Rumbles on E. 49th: Awakenings and epiphanies

An awakening

Goodrich House originated as an organization that helped immigrants to acclimate themselves to their new lives in Cleveland. But when immigration slowed, it ended up as a place for kids and teenagers to hang out.

Someone donated a former bank building on 55th and Saint Clair to Goodrich House, and word got around that they were seeking neighborhood teenagers to help restore the old bank building into a recreation center.

A bunch of as volunteered and cleaned; scraped and painted for weeks. One day a group of kids from the Heights came on a bus to give us a hand. A situation of friction between us and them immediately occurred.

They were clean cut, wholesome kids and to us they were disgustingly good. We obviously were not, and we wanted to engage them in tumult. We restrained ourselves and did not do much more than glare at them because the people from the Plain Dealer were there taking pictures and interviewing them.

The Heights kids didn’t do much work, if any at all. They pretty much just drank Cokes, ate hot dogs, had their pictures taken and screwed around. Being angry at their presence we kind of kept to ourselves. We said things to each other like, “Let those jerks come down here when the PD is not here, and we will see what happens.”

About a week later, there was an article and a big photo spread in the Plain Dealer about how a group of kids from the Heights came down to the inner city and fixed up this old building and turned it into a place where underprivileged kids could go to keep them out of trouble. We were furious, “Thanks a lot, sorry you didn’t choke on your hot dogs.”  It was painful but it was a good lesson on how things work sometimes.

A former bank building on 55th and Saint Clair was donated to Goodrich HouseA former bank building on 55th and Saint Clair was donated to Goodrich HouseAn Epiphany

A few months after that, I was downtown by myself and was goofing around in Woolworth’s basement. I was going to get on the escalator to go upstairs when who got on the escalator before me?  A group of well-dressed clean-cut kids from the Heights.

I felt a flush come over my face and I thought, “God, I hate these bastards.” As I was staring at them with a glare that I hoped showed my hatred, I had a sudden revelation:  In spite of my anger and what happened at Goodrich House I realized that I hated these kids because I wasn’t like them. Then it struck me that maybe I was really more like them than that thought. I don’t know if this was one of the defining moments that you have in your life, and I didn’t immediately turn into a goody two shoes.

I realized that maybe I didn’t want to be like I had been, up to this point. My outlook and perspective started to change. So did a lot of other things in my life—a good way to start going into adulthood, I think. I moved out of the neighborhood to a more sedate area near Eddy Road and eventually was drafted into the U.S. Army and ended up participating in the war in Vietnam. Talk about an outlook changer!

When I got out of the Army I enrolled at Cleveland State University, courtesy of The GI Bill. Years later, I ended my work life by being employed at corporate level first at Revco Drug and then at Office Max as the head of the presentation design department.

I am not ashamed of my experiences in the old neighborhood.  Being involved in that neighborhood and in the Vietnam war gave me experiences that prepared me for the thing brings to an adult life. I developed a perspective of how to be a better person, but I still relish those old memories.

Ralph Horner
Ralph Horner

About the Author: Ralph Horner

Ralph Horner grew up in the 1950s and 1960s on Whittier Avenue in the Central and Hough neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, at the age of 19, he managed a French Shriner shoe store on Euclid Avenue, where he got to know many of the people who hung out on Short Vincent.  A self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent living in the inner city, Horner observed the characters who were regulars in the neighborhoods he lived and worked in. Now in his 70s, Horner shares the stories of some of his more memorable experiences on Short Vincent with the FreshWater series, Rascals and Rogues I Have Known.