If you've seen the movie A Christmas Story, that is in some ways what my first years of childhood were like. Like in the narrator of the story I too lived in Cleveland, Ohio--the city of my birth. I had a sister a year younger than I and my family lived in a working class neighborhood where houses were small and packed neatly together.
My father worked as an accountant and my mother stayed at home with my sister and I and had dinner on the table every night when my father came home. My parents rented the house where we lived. The back yard seemed big to me then with a weeping willow tree and a flag pole in the center. There was an American flag neatly folded in the front room closet but we never ran it up the flagpole because the flag belonged to the landlord and wasn't ours. I didn't question much about this--I just knew that the flag was there wrapped in brown paper and that flagpole was in the middle of the yard.
In the living room we had a television with a small screen, but in the mid-fifties I guess everyone who had television sets had sets with small screens. There was also a framed glass covered picture of two swans floating among the lily pads in a pond. I was intrigued by the work of house art and would often contemplate it. It looked old, but I knew nothing about it. None of the furniture in the house was ours and neither was the swan picture.
We seemed to have frequent visitors at our house. My parents welcomed relatives, neighbors, and entertainers--mostly jugglers. Since my parents worked as a professional juggling act on weekends and occasional week nights they were often visited by other jugglers, entertainers, and one of their booking agents, Sally West and her husband Duke. I typically enjoyed these visitors because they talked about things that seemed interesting even though much of the time I had no idea what they were talking about.
I spent my first seven years living in and around Cleveland. We probably lived in the house on West 143rd Street for about four years, but it seemed like a long time to me. Of course, I had little perspective then. Everything seemed like a long time. And the house, the people, the city all seemed old to me then. But I was a child and everything seemed old.
And now from where I am and look back on those days, it seems like a long time ago.