A long road
I used to walk up my street, Belmar Road, to where it ends at Mayfield Road; illegally run across Mayfield; go to the opening in the old stone wall; and walk up a long flight of old stone steps. At the top, a gravel path led between two houses to the top of Hampshire hill, above Coventry Road. Across the street, just south of Cadwell Avenue, was the entrance to the mysterious Rock Court.
The dark walk up that dirt road, through a tiny forest and past a few spooky houses, led to a big hill that, toward the bottom, passed the back of a Pick-N-Pay supermarket (now Marc’s); a loud, foul-smelling kosher chicken market (wait—I mean fowl-smelling); and a few not-so-scary houses. The road ended at Euclid Heights Boulevard, across the street from the original Coventry Elementary School.
That was my route to and from school on many days when I attended Coventry, from kindergarten through sixth grade—though some days I got there and back via Coventry Road, with its three bakeries (where I bought sweet rolls), three drug stores (where I bought baseball cards and comic books), Eastern European butcher shops and fish mongers, two Jewish delis, and other old stores that changed into head shops and clothing, arts, and crafts boutiques, starting when the hippies (like me) invaded the neighborhood in the late-’60s.
Those things I described at the top of Rock Court are still there. But the three houses at the bottom of the hill are gone—the subject of protests in the 1970s, when the houses’ residents and some community activists tried to save them, but lost out to an expanded Pick-N-Pay and its parking lot. The kosher chicken market is long gone, along with the squawking chickens, and the feathers that flew out every time a customer opened the front door.
The original Coventry school is gone, razed in the mid-’70s, in favor of a new building, which still stands, but is no longer a school. And those old stone stairs from Mayfield to Hampshire have disappeared. They deteriorated to the point of being unsafe, so the city closed the gap in the wall and removed the path at the top.
But all of that was my world through elementary school. In my junior high years, I still used the old stone stairs to get to school, but when I hit the top, I turned left and followed Hampshire into Cumberland Park on the way to Roosevelt. In the eighth and ninth grades, on nice days, sometimes I wouldn’t make it out of the park. I would hide out in a stand of bushes (that is still there) and I’d read, eat and sleep until the end of the school day. In my junior high summers, I spent most days at Cumberland Park, playing on its softball team and hanging out. I also discovered bike riding in new neighborhoods—the streets that ran west off of Coventry Road, like Edgehill, Overlook, Derbyshire and Berkshire—and it was a revelation to me how much nicer and larger those residences were than the one I lived in, just a few block away.
When I reached Heights High, I met new people and explored new areas, surprised, again, by huge houses in areas like the Fairmount Boulevard Historic District, and those of two good friends who lived in a couple of giant houses on Fairfax—houses that are easily four times the size of the one I lived in.
Once I went with one of those friends to sell candy bars for a Heights Choir fundraiser. We had a lot of success, especially on a street called Delaware Drive, at the top of Cedar Hill. I was impressed by how friendly and generous its residents were. It opened my eyes and my mind, and altered my attitude a bit, about how people can be. I always remembered that street, in particular. I thought that the kids who lived in neighborhoods like this and the others I had discovered were the lucky ones. It’s not that I didn’t understand that their parents worked hard to be able to afford living there. But I thought the kids were lucky to have that opportunity.
Now I live on Delaware myself. We’ve been here for the past 36 years, so my kids spent their childhoods here. And my grandchildren, who also live on a very nice street in Cleveland Heights, spend a lot of time here. And they spend a lot of time at their other grandparents’ house, on yet another beautiful street in Cleveland Heights. We’ve all worked hard. And we’re all lucky. I know that not everyone—even in Cleveland Heights—has had as many opportunities.
And when kids come to my door selling stuff for school fundraisers, I always say yes. I feel I owe it to them, and the world.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.