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  • rsmilor

Hird Avenue

In my boyhood memory, my brother, Johnny, and I grew up in a spacious house. Actually, it wasn't spacious, and it wasn't a house. From my earliest recollection to the time I was thirteen, we lived at 1303 Hird Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio. Hird Avenue was one street west of 117th Street, which was a four-lane thoroughfare that separated Cleveland from Lakewood. Johnny and I crossed 117th Street twice every day going to and coming back from school at St. Rose Elementary.

We rented the end unit of a cinderblock fourplex that abutted a large, paved parking lot that belonged to the grocery store that faced 117th Street and stretched from 117th all the way across to Hird Avenue. In the summertime, the parking lot became the baseball field for the boys in the neighborhood, although we sometimes had to dodge the parked cars that were late in departing the lot after the grocery store closed at 6:00 pm. My first accident occurred one summer evening when I was trying to catch a fly ball while steering around a parked Chevrolet and cracked my front tooth when I took my eyes off the ball to avoid the car.

Hird, like all the avenues in Lakewood, was a long street. It stretched from Detroit Avenue, a major business road on the south, to Clifton Boulevard. a wide, tree-lined highway on the north, that ran parallel to Lake Erie. It was cut exactly in half by railroad tracks that ran along the other side of the parking lot from our unit. My father had a strong left arm and could literally throw a stone from our front yard to the tracks. Johnny and I, along with boys from the neighborhood, would walk the tracks in the summertime to get to Lakewood Park to play ball. When we first moved into the unit, I noticed each train as it rumbled by, but eventually came to ignore them, except sometimes late in the night when I would awake and hear the whistle which seemed to becken something far away. South of the tracks was a warehouse and light manufacturing area. North of the tracks was residential. Our fourplex was the only non-single family house on the street.

We came to live there by accident, literally. My father had worked in a drug store after he returned from the war and then in 1954 landed a job working on the assembly line at the Ford Motor engine plant on Brookpark Road in Cleveland. It was a good job. He would work there for thirty-eight years. But a year or so after he started, he nearly lost his left leg when a steel coil rolled over it. Doctors initially thought they would have to amputate the leg, but they managed to save it, although he would carry an ugly scar on the inside of his leg from his hip to his knee for the rest of his life. Like many couples at the time, I think my parents were saving to own their own home, but the accident diminished their savings, and thus they rented instead. Their own home would come a few years later in an unusual way.

I have two vivid memories of moving into the Hird Avenue rental. In the narrow basement, there was a coal bin that had left dust and residue throughout the lower level. My father had to remove the bin, throwing wood and metal out a small window and then thoroughly cleaning the rest of basement, so that a gas furnace could be installed. There was also a dark-colored wall paper in the living room and dining room. I can still see my father standing on a ladder holding a three-foot-by-three-foot heavy steam press against the walls to soften the paper enough to scrape off the wall paper before putting on a fresh coat of paint. Both jobs must have required yeoman effort.

My mother was a task master in keeping the place clean. She insisted upon and took pride in a spotless residence, and expected Johnny and me to do the same. If cleanliness was next to godliness, then she surely kept all of us right next to the Lord. So we vacuumed, dusted, polished, swept and washed on the schedule that she kept and had to pass inspection before we could go out and play.

We had a concrete porch that was just big enough for two folding chairs. My parents would sit there on summer evenings, my Dad drinking a beer and my Mom drinking a Fresca, and watch the kids from the north side of the street play games, like kick-the-can. Every kid hated to be "it" in the game since it was always impossible to tag and capture all the players before one of them would kick the can and "free" all those who had been caught

The front door opened to within an inch of the eight or ten steps that led to the second floor with its two bedrooms and one bath. My parents had the larger of the two bedrooms which allowed some walking space between the end of their bed and the chest of drawers opposite the end. Our bathroom had a large bear-claw bathtub, no shower, with a sink next to it. Johnny and I shared the second bedroom. We had to push our bed against the wall so that we could open the door to get in. This arrangement caused a nightly battle after we had knelt and said our prayers and got into bed.

