I’m a city girl, born and raised. I grew up in East Cleveland, Ohio. People unfamiliar with the area often assume that it refers to the city’s east side, but no. East Cleveland is a city all it’s own. Seven elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Home.
Like many urban cities, our streets were littered with debris from day-to-day life and riddled with pot holes from harsh winters year-after-year. With a lack of money and resources, keeping up with street repairs was increasingly difficult. There were many abandoned properties scattered about the city, rundown brownstones, and boarded up homes and storefronts. The long winters made for dismal scenery with gray skies and smog hovering overhead. Sunshine was always a welcome treat when the seasons turned.
Tangibly, we didn’t have much as a city. What we did have was a sense of community, family, belonging. School was important. Neighbors and people of the community watched out for the children, whether they knew them or not. Even on our busy city streets, unfamiliar faces stood out. We knew who belonged and who didn’t. Even from street to street. We had an unbridled bond in our city that still exists between us today. This is what makes East Cleveland home.
I grew up on Marloes Avenue in the ’80s. As a twelve year old seventh grader I thought we had a pretty sweet setup. I was attending W.H. Kirk Middle School (Kirk), situated at the top of the avenue. We lived 0.2 miles from the school. Most of the students at Kirk were either walkers or bus riders. This meant, at least 20% of the student body had to walk past my house, down my street, everyday to get home because Marloes was one of four streets that seemed to begin and end at the middle school. It also meant I was always one of the first to get home. Each day I would hover on my front steps to get in my final goodbyes with friends and schoolmates.
We were renting a two-family home on the corner of Marloes Ave. and Roxford Rd.. When we first moved into the house on Marloes, I thought we were rich. It was a massive corner structure that, along with the house on the opposite corner, acted as an anchor to the street. It marked the center of Marloes Ave., with Kirk at the top of the road, and The City of East Cleveland City Hall at the bottom. Renting wasn’t uncommon in our community. Many families rented either multi-family homes or apartments. It was our way of life.
We lived upstairs and shared the home with another family who lived in the downstairs unit. The front steps with their chipping gray paint, led to a first level porch, also painted gray, with a large wooden door shared by both the families. A single hydrangea bush grew to the right of the stairs and boasted beautiful light blue blooms in the spring and summer. A massive pine tree grew to the left of the stairs shading the front of the house.
Upon gaining entry through the main door our downstairs neighbor’s door was to the immediate right. Straight ahead, the hallway grew dark, shadowing another door which lead to the shared basement. To the left of the front door was a flight of stairs that lead to our front door.
Hard wood floors spanned throughout the house. The imperfections were prominent, but my mother worked tirelessly making sure the floors shined and smelled of Murphy’s Oil Soap and Mop ‘n Glo. Windows surrounded the corner property, giving us full view of both streets, as well as the back yard.
The back door in the kitchen provided access to a two story porch with two landings. A decaying apple tree hung over the top landing. We could step out of the back door, pick rotten apples from the tree, and drop them over the rail to watch them splatter on the slate stone path below. Because that landing was so high, it overlooked the roof of our detached garage. We threw the rotten apples onto the garage too because that was more fun.
Floor vents heated our home throughout. I only knew central air to exist in public facilities, never in homes. Our ac consisted of window fans, rotating fans, and open, screened windows to keep the bugs out while enjoying a good breeze.
What I remember most about the house were the porches and the basement. We had our own second-story front porch that overlooked the avenue. We dared not go out there though. We didn’t have the most reliable landlord, so the upper level porch was rickety. An inspector probably would have condemned it. We just chose to stay off of it, only taking our chances once a year for the Fourth of July. Glued to one side of the porch along the wall we would sit motionless while watching the fireworks from Forest Hills Park, situated directly behind the middle school. From my twelve year old perspective, we had the best view of the show in the entire city.
The basement was dark, damp, and creepy. It reminded me of the frightening cellars police found bodies in in the movies I frequently watched. There were padlocked doors we were instructed to never enter barricaded behind old furniture, boxes, and toys. Another door with a bolt lead to concrete stairs that went up to the ground level and exited under one of the back porch landings.
We were responsible for doing our own laundry which meant going in the basement. I always had visions of ax murderers coming through that back door to get me while cleaning my good underwear for school. Bad way to go – axed in the basement while washing dirty drawers. I remembered getting in trouble for my laundry being dingy. I tried to blame it on cheap detergent. But the truth was, I was so busy trying to hurry and get out of the basement that I would just throw my clothes in the washer, throw in the detergent and run. I’m sure a few times the detergent never actually made it into the machine. That would explain the powdery mess on the floor by the washer my mother would get upset about.
The house continued to decline over the years we lived there. We were one of the longest families in that house. We had three downstairs families come and go during our time there. Today, it is beyond repair. Dilapidated, neglected.
I am filled with emotion as so many childhood memories give way to reconstruction, renovation, and in some cases, lack thereof. Kirk is different now. New. Remodeled. The Marloes house is barely standing. Things change. People come and go. But my city is still there. The memories are still fresh. And regardless of the changes the city has undergone and will continue to endure, East Cleveland will forever and always be home.