Memories of Lakewood and Lake Erie

13 Jun

Mom at Clifton Beach

Mom at Clifton Beach, Lake Erie

Horace Man

Horace Mann in Lakewood, where my Grandfather Clark was a junior high principal for 41 years. It’s now an elementary school.

“And there was the time when Johnny Stewart’s sister and her friend were walking alongside the railroad tracks. Coming toward them was a train with its horn blowing loudly. What they didn’t realize was that another train was coming up behind them and that the engineer of that train was also blowing his horn frantically. The friend was hit from behind because she was the one who was walking close to the tracks. Johnny Stewart died in Germany. He was trained in the Army Air Corp, but was switched to the infantry and ended up on the front line. Kin Shogrin was also yanked out of the Air Corp and placed on the front lines, but he survived, despite his frozen feet, and had to be taken to a hospital in England.”

This fragmented story of my mother’s was one of many that was told last Memorial Weekend west of Cleveland by people in my family, friends of my mother’s in Rocky River, and friends of Ruth’s at Linwood. They made for a strange pastiche of narratives running back and forth from World War II to the development of Linwood by German Evangelicals in the late nineteenth century to my mother’s upbringing in Lakewood, and lastly to the recent death of Ruth who is to be buried at Linwood in July.

The sound of the train coming through Lakewood is one of the predominant memories of my childhood visits to Lakewood. This past weekend the trains that whistled and pulsed past Linwood intersected with my remembered trains. When I was a small child, my Grandfather Clark would take me out with him when he took his “constitutional.” Our walks often led to a bridge where we could overlook the tracks at the end of the neighborhood. The older version of the train that came through was the Nickel Plate, as seen below. As an eighteen-year-old, he had worked on the railroad in Indiana, probably on the tracks, and at the time of his death in 1976 he had traveled on every set of tracks in the country.

Nickel Plate Road Train

Nickel Plate Road Train, from collection of John B. Corns

May 12, 2013 Celebration of Nickel Plate Train

When our family stayed at 1256 Arlington Rd. with my grandparents, my brother and I slept in twin beds that were perpendicular to each other in the nursery at the back of the house next to the master bedroom. We would spend a fair amount of time lolling in bed, while my parents enjoyed their vacation sleep-ins. I would count the rosettes on the yellow, flowered wall paper, and listen to the trains as they bustled through Lakewood. My bed was pushed up against an open window (Mom thought fresh air was good for your health.) I was very aware of all the sounds outside, including the squirrels chattering and tossing half-eaten pears from the pear tree on the cement driveway and the querulous voice of the fishwife next door who daily tortured her husband with endless nagging.

We drove back to 1256, now a gray Colonial with white trim rather than a cream one with dark green shutters, Saturday afternoon of Memorial Weekend. This time had been set aside for eating lunch with Mom’s old school chums, all octogenarians like herself, including two of her bridesmaids, Joyce Bishop and Nancy Gray, and a friend from Sunday school, Sally Barkhauer. We had a driving tour in Nancy’s roomy Buick that covered both Rocky River and Lakewood.

The change that struck my mother the most forcibly was apparent when we drove by the place where her church, The Lakewood Christian Church, had stood. “My church has gone,” she said. Apparently it had been gone a long time; she just hadn’t been in that area of Lakewood. The local women remarked that the church had been razed for a new Social Security building and that the members of the congregation had joined the Methodists. I remember going there on holiday vacations and seeing Mom’s old friend, Kin Shogrin, working as an usher. Another difference that freaked her out was a new constellation of gray-stone-looks-like-cement apartments that had sprung up off Sloan Ave.

Mom also talked about how her family moved from French Ave. to Arlington Road in 1936 when she was ten. She would ride her bike everywhere, but occasionally took day trips by going down Sloan Ave. to the Rocky River Bridge (Rocky River [the river] provides the boundary between Rocky River and Lakewood) and then to the Lakewood entrance of the Metropolitan Valley. The Metropolitan Valley forms a forty-mile southern loop around the City of Cleveland. She would enjoy a big adventure riding from the entrance down into the valley of Rocky River, which has about a 150-foot drop in elevation. Sometimes she would ride as much as four miles out toward Berea. We usually think of our current times as being more permissive than the period in which the WW II generation grew up, but in this one respect they had it better. Children were allowed to go further away from home without as much supervision as nowadays.

Nancy took us around Clifton Park, winding roads with lovely homes, near Arlington Road in her big Buick with its red-plush seats. Mom related going door to door there, selling Camp Fire doughnuts, which enabled her to win a prize to go to a summer camp (Unfortunately, her doctor cancelled her trip because she had a sore throat.). We also drove down to Clifton Beach, where my mother spent a lot of time in the summer, partly because she knew someone who lived in Clifton Park. The beach was closed to outsiders. In 1948, Nancy sponsored a bridal brunch there for my parents, who were soon to be married.

It’s funny though that despite so many happy memories of Lakewood, the sad ones are those that rise to the top.

3 Responses to “Memories of Lakewood and Lake Erie”

  1. Reblogged this on ithacalansing and commented:

    Sometimes I think I’ve sent out a post at a bad time, so I’m reblogging this one on my mother.

    • Martha Wallen June 15, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

      What struck me most in your essay was all the tragedy. Your mom’s memories mostly correspond to buildings that have disappeared. Sometimes that’s good. I think it would be good in my town, except that they manage to build even worse buildings. But you talk about happy memories. I guess you are good at looking on the bright side.

      • Yes, I guess there is quite a bit of tragedy in it. The WW II generation has more of it than us, although we experienced AIDS and the Vietnam War. In terms of buildings, were you thinking of Menomonie or your hometown?

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