What a beautiful spring day it was in 1943. Mom and I were walking down the last few yards of Hough Avenue, where it gently curved to bisect E. 105th St. and East Boulevard.
To our left was the tree-and grass-filled Rockefeller Park. To our right was Mount Sinai Hospital, scene of my recent tonsillectomy and my first encounter with Meltdown and Trauma - only we were too unsophisticated to know what those meant.
I had been lulled into entering the hospital doors with the promise of ice cream. Mom and my aunt (another traitor!) watched with what I hoped was concern for me as I was carted off on a guerney, strapped down by attendants and rolled, kicking and screaming, into an operating room. Yes, there was ice cream involved. Later. Unfortunately it didn't stay in my stomach for long. THAT for you, surgeon, nurses, Mom and aunt!
A Different Lesson
With those memories and my sore throat still very fresh, I saw we were turning left this time into Rockefeller Park. Whew! Instead, I was to be rewarded with a history lesson. Lining East Boulevard that undulated around the large pond and Doan Creek towards Lake Erie, were oak trees on both sides of the road.
"Look, dear-each tree was planted for a Clevelander who was killed in the First World War"
Then she pointed out the concreted marker with imbedded bronze plaque at each tree's base.
"Each tree has a marker with someone's name"
We walked along the sidewalk and I made a game of circling each tree and looking at each marker. Their names meant little to me, but as we walked further the fun of circling ended. There were too many. The road was too long.
Today I drive along that same boulevard, since changed from East, to Liberty, and then Martin Luther King Jr. The ranks of memorial trees have thinned. They died or were fatally wounded by cars. Vandals pried out the bronze markers, melting down sacrifice for mere brass. Still, there are a few trees from a hundred years ago. A few still left.
This day, an almost spring day, there is more change happening. City workers were busy cutting down those trees that were sentries at the roads' end. The slight incline where the hospital grounds had been was layered in straw, perhaps a cover for grass seed. Huge machinery dug down into the brown earth changing the road, changing the patterns, changing the city again. I drove over the potholes in the road, where bits of chain-sawed oak scattered the ground in a last blessing.
It seems that cities are either building up, fixing over, tearing down. Sometimes I don't like change because change usually involves "New"--and New is scary. New is like a trendy jacket with itchy tags at the neck. Sometimes I'd rather have the old and worn flannel shirt. Maybe not as stylish, but I'm used to it.
If some of us will embrace change, some of us will also challenge it. But both views need to be passionate about it. That's why cities should be verbs - the "action" words. They should say, "Build, Restore, Replace, Renew." They should also say "Come, Help, Grow, Live."
So today when I feel a little sad about the trees and what has happened to the bronze plaques that memorialized good and brave people, I remember that other memorials are also being built to other good and brave people.
A city can tear down, but it can also build up. A city can honor many people, because there are always people worthy of honor.
It was another time, when Mom and I walked the winding road, following the trees. Fond memories.
Then, I had the sense of changelessness - that I would always be the way I was. What a challenge faced me to discover I would always be evolving, always moving into newer, always keeping parts of older, always wondering "what next?" or "what next!!!"
In a way, I am like the city, ever changing. And heading towards another Spring, a season of new hopes and new life, I have to consider: what verbs will I be?
Build. Restore. Replace. Renew. Come. Help. Grow. Live…..Love.
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