language and in fact proceeded to make the language my own.

I was helped in this by four successive English teachers who were so good that I decided, when I graduated, to work at becoming an English professor. There was Father Gerard Hageman SM (Society of Mary “Marist”) in 9th grade; Father Raymond Healey SM in 10th grade; Father William Parker SM in 11th grade; and Father James Murray SM in 12th grade. These four priests provided an incredible education in literature and language—one for which I will be eternally grateful.

My graduation from Chanel was a much more formal event. Not only was I the class valedictorian, but I had won the Mr. Chanel award for all-around academic and extracurricular achievement. And I was going to an Ivy League college with a full scholarship. Those were my glory days.

 

 

Catholic School

Dominican Sisters Wearing Traditional Habits

When we lived in the Buckeye Road Hungarian neighborhood, I didn’t do well in school. It started in Kindergarten when my friend András and I started kicking our teacher in class for being angry with us because we didn’t speak English. What in blue blazes was this English? Everyone on Buckeye Road spoke the Magyar tongue, and Harvey Rice Elementary School was in the middle of Buckeye Road. Was our teacher stupid or something?

My mother and father understood the problem. My little brother Daniel had just been born when they decided we would have to move to a white bread Anglo neighborhood, which we did in the summer of 1951. Being born in January, I had just finished the first half of first grade when—poof!—I started second grade in September at a new Catholic school, Saint Henry, where I was taught by Dominican sisters (and some lay teachers). Fortunately, by this time I had some notion of the English language, but was still thought of as being a tad slow. My teacher, Sister Frances Martin, would sneak up behind me in class, pull my ears, and call me “cabbagehead.”

In fact I was just an average student, and a bit of a disciplinary problem, until I reached fifth grade. By then, I started getting the hang of things. Unfortunately, that’s also the time my pituitary tumor started bothering me with frequent severe frontal headaches. I was now a whiz kid, but looked very young for my age.

Saint Peter Chanel

After eighth grade, I got a tuition-free scholarship to attend Chanel High School in nearby Bedford, Ohio. The school was named after a missionary from the Marist order of priests who taught me, one St. Peter Chanel, who was martyred for his faith in Polynesia. (Coco Chanel came from the same family.) I got the idea from somewhere, though I’ve never been able to confirm it, that St. Peter Chanel was cooked and eaten by the savages he was trying to convert.

Anyhow, I was considered a whiz kid at Chanel and was always on top of the honor roll. I graduated as class valedictorian and received the Mr. Chanel award for being the best all-round student at the school, despite the fact that I was too sickly for sports. I lettered in band and academic achievement, which made me the natural enemy of those students who toiled for the letters on the sports field. So it goes.

Although I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I have nothing but respect for the sisters, priests, and lay teachers who taught me. I was never an abused altar boy: In fact, I was never even an altar boy. The idea of getting up at 5 am to serve Mass was not my cup of tea, though my brother did it for several years.

 

My World 1951-1962

Where I Spent My Elementary and High School Years

I had a Proust moment this afternoon as I bit into a chocolate nonpareil, which is a round piece of chocolate covered with little white dots of sugar candy (see picture below). It took me back to my visits to the old Shaker movie theater, which was demolished forty-odd years ago. When I lived on East 176th Street, I used to ride my bicycle down to the theater, which was located on Lee Road just south of Chagrin Blvd, which used to be called Kinsman Road back then. The pictures I saw were all Saturday matinees, complete with serials, cartoons, and the usual kiddie foofaraw. There, I would buy some popcorn and, if I had enough money, some nonpareils.

Nonpareils

My world at that time did not stretch far from the map shown above. Occasionally, I would go downtown on the old 56A bus, boarding at at East 177th Street, a block from home. I went to elementary school at Saint Henry’s, shown on the above map as Archbishop Lyke school (now closed). My high school was a bus ride away in Bedford, Ohio at Chanel High School (now closed). I played at JoAnn Playground, trying to avoid the usual run of bullies who wanted to establish their dominance.

I had a difficult but happy childhood. The difficulty came with allergies and the start of the brain tumor that would result in surgery in the distant future year of 1966. My little brother and I were six years apart, but I did not really begin to appreciate him until after I graduated from college.

The Only Picture I Could Find of the Shaker Theater

The world in which I lived back then is completely unrecognizable today. For one thing, the tiny trees in the postwar housing that dominated are now enormous. And most of the businesses I recognized, such as the New York Bakery on Lee Road, are now a fading memory. I used to go there weekly on my bike to pick up an unseeded Jewish rye (the caraway seeds got stuck in my Dad’s teeth).

It was an interesting world in which to grow up.

 

Poles Apart

Chanel High School R.I.P.

