Monday, September 13, 2010

Stealing Home

I went home for the first time in eleven years last week.

Even though the condo in Arlington (Hooch World Headquarters) has been my residence for 16 years, whether I like it or not, Toledo Ohio will always be home. I lived there in the same house from the day I was born until I left for Texas at age 21 in August of 1979.

This isn’t going to be a travelogue. I suppose the best description is I am giving a voice to what I saw and felt during my four days at home.

As you might have guessed, Toledo has always been a bag of mixed emotions for me.

Part of me is that girl who started plotting her escape in fifth grade. I went to an elementary school that had eight grades. I spent eight years with a small group of neighborhood kids (about 30 of them) that I grew to loathe – it was a bit of a nightmare for me. High School was a non-event. There weren’t any really bad times, and there were a couple of nice things that occurred, but for the most part I don’t remember much of it except for graduation day, knowing I’d soon be heading for Cleveland , was one of the happiest days of my life. But, I will admit I have some very special and warm memories of family, friends, events and the era that I lived in Toledo. It’s in my DNA, it helped shape who I am today and is a part of me I can’t deny.

The idea for the trip was, sadly, born out of regret. My beloved Aunt Mitzi passed away several years ago, and I did not get back in time to see her in the short time before she died. It was my fault. This time I decided I wasn’t going to wait, I wanted to see my family and friends, and enjoy their company, now.

If you are from the “Rust Belt” then you are familiar with the changes that have taken place in cities like Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland and unfortunately Toledo. Those changes have not been good. My mother’s family lived a working class Polish neighborhood in town. As a kid, I loved visiting my Aunt Jo, Aunt Helen and Uncle Max in that neighborhood. To give you a picture – remember the opening of “All In The Family” with the neat row of houses set close together on small lots? That’s the kind of place it was. It isn’t like that anymore. I can’t begin to tell you what a tremendously sad and sick feeling it was driving through that neighborhood and parts of city that are worn down and worn out.

I grew up in what was then called “the sticks” but in reality was probably the fore runner of the suburbs. As we drove through our part of town, I remarked to Baseball Mom that I felt like I was in a foreign county, once in a while a familiar landmark would pop up, but they were few and far between.

However, as depressing as that all sounds, there were some really great parts of the trip that definitely outweighed the sad. I spent  time with George and Glenna Hartman – they’ve been our friends for 40 years (Glenna was my 7th grade teacher – and one of the best educators I’ve had the pleasure of learning from). We drove to Marblehead Ohio, a community on the shores of Lake Erie, to see my godmother/namesake Aunt Eleanor and happily, not much has changed driving to and in Marblehead.

We got see my cousin Elizabeth (and husband Bob’s) beautiful home and her mom my “traveling” Aunt Rita. I was happy to find out that my “old school” (the aforementioned Our Lady of Lourdes grade school) which closed at the end of last school year is going to re-open possibly as a charter school or learning center for Head Start or maybe a school for  mentally challenged kids. Let me clarify: I loved the teachers and the school building, it was a great place to learn– I just didn’t like my classmates. I went to my home church for Mass, and I have to say our old neighborhood does look a little nicer than it did when I was growing up. We visited the Toledo Museum of Art (which puts both the Kimball and DMA to shame) stopped by the new Toledo Mudhens downtown stadium, ate fresh tomatoes, corn on the cob and cucumbers from Strain’s farm as well as a terrific dinner of kapusta, perogi and czarnina at Ski’s Polish restaurant.

As time moves on, a little too quickly for me, I am well aware that change is the only constant. There are so few things that we can rely on to remain the same.I think that was one of the main reasons I haven’t gone back to Toledo often. I know it’s changing, and not for the better. I need Toledo to be the one that is in my memory, it’s my source of comfort, which is something I never, ever,  imagined I feel.

I am glad that I took this trip – I needed it.

"There are places I remember all my life
Though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone, some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I loved them all"

-- John Lennon "In My Life"

-- Marla Hooch aka Eleanor Czajka

P.S. Back to baseball - soon. 
I'll have some pictures from the trip online shortly.

No comments: