Years ago, when once again I left my kids Dad, we moved via my parent’s house into an old Italian neighborhood around West 69th and Herman on Cleveland’s near west side. What a culture shock. I had grown up in a very tight-knit Irish Catholic neighborhood that had only started to turn rough with poverty. So years later the move to Cleveland’s near west side “Little Italy”, was surprising. This poverty stricken community was in a permanent state of transition. The old Italians, were trying to hold on, IE; the butcher, the baker ( and there really were those) the church, Mt. Carmel. All provided traces of an old world stability that my kids and I needed while our neighbors a Vietnamese speaking family provided the reality check that we were the only “English as a first language” people in the immediate area. The other neighbor was an Older Italian-speaking lady named “Lena” who screamed incessantly at her husband and son in furious Italian, but was forever kind to my little preschool twins giving them goody after goody. They loved Lena.
But the real world was fast approaching, I can remember one time trying to get out of my driveway to go to work at 10:45pm only to be blocked by some kids and adults fighting with Nunchucks in the street. I stepped out of the car long enough to yell at them I was not going to be late to work even if I had to make a few hood ornaments out of them, then I gunned the engine on that Plymouth Fury and let fly… no hood ornaments. But what a way to start your night!
I knew the rent was right at $150 a month, but we had to get out of here. The neighborhood was simply getting too rough. I can remember my kids being afraid we’d be robbed, until we discussed it at length. I explained that if robbers came in they would be so disappointed with our 12 inch black and white tv with a hanger antenna, and our one piece of furniture, an old sofa bed at 5000 pounds, they wouldn’t be able to move it and it would just crumble if they did. That they’d feel so bad for us they’d probably be moved to bring stuff back for us. Funny, but this place is also the home to some of my tenderest memories of my kid’s childhood. The kids still go down every year to the Italian Festival at Mount Carmel…among their memories are Fiocca’s Bakery on West 69th, it was an old world Bakery with generations working inside. I can remember walking down the cement lined driveway into a converted garage. Lot’s of cement in these old Italian neighborhoods, the only blade of grass was in an old field between tomato plants.
There was a tiny door to the side of the big garage door and when you opened it you were overwhelmed. Whatever had been on your mind fled in the face of this …first the smell, that deep yeasty bread and dough scent that tells you you’ll leave here sated. Then the amazing sights of Huge bags of flour stacked so high and the old oaken floor with its dusty gray color from a thousand sweepings up of flour ingrained into the very fiber of it. The roar of the slicing machine running full out as the orders from caterers and restaurants for weekend Weddings and family celebrations came in. None would be the same with out the benediction of the bread that was “Fiocca’s”. Then the huge metal racks where the bread cooled…round loaves, long thin crusty french loaves, oval Italian loaves. This place was a wonder, and I’m so glad my kids and I had a chance to experience it. But that walk home with the fresh hot bread was the best, we couldn’t wait to rip into that fresh hot loaf and it would be half gone long before we were anywhere near home or butter. Then there was Mazzarella’s Deli at the top of the street . Two kind sisters who held down the neighborhood corner on Detroit and sold the best Antipasto and biggest olives I’ve ever had.
You choose the memories you keep, keep the good ones. I keep their 1st time big christmas toy, matching motorcycles, those two trying to decorate the christmas tree and only getting it decorated halfway up because I fell asleep and they had to finish without me. I awoke to a tree decorated with all the love and beauty that two five year olds can put on a tree and believe you me there’s none prettier. We had been out earlier that day near dusk looking and looking for a tree and ended up at a lot on detroit past state route 90 nearly across from Lakewood Park Cemetary there used to be a florist and landscape place that at christmas time had trees. Well we got our tree and slung it on the top of our then car a mustang fastback and didn’t that tree start sliding off just as we started home and the snow increased to blizzard proportions, then I reached out to clear the windshield wiper and damn if it didn’t come off in my hand. So, every now and then on Detroit Road on Christmas Eve, I’d have to come to a complete stop and get out and haul up the tree and wipe off the windshield all the way from Rocky River to West 67th. No wonder once I dragged that tree in and got it into a stand I told the kids they’d have to decorate it themselves and good luck . I’d be right here asleep on the sofa if they needed me. When I awoke I carried them to bed and changed them into their jammies and went down and put the light on the tree and set out the toys and back to sleep on the couch. I think Iput a toy in each one of their beds with them, I had started that tradition when they were little, to wake with a new toy.