Bullet Holes in the Cross

We made our semi-annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Cleveland and took a ride into the old Tremont section on the near west side where my parents grew up. 75 years ago the neighborhood was populated by poor, but proud, Italians, Polish, Germans and Slovaks. Robust, hearty European-types. Men and women with good, strong backs.

I drove down Buhrer Avenue past my mother’s childhood home. It’s amazing what the mind locks away for another day. I had completely forgotten that my father grew up across the street from her. That’s how far removed my dad is from my consciousness.

Buhrer Avenue is what I picture when I read To Kill a Mockingbird. There are plenty of houses with that Boo Radley vibe. I slowly drove past Grandma Meyo’s old, tiny, doll house and was suddenly hit with a wave of remembrance. Across the street, just a few houses away, was Grandma Polack’s house where dad, Aunt Reggie, and Uncle Marty grew up.

As children, we visited the grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins regularly. The streets were paved with red brick. There was a fruit peddler named Tony Ameto who would walk his fruit and vegetable-laden wooden cart through the neighborhood. One time, my cousin Kenny saw him urinating behind a garage. Thereafter, we would hide in the bushes and torment him with a ditty Kenny made-up to the tune of The Mexican Hat Dance:

My name is Tony Ameto
I live in a bowl of spaghett-o
My name is Tony Ameto
I pee behind garages!

And then we’d run. At the end of the block on the corner of Scranton and Buhrer Avenues was the Scranton Road Tavern. Grandpa Meyo had a drinking problem. Each evening, he’d walk the half block with his dog, Brownie, and take a seat at the bar. After a night of too much drink, Brownie would guide him home. As a reward, Grandpa would give him an Eskimo Pie. Brownie died overweight and of diabetes. An Eskimo Pie a day will do that. My mom said that after we were born, Grandpa stopped drinking. I never once saw him with a drink in his hand.

A few blocks down Scranton Road is St. Michael the Archangel; a 140 year-old Catholic citadel. That’s not old by European standards but there’s a lot of family history in that building. It’s where my mother and father went to elementary school and, much later, were married. My sister and brother-in-law were married there as well. See those two crosses on top of the spires?

st. michaelThey’re copper-covered wooden crosses. Each is 9 x 6 feet. They’re a beautiful shade of aged-green. That’s an old photo above. They’re not up there anymore. You can see one just inside the entrance of the church.

cross1They’re riddled with bullet holes. The neighborhood, no longer European, is now Latino and these new residents saw fit to use them as target practice.

cross2There are over 20 bullet holes in