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The Old Criss-Cross
The Cleveland Directory
from 1953

by Amy Kenneley

It was at a yard sale, stuffed in the corner with old Life magazines, that Cleveland Directory from 1953.

Only it wasn't the usual directory of names in alphabetical order, Aaron to Zyzinski; this was what Ohio Bell called "the criss-cross" where each STREET in the city is listed alphabetically, with house numbers for each street, and names of occupants at those houses, then phone numbers.

I brought it home and began to let my fingers do the walking.

Home Remembered

There it was, Newton Ave, the street where I had lived. Sure enough, there was our house number, our name, and then our phone number, a CEdar extension.

I can close my eyes now and see the two-story house with an attic and a front porch, with the gas fixtures converted to electricity. The woodwork was dark mahogany, a white tiled fireplace held a gas log that never worked.

My bedroom looked down on the street from a bay window seat. As a romantic teen I had painted the walls Wedgewood Blue, and thought it dreamy.

Sitting on the window seat, I could watch the neighborhood pass by, like Rapunzel in her tall tower. Reading down the street from left to right in this old book, I see them all again.

Paint and Berets

Across the street lived the childless couple who took me to church. Mr Winney had the shiniest pillars on the street and he told me the secret: mix half varnish with half oil paint. Mrs. Winney knitted me monstrous berets of horrid colors, which I dutifully (by mother's order) wore out the door to school, and hastily ripped off and shoved in my pocket when I rounded the corner onto E. 97th Street.

Across the street was the old man who sat on his porch all summer long. The roll-down awning shaded him, so you never knew when he was there in the deep recesses of the old porch, watching, listening to the street's business.

Mystery Music

There was the man to our right who had a whole living room full of records. Shelves lined the walls and every piece of classical music must have been owned by him. His children screamed and fought outside, his wife arrived from wherever, harried and tired-looking, and the man's phonograph played on and on.

The sounds drifted across the railings of his house to ours, and drifted up to my open window, where I heard wonderful, interesting melodies. Only in later years did I put the names to the tunes I had absorbed into my spirit.

Ghosts

Next to the man-who-sat-on-the-porch lived a teacher and her mother. The mother died one day and her daughter waked her in their living room. Everyone on the street dutifully came by to pay their respects. Mother dragged me through the living room, and I gazed solemnly at the silver-haired woman who had so recently been in her yard trimming hedges.

The daughter sold the house soon afterwards, and the new family had two boys, my playmates for a time. When their mother heard about the waking at the house, she asked me curiously, "what room was she in?" and before I could divulge the answer, she shook her head quickly with, "No! No! I don't want to know!" So I never told her.

Just the Facts

Further down the street lived a sister and brother, aged 10 and 7. When I came to call for the sister to play, their mother cheerfully led me upstairs to-not my friend's bedroom, but to the bathroom-- where both sister and brother played happily in the tub.

An only child, I was both shocked and speechless at this (to me) unusual arrangement. All I had surmised about the differences 'twixt boys and girls was too, too true.

Playing separately throughout the year, boys and girls combined in the hot summer months to play Hide And Go Seek at dusk. The whole street was ours to hide, and the seeking could take many minutes. Goal was the "No Parking" street sign.

As darkness came, the streetlights glowed and calls from mothers to come home were greeted with "Ah, just a few more minutes!" Finally, it was so dark even the streetlights could not penetrate into our hiding places.

"Ollie, Ollie, In Free!" someone called, and we climbed out of twiggy bushes and from under musty porches.

Further up the street lived a nice lady who tried diligently to teach me the art of crocheting, but my left-handed clumsiness just didn't catch on. As an adult I finally taught myself; perhaps the shade of Mrs. DiMarco must have still been urging me on.

Walking into Futures

Faces of the street's inhabitants come to me now, the smiling ones, the crotchety ones, the absorbed, the distant, the sad ones. All walking somewhere-uptown to shop, or off to work, going to church, going places.

And I am walking, too-to elementary school, then Jr. High. Walking to Girl Scouts, to after-school jobs, to the movies. Walking with girlfriends in matching jackets with embroidered club names on the back.

Walking to the Nut Shoppe, a teen hangout where we hung out longer than our allowances for chocolate phosphates and Johnny Ray songs on the jukebox would last.

I turn the criss-cross pages and find the street around the corner, E. 101st Street.

Down my fingers go, to the apartment of my girlfriend. We walked to the bus stop every day, heading for East High School, laughing, grousing, our babushkas tied under our chins, our ballerina shoes falling apart, our pencil skirts hobbling us from running ( but oh, so fashionable!) We are walking towards life, and little did we know--someday walking away from our closeness.

Just a little further down the street, and someone is striding towards me. He is wearing a white Navy uniform. I am wearing a DA haircut and lots of lipstick. This is the year I will meet the man who would become my husband. Yes, it was a very good year.

You'll pardon me, won't you, if I cut this tour short? I think I'll hang out for awhile with these old memories and the virtual neighborhood of 1953.




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