Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cleveland's Heights

I grew up on the first floor of a duplex on Coventry Road, but my writer’s imagination was sparked in the third floor attic of that house. Other children have their getaways too—stuffy, overly hot, achingly cold, yet private and far enough away from family clamor to allow for meditation on profound subjects, or at least to hold a marker without fear of jostling. The attic is where I painstakingly lettered the poster for my fourth grade project about the Mayan calendar. It’s where I illustrated the mysteries of cells for a demanding junior high school teacher. It’s where I researched Gothic architecture, with a book I grew to love so much I never returned it to the library.(I did pay for it, claiming it was lost.) It’s where I heard screeching tires when our beloved APL dog was hit by a car. But Happy recuperated, a bit of luck. Just a small pair of windows, and three stories, separated me from the world.

Almost weekly, I liked to walk to Forest Hills (Rockefeller) Park to stop at the pond our family called “Moon Lake”—because I once saw the moon’s reflection in it, coined the term, and the name stuck. There were elm, oak, maple, and beech trees I thought of as woods and a hill scaled slowly even by my scrambling, faster, older sisters, and which I climbed with steady determination as early as the age of one (according to family legend). No wonder my baby shoes are bronzed.
Why climb? The reward was a lovely, not-usually-misty view of Cleveland. Highlight: The Terminal Tower. The days with cloud cover—well, at least we still got to sit on the crumbling, venerable stone bench nearby. It made us feel that we were touching history to know that John D. Rockefeller had owned this land and new Americans like us could traverse it on foot. I was born in Cleveland shortly before my sisters and parents become naturalized citizens.

In a non-driving family--in any struggling family--muscle power in the legs is a key to survival. And so is having a lofty view--something that frames the world from a perspective radically different from what is in front of one’s nose. It adds a sense of possibility.

Some days, we’d shop in East Cleveland, another sizable walk. The best part was pacing ourselves to go downhill slowly on Superior Road, toward Euclid Avenue.

“Look, you can see the lake,” my mom would say, never loosening her grip on my tiny hand (traffic whizzed, even in those days), pointing into the distance with her free hand.
Not quite sure where sky and water met, seeing shades of blue and white melded together far, far away, I’d simplify matters by pointing to the sky and saying “Lake Erie.”

I am old enough to remember when the Terminal Tower, was—in fact—the tallest structure in the city. In grade school we ascended its 52 stories on a field trip. I remember less the actual view than the sense of being tightly sandwiched among classmates and wondering if the dizziness was due to the “thin air” I heard was a drawback of living in Colorado. Though logic told me that the Union terminal was nearby, I would reflect on the pun: Terminal. Did that mean nothing could go further? Was it not to be surpassed? It’s one thing to be miles away from a tower, looking down at it from a hill in a park; it’s quite another to be at the top, looking down.

Fast forwarding my life, I spent several years working on the 18th floor of Rhodes Tower at Cleveland State University and, later, the 12th floor of Fenn Tower, which boasts a history dating back to the 1930s. Graceful seagulls that circled campus epitomized the vitality of a great lake, nearer to me than I would have thought possible on my childhood jaunts.

Driving to Cuyahoga Community College Metropolitan Campus from the east side recently, I took the route down Cedar Hill. I have walked it many times. “This is a foothill of the Appalachian Mountains,” I told my son as we cruised down the curving, steep hill—an amazing fact I’ve shared more than once. Usually the response is: “Yeah, I know.”

But this time, he responded: “And we’re not all that far from Tornado Alley and the Great Plains.”
What heights and hills are to me, extreme weather and stretching expanses might be to my son. Imagination must truly be the shortest distance between two points.

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Blogger John Ettorre said...

Okay, on the almost-one-month anniversary of your last post, I wanted to remind you that your audience hungrily requests to hear from you again soon.

September 13, 2008 at 6:41 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

So much to write, John, so little time! Responding better late than never.

January 1, 2010 at 9:37 PM  

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