There were seven families on the end of the street (Midland Road, how average is that?), with a median of four kids per family. We ran in packs. Boys playing sports, girls singing the entire score from the movie Mary Poppins on the swing sets at Normandy School. (Well, me. I sang.)
We played for hours. Rules were in place. We had to be home when the streetlights came on. Or when Mom gave the whistle using her pinkie and forefinger that I have never been able to replicate.
Everyone had their share of accidents. When my brother and his cronies locked us girls out of our secret club in the garage and began to read our supersecret diaries, I put my fist through the garage door trying to get in. My dad went ballistic. I got a Band-Aid and was grounded, which at that time meant I couldn't go farther than our front steps. The girls brought me graham crackers.
Dicky Greene "accidentally" dropped a hammer from the top of a twenty-foot tree onto Johnny Madden's head. They were building a tree fort. (See, this was back when kids built their own tree houses; their parents didn't hire I. M. Pei to do it for them.)
Suzie Albertz with the long hair did a triple flip over the front of her handlebars as we careened down Huntington Hill. And lived! Cool!
Thor Johnson stuck his head through the glass window of our front storm door while chasing my brother, who was attempting to liberate the ants in his ant farm. This was way before PETA.
And throughout the years in a show of unity we all took turns getting stung by bees, stepping on broken glass, and stubbing our toes on uneven suburban sidewalks when we weren't skinning our knees while roller-skating (no helmets, no wrist guards-all you needed was a skate key and guts, baby).
For years we would Stay in Bay All Day. We went sledding in the winter and swimming all summer. We went to church on Sundays and had Dairy Queen every chance we got. It was all pretty midwestern-romantic. Ohio has all four seasons in a very big way. There were entire weeks we missed school because of snow. Not that we missed it exactly. And spring can't help but be luminous after those kinds of long winters. Summer was one long sun-scorched, barefoot blast, and there's nothing quite so spectacular as an Ohio autumn when the leaves are turning. No hallucinogens necessary.
There was a lot of laughter in our house. I remember nights when the five of us were all at the dining room table not doing our homework. Just laughing and laughing. Well, not always laughing. My sister Alice and I fought constantly, and one night she lured me into the basement and, on a dare, threw an entire chocolate-frosted pound cake at me that was intended for the school bake sale. Some pound cake-that mother knocked me right up against the cement-block wall. I had frosting in my ears for a week.
There was and probably still is just something damn lovable about unpretentious, wise-guy, hangdog Cleveland. If there was ever a place that is proud if its own, that cheers on its children, that takes great parochial offense at even the hint of a slight, Cleveland is that place. The town has some faults: it's got an enormous inferiority complex (the river caught on fire), and geographic racial segregation second only to South Africa.