You're living in a small town

I can't tell which Cain Park concert this was, but I do know that there were probably about 60 people I know, from somewhere, in the audience.

I’ve joined the ranks of school volunteers (which I highly recommend). I did it at every school my kids attended (I was even a “room mother”), and this past semester I started at Fairfax Elementary School, where my grandchildren, Westin and Baxter, attend school. I was working with a class of fourth- and fifth-graders on a writing project. 

A few weeks ago, I was at my son and daughter-in-law’s house, looking at the pictures of that class in my grandchildren’s Fairfax yearbook. I was pointing out various kids and asking my son if he knew them. He had connections to several of them or their parents. I pointed to one kid and said, “This guy seems really creative.” My son said, “You know who this is, right? That’s Lucy Smith’s [not her real name] son.”

I hadn’t known that (though when he said it, I realized that the boy looked a lot like his mother). Lucy and my daughter have been friends since they went to Heights High. Plus, I’ve known Lucy’s mother—this kid’s grandmother—since our own children were toddlers.

This kind of thing is pretty typical of all of us who grew up in a community and stayed there.

At a recent lacrosse game, in which 9-year-old Westin was playing, I started talking to the mother of one of her best friends. I knew that family’s last name—a not-very-common name—and told the girl's mother that I had known a guy with that name when I went to Heights High. I asked her if my old friend might be her husband’s relative. She said yes, he’s his uncle, his father’s brother.

Then I asked if she was also from Cleveland Heights. She said she was, and my son, standing nearby, pointed out that she had grown up on the street where my son and his family live now, and that her mother still lives in the house this woman grew up in.

I asked the woman what her name had been before she got married, which I often ask, to see if I know people’s parents or other relatives, because having lived here all my life (plus, my parents having grown up in Cleveland Heights), there’s a decent chance that I will. As soon as the woman said her last name, I recognized it—and her—from when she was 8 and in my daughter’s elementary school class, 30 years ago. As soon as I got home, I pulled out their school yearbook from that year, and there was this woman and my daughter on the same page, the woman looking just like her own daughter does now.

There’s a girl on Westin’s swim team, the Heights Tigersharks, of which my son, Dan, is the coach. And this is really a full-circle thing: I remember this girl’s mother, when she was a child, on Dan’s Little League team, of which her father was the coach. 

When my kids were going to Heights High, my wife and I would go to curriculum nights, where you sit in each of their classrooms for about 10 minutes while their teachers talk about what the class is working on. I would look around the room at the other parents and often see people I sat in those rooms with when we were students at Heights. (Well, when they were students at Heights, and I was just there—but, still, I found the experience meaningful.)

When my kids were teenagers and we would take them to concerts at Cain Park, they learned that, at intermission, they needed to get money from me and then get away from me immediately and head right to the concession stand without me, because they knew I’d never make it there. Every three steps, I’d run into someone else and talk to them. And I would almost never get to the restroom—which I really wanted to do.

So, anyway, two things come to mind. One is that I find it really gratifying when I run into people who used to be little kids that I knew (when I was already an adult), who now have little kids of their own. And the fact that they’ve chosen to live where they grew up, and that a lot of those kids now know each other, are big bonuses.

And the other is that while Cleveland Heights has a population of about 44,000, and it’s in the middle of a Greater Cleveland with a population of more than two million, situated right next to the city of Cleveland, it still feels like a small town, mainly because a lot of people stick around, and a lot of people know a lot of other people here.

David Budin

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.

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Volume 17, Issue 6, Posted 10:42 AM, 05.29.2024