A Pulse Of The City Classic Revisited... A Lakewood Experience, Gary's First (And Last Regular) Column
For nearly a decade now, it's been a tremendous experience and an awesome responsibility to write these bi-weekly columns for this paper. I've gone from one end of Lakewood to the other, often visiting the stories behind the stories, while at the same time, exploring the roots of Lakewood's attitudes towards minorities, those having differences, and social justice issues, whenever possible. These columns have tried to help save churches, promote businesses, and recognize Lakewood's heroes among us, while stressing the thought that, however interesting and important Lakewood's past has been, (and future might one day be) it's still Lakewood's present that matters most.
While, from time to time, I'm still hoping to continue to submit the occasional contribution to this paper, I think however, that it's time for my regular "Pulse of the City" columns to pass into history. Here then, is a condensed update of my first column and now, as when it first appeared, I would hope that these words will educate, inspire, and encourage you to make a better world for yourself, and for those around you.
There are many thanks that I should offer here. To Anne Palomaki and Stan Austin, for getting me started on the Observer Trail. To Jim and Deb O'Bryan and their editors, for putting up with my endless revisions, to Dad (Robert Rice) and my dear late mom, Betty Rice, for their unfailing support, and to all the rest of you, for putting up with my musings!
A seven-year-old boy stood on the top step of a stairway on the side of a hill, leading to an old mountain road that could only optimistically, be called "two-lane". The fact that Copperhead snakes once lived under that top step, mattered not at all to the boy. In fact, a lamp post stood by that very step, and the boy was clinging to it with all his might. You have to know this: He was more afraid of the future, than the Copperheads. In the woods behind his house, he had spent many hours with his grandfather, learning Native American ways. As far as the Copperheads went, the boy had no fear of them, or of the Eastern Diamondbacks that sunned themselves on the long stone fence behind their house. The boy virtually lived in those woods, spending many hours at peace with the animals that lived in his sylvan woodland. That was, after all, the name given to William Penn's woods: Penn's Sylvania. The boy had been happy in Penn's peaceable Quaker commonwealth. That is, until that moment...The boy now knew that he was indeed, about to lose his land.
His parents, below, were telling him to come down and hop into the back of Ol'Betsy, the family's black '55 sedan. Any other time, the boy would have been happy to do so. That old car had climbed to the top of the Smokies, and broiled in the Florida sunshine. Many memory-filled trips had been taken in that car. The boy knew well the joys of roasting and freezing in the back seat in those days before auto air conditioning was anything other than a toy for the rich. In fact, the boy recalled passing an expensive car on the long road to Somewhere, and his mother said, "Let's roll up the windows, so they'll think we have air conditioning too!" Yeah, good humor like that really made the miles fly by for the boy and his family. In another time and place, that car would have beckoned to more fun-filled adventures, but not this time. This trip would be different. The boy's father had just returned from a place called Lakewood, Ohio, where he had accepted a teaching job. He had rented the lower half of a home on Rosewood Avenue. His parents said that it was a beautiful brick street, lined with stately elms. All the boy knew, was that he was losing his woods. Yeah, and his dog Skippy too. No dogs were allowed at the new place. The boy had to be pried, screaming and crying, from the lamp post. Had the lamp post not been set in twenty pounds of concrete, the boy would have ripped it from the ground. His dog was later found dead, trying to follow him on the road to Lakewood.
Soon after they arrived, the elms too, would be gone, along with the brick streets. In their place would be low shrubbery and black asphalt, mixed with the acrid smell of ever-present exhaust fumes. Going from limitless woodland to a postage stamp address, the boy was terrified. He felt closed in, alienated, and alone. With no sisters and brothers to learn from, or fight with, and hampered with severe speech, hearing and orthopedic disorders, the first lesson of his new city was with the sounds. Constant sounds, at all hours of the day and night, kept the boy awake. His parents allowed him a space in the basement for a club room. It was carpeted, with a few old chairs; and shelves for the models that the boy began to build. Eventually, the boy came to terms with his new city. He made good friends, and excelled with his music. School was hard, but he had a few good teachers over the years, including and especially, his parents. When the lad entered junior high, he learned about the world beyond. He imagined himself to be a great explorer, or perhaps a composer, a photographer, or a writer. He spent the steaming Civil Rights summers in Alabama. His mother taught him about the importance of people being treated equally. He began to act on his beliefs. He started to take the "Sermon on the Mount" seriously. In his teen years, he was in Birmingham, and Montgomery, and Gadsden, and Anniston. He almost got in trouble for trying to drink from an old "colored" drinking fountain. His Southern relatives did not understand him. He did not understand himself either. Nor did he try to do so.
His father and mother were active in church; or rather, churches. As his father moved from church to church, directing choirs, the family followed. The boy liked churches. He had been acutely aware that his mother had dedicated him to God. He heard that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reportedly said something about 11 a.m. on Sunday morning being the most segregated hour in Christian America, and he took those words to heart. Religion ran deep in his soul, but he still has trouble wondering why there are so many of them
As he tried to battle prejudice, hatred, and raise his voice for a better world, he started a rock band. From the beginning, it was a band with a political message, and that message concerned peace, tolerance, and equality. His band was to be an instrument of the social justice that the boy so deeply wanted. He later went into jazz, and still later, wedding bands. He learned to write music and fix broken musical instruments with the help of his band director father. He went into the Scouts too. In spite of health difficulties in meeting advancement requirements, he enjoyed Scouting; especially, hiking the Silver Moccasin Trail; where he was among the first to finish that grueling trek. He treasures the medal that he received from the experience. He still volunteers with the Scouts. He received the District Award of Merit; the highest honor that a district can bestow on a Scout leader.
Wanting to change the world, he went into Political Science in college. The first two years of college were spent at Lakewood High, when Cleveland State opened a branch there. The young man had been a writer and photographer since grade school. He started reporting for his college paper. He decided to become a teacher. Some people tried to discourage him. With his so-called "disabilities", they thought that the job might be too much for him. In the end, he became a cum laude graduate and a teacher. A Lakewood principal felt that he would do well in Special Education, so he went into the new field of Secondary Special Education. He became a pioneer Ohio secondary special educator both in Lakewood and in Parma. He continued to live in Lakewood, while teaching for the Parma Schools.
His musical instrument repair experiences were later utilized when he became "Guitar Guy Gary" for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His photojournalist aspirations have been used on these pages for many years. After years of successful teaching, this Lakewood man is now a retired teacher. Still a Lakewood resident, the man will always be grateful for the many friendships and opportunities that were extended to him in his youth by the many fine citizens of this beautiful city! That man, of course, is me.
As another school year rolls around, I thought that it would be so important to remember that many hundreds of children move through Lakewood's schools yearly. It is our responsibility to guide their lives and experiences, so as to extend to them the same opportunities for growth as I experienced. Someday, some other former Lakewood child may write their story on these pages. What they will put down will depend, in large part, on the help that they receive from you and me.