A strange memory from the past popped into my mind this afternoon as I was heading for the exit of the Century City parking garage. I thought back to our old high school cheer, which was openly contemptuous of Poles. Chanel High (later renamed St. Peter Chanel High) belonged to the North Central Athletic Conference, which consisted of a handful of Catholic high schools, including St. Edward, Elyria Catholic, and—most particularly—St. Stanislaus. I say “most particularly” because we had chosen St. Stan’s to be our official enemy. It was only a few miles away and located in a largely Polish Catholic neighborhood.

When our cheerleaders revealed the following chant, there were a few hard feelings:

OOH sah sah sah!
OOH sah sah sah!
Hit ’em in the head with a BIG KIELBASA!
Put ’em in a barrel
Roll ’em down the street
FIREBIRDS, FIREBIRDS
Can’t be beat!

We, of course, were the Firebirds. Fortunately, during my years at Chanel (1958-1962), we mostly prevailed over St. Stan’s. And it didn’t keep us Hungarians, Slavs, and Italians from enjoying Kielbasa sausages.

Back Then, All Our Cheerleaders Were Male

Once I graduated from Chanel, big changes happened. The biggest of them was the admission of girls. Then, there were a number of black students. Finally, the school was ceded to the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland and was no longer controlled by the Marist order of priests. Around the same time, the name was changed from Chanel to St. Peter Chanel.

Unfortunately, it’s all moot now, as Chanel closed its doors a few years ago and has, I believe, been subjected to the wrecking ball. Sic transit gloria mundi!

 

The Philosophy Club

St Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio

When I was attending high school at St Peter Chanel in Bedford, Ohio, between 1958 and 1962, I started two extracurricular activities. One was a literary magazine called The Phoenix (our school teams were the Firebirds). I am actually a little embarrassed about the quality of our articles and illustrations. But more interestingly, I started a philosophy club which met evenings. Our moderator was a gaunt Marist missionary priest who had spent years attempting to convert the natives of New Guinea to Catholicism.

Imagine his discomfiture when a bunch of high school kids decided to argue about the existence of God. We had a couple of firebrands in the group—Ed Jaskiewicz and Rodger Harper—who set about demolishing two millennia of church dogma.

The “Angelic Doctor,” St Thomas Aquinas

As a good practicing Catholic (at the time), I introduced St. Thomas Aquinas’s five proofs for the existence of God. That didn’t sit too well with Jaskiewicz, who shot them down while Father Barrett, our moderator, turned a vivid shade of fuchsia. For my part, I started to stammer. It just wouldn’t do for Chanel’s star student to foment heresy.

Well, neither the philosophy club nor the literary magazine exist today. In fact, St. Peter Chanel High School is no more. The last I heard, the school was going to be torn down by he Bedford, Ohio, Board of Education. And I’m still a little skittish about philosophy. It’s not because I still believe in Aquinas’s five proofs, which are the bedrock of Catholic doctrine, but because I’ve always found philosophy so difficult. In no other field of endeavor do all the participants so anathemize one another.

I am currently reading Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus and actually liking his existential philosophy. It’s nice sometimes to undergo change after so many years.

 

Old School

Side View of Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio

I started Chanel High School as a freshman in September 1958. It was a Catholic school run by the Marist Fathers (Society of Mary), whose quarters were on the third floor of the school. Its unusual name was owing to the existence of a Marist missionary to Oceania from the same family as Coco Chanel who was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954. It is possible—though I have not been able to prove this—that when he was martyred by the natives of Futuna Island (north of Fiji) in 1841, he was eaten by his tormentors.

The Marist priests who taught me were, almost to a man, dedicated and knowledgeable teachers and all-around good human beings. I was in the school’s second graduating class (1962), when I was not only the valedictorian but the recipient of the Mr. Chanel award as the best all-around student in my class. The good fathers wanted me to become a priest and were disappointed when I said I did not see that in my path. Considering that I was suffering from excruciating pain the whole time I was there due to a brain tumor that was destroying my pituitary gland. It would have been an expensive move on the part of the religious order to pay for my operation and continuing care.

What, Girls at My Old High School? (Yay!)

From the time I graduated to the closing of the school a couple years ago, there were a lot of changes. Although the school still remained Catholic, it was under the control of the Diocese of Cleveland. The Marists were no longer in charge. And not only were there black and Asian students, there were also girls!!! (When I was there, the student body consisted mostly of assorted Central and Eastern Europeans and a handful of Irish and Italians.) Also, the name had been changed to St. Peter Chanel High School.

Except for my brain tumor, my years at Chanel were happy ones. I do not have the frequently encountered anger at the Catholic Church for having screwed up my life. Physically, I was a mess; but I still managed to look forward to my life with hope.