Long flowery dresses and big clunky shoes

This is what the intersection of Fairmount Boulevard and Lee Road looked like in 1890. Things change. [photo courtesy www.chhistory.org]

Almost all of my grandchildren’s teachers, in their as-yet brief scholastic careers at Fairfax Elementary School, are people who were born 20- or 30-some years ago. Think back on the past 30-some years. Life really hasn’t changed very much in that time. These teachers are young. The kids love them, and they love school. I believe there’s a connection between those things. That foundation is important.

Almost all of my teachers at Coventry Elementary School were born in the 1890s. Some of my Roosevelt Junior High teachers were, too. So, that was my foundation: teachers who were born in the 1800s.

In the 1890s, cowboys were still riding around the West, trying to kill Indians, just like in the old Western movies. Radio was introduced. The first (primitive) movies were shown. People heard the first phonograph records. The first patent for an automobile was granted. Ellis Island opened. The Klondike Gold Rush happened. The Battle of Wounded Knee was waged. Carnegie Hall opened (with Tchaikovsky as guest conductor). Idaho and Wyoming became states. Peanut butter and tea bags were new kitchen items. The first official basketball games and the first professional football games were played. The first modern Olympic Games took place.

Here, in what would become Cleveland Heights, there were still some Native American tribes, like the Erie and Seneca. The Shakers operated a grist mill at what is now Coventry Road and Fairmount Boulevard, stone quarries at the present-day North Park Boulevard and Grandview Road, and a broom factory on what is currently Lee Road.

Much of this area consisted of farms. In the 1890s, visionaries (with an eye on big financial gains) started to see this area as a potential escape for the denizens of Millionaire’s Row, who wanted to get out of the big city and build “country” homes, leading to the city in which we now reside.

I don’t know when my elementary school teachers moved here, but this area didn’t become the city of Cleveland Heights till 1921, the year my father was born. He moved here a couple of years later, from the city of Cleveland, then started elementary school at Coventry. I had two of the same teachers there that he had.

My first guitar teacher was also born in the 1890s. I was 7 and went to Motter’s Music, which was then on Coventry, looking for a teacher. There weren’t many back then, as the guitar was still an outsider instrument. But there was this old cello instructor there who knew how to play guitar. It was an awful experience, but I really wanted to learn, so I stuck with it.

I used my guitar in a Coventry School Halloween talent show assembly when I was in third grade, and I lip-synched an Elvis Presley record. We had tryouts in our individual classrooms that October. I did my act for the class, and I could see the utter horror on my teacher’s face, and I loved that. The class voted me to represent our class in the show, so the teacher couldn’t stop it.

A few years later, in eighth grade at Roosevelt, I played a guitar for real in another talent show, with a small combo. I remember the look of disgust and repulsion on my art teacher’s face, out in the audience. Again, I knew I’d done something right. (Decades later, I got into a discussion with this same former art teacher on Facebook and found out he was a Trump-supporting conspiracy theorist. I explained to him exactly how he was being a gullible idiot—but I also told him that he had been a great art teacher for me. So, we remained friends.)

By the time I got to Heights High, most of my teachers were younger—that is, born later, in the 1900s—and much more open to newer and more modern ideas. And they were way more appreciative of my musical endeavors. I know they were, because I performed before the whole school several times and teachers—some of whom I didn’t even know—would always compliment me afterward, when they didn’t have to.

Those earlier teachers of mine never seemed to understand what I was doing or what I wanted to do. I always think about my third-grade teacher telling us what kind of designs we were allowed (!) to put onto the clay candy dishes we were making. I created one that combined my interest in Native American history with my subtly formed initials. She went crazy over that, and not in a good way.

I just learned to ignore my teachers. And to hate school. Neither was a good thing. The situation got slightly better as I got older (as the teachers got younger). But by then it was too late. That foundation is important.

David Budin

David Budin is a free-ance 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.

Read More on Songs and Stories
Volume 15, Issue 10, Posted 10:13 AM, 10.01.2022