"Stay on your side of the bed," I would tell Johnny.

"You just stay on yours," he would tell me.

"Don't let your feet touch my feet," I would say.

"Just don't touch mine," he would reply.

My mother was usually the arbitrator in these disputes. "Pretend there is a board going down the center of the bed," she would tell us.

"Alright," I would say, "but he has to stay on his side of it."

"Just make him stay on his side," Johnny would tell our mother. And so it went each night.

We had an accordion door closet on one wall and a desk at the end of the bed next to the window that looked out over the back yard with a corrugated metal fence.

We had a protector when we slept. Our dog, Chico, was a toy fox terrier that was a fifty-pound dog in an eight-pound body. He fit the size of our rental. He always slept between us. One evening after we had gone to bed, one of my uncles came up to tuck us in. As he reached to pull up the blankets, Chico nearly took off his left hand while barking like a junk-yard dog. Our uncle never came up after that to try to tuck us in.

Our living room was big enough for a couch, table with lamp and reclining chair. Johnny and I would watch TV, after doing our homework and taking a bath, sitting cross-legged in front of the black-and-white Magnavox. We watched shows like Walt Disney Presents, Dennis the Menace, The Rifleman, Wanted Dead or Alive (in which we thought Steve McQueen was so cool), and Maverick (the song for which I still recall).

Riverboat ring your bell.

Fare thee well Annabelle.

Luck is the Lady that he loves the best.

Natchez to New Orleans.

Living on Jacks and Queens.

Maverick is a legend of the West.

Once in a while, something special would be on TV, and my brother and I would be allowed to stay up late. I remember watching The Wizard of Oz when it premiered on television. I keeled over laughing out loud when the cowardly lion ran down the corridor and crashed thought the window after being terrified by the image of the wizard. The movie was magical, even in black-and-white.

Our dining room was off the living room. We ate dinners at a formica table, pushed against the wall to allow space to walk between the table and the chest of drawers on the opposite wall. My parents sat at each end while my brother and I sat side-by-side. After dinner, Johnny and I did the dishes with one of us washing and the other drying, alternating jobs each week. This always led to another ongoing battle in the summertime. The dryer would go out and play and then return after the dishes had air-dried to put them away. But the washer would often soak all the dishes just before the dryer returned, requiring my mother to again act as arbitrator.

The kitchen allowed just enough space for one person to walk between the ice box (as my parents called the refrigerator) and the oven. Stairs in the back of the kitchen led down to the low-ceiling basement. The back door in the kitchen opened to a small porch with four steps leading to the fenced back yard. There was no garage. Johnny and I kept our bikes in the back yard. My father parked his blue-and-white Pontiac in the street or the parking lot. There were times in the winter when he had to shovel away the snow that had accumulated around the car so that he could drive to work.


This is where Johnny and I grew up. This is where we learned how to play with others, that we had chores to do and were expected to do them well, that we had others who loved us and took care of us, and that happiness and space are not necessarily related.


Two events occurred in 1960 that caused us to move out of Hird Avenue to a single-family house in the much more exclusive suburb of Bay Village, farther west of Cleveland. That July, my other brother, Patrick, was born, and there simply was no more room to accommodate him in our rental unit. In addition, my grandmother died of diabetes, and in a unique arrangement, my parents took over the mortgage on the house that she owned. So they would get their own house, which had five bedrooms and two and a half baths, on a lovely tree-shaded street without railroad tracks and a parking lot next to us. Living in this house would provide its own lessons, and that is a story for another day.


Looking back, I realize that there was nothing small and confining about living on Hird Avenue. Everything seemed expansive and open. As I reflect on being a boy growing up on Hird Avenue, I sometimes feel as though I have never left. Then I wonder, How did I come so far, so fast?



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