The month of July is a very special month in the life of the neighborhood. It kicks off with the Fourth of July whereby we celebrate being Americans — Italian Style. In the 50s and 60s it was with pasta and sausage and pepper sandwiches. Hot dogs and Hamburgers only came into fashion in the 70s.
It is also the feast of the local Catholic Church where for five days everyone in the neighborhood comes together to celebrate their heritage, raise money for the church and honor the patroness of our church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The best day was always Sunday, the last day of the Feast. After Mass there was a procession with flower girls, altar boys, priests, nuns, and the various societies: Sacred Heart, St. Agnes and Holy Name. The Knights of Columbus added a special touch with their exotic uniforms and shiny swords.
Leading the procession was a local marching band that played a wide variety of songs from religious and patriotic marches to sentimental Italian favorites.
The men in the neighborhood would get up early and open the fire hydrants to clean the streets giving the procession a clean place to walk. The tri colors of red, white and blue and green, white and red hung in banners across the street.
After the procession I would treat myself and my children to a variety of carnival rides and games of chance. These were set up in the schoolyard behind the church.
From the top of the rickety old Ferris wheel, we could see our house two streets away. There were times when I thought a good stiff breeze would send it rolling down the schoolyard. The Ferris wheel that is, not our house.
In the old days, the schoolyard was packed with people from the neighborhood, visiting relatives and friends from the “outside.” There wasn’t a face that you didn’t know directly or indirectly by way of aunts, uncles and cousins.
Like most immigrant neighborhoods of the day, it was a closely knit community. There weren’t very many outsiders – my Irish American husband being one of the exceptions.
He and his family stayed pretty close to home near their Irish parish up the street.
He used to joke about needing to know a secret handshake to get into the neighborhood – but he knew my brother and that was good enough.
Even the president could have used a special introduction back in those days – well maybe not.
Because I remember when John F. Kennedy visited Cleveland in October 1962, and passed through the neighborhood in a motorcade, the street was a jammed packed with well-wishers from all of the local neighborhoods waving and shaking his hand.
He even shook my Aunt Rosie’s hand – after which she exclaimed, “I’ll never wash this hand again!”
Even my two year old daughter got in on the fun – held high by her father to see the passing president – she waved as if she knew him.
So much for the secret handshake!
That was a day neighborhoods dissolved and everyone came together to celebrate as proud Americans.