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.

 

 

My Tragic First Love

Traduced by My First Love

My first love—really, a schoolboy crush—was with Laura Sowinski in the Third Grade at Saint Henry School in Cleveland. She was a pretty little girl with some artistic talent. For some reason, I thought she was Swiss, because Sowinski sort of sounded like “Swiss.” Hey, I was only eight years old. What did I know? Now I would think she was Polish, which was more likely for the neighborhood in which I had lived.

Of course, I had hoped that my feelings for her were reciprocated, though I don’t know how she knew what I felt for her, because I never communicated it.

The rupture—and yes, there was a rupture—came when I was sick at home for a few days. In the Catholic school system of Cleveland in those days, there were often days off with little advance notice. When I got better from my cold or whatever it was, I dutifully walked to school the next day. (In those days, we walked to and from school.) To my surprise, the school building was all locked up. I turned around and returned home.

My unexpected free day came to an end the next day, so I trudged to school the next day. Being the age I was, I told everyone I showed up to school on a free day. In a week or two, when the next dittoed edition of the St. Henry Golden Knights news sheet came out, the whole last page was a drawing by none other than Laura Sowinski of me walking up to the school when it was closed. The caption read “James Paris Going to School on a Free Day.”

I thereupon turned several shades of vermilion and thought of my great love as wrecked on the rocks. I don’t think I ever spoke to Laura again. Not that I had ever spoken to her before.

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.

 

Ancient History

My Sixth Grade Class at St. Henry School in Cleveland 1956

This evening I came across this picture of my Sixth Grade class at St. Henry School. Mrs. Joyce, our teacher, stands in the third row at the left. I can identify only three of my classmates—all boys. (By this time, my Fourth Grade sweetheart, Laura Sowinski, was no longer in my class.) The really tall kid in the last row center is my good friend Fred Nickel, with whom I used to play chess and devise explosives made from match heads. Two persons to the left of him is Anthony Braidic, not my friend but I just remember his face. The same goes for James Oliver, who is the boy in the third row three persons in from Mrs. Joyce.

And where am I? You’ll find me at the far right in the second row.

By the sixth grade, I was already a star pupil. It took me several years to overcome my Hungarian upbringing and become more conversant with the English language. In the second grade, Sister Francis Martin used to pull my ears and call me “cabbagehead.” I had finally gotten past the vegetable world.

The Cross of St. Henry Church, Behind Which Stood My School


Over the sixty-three intervening years, I have lost touch with all my Sixth Grade classmates. It seems a pity, because I spent a lot of time with these kids and had some good times. It is likely that the pituitary tumor that was finally operated on in September 1966 was already causing me excruciating frontal headaches. Being a little kid, I didn’t know how bad off I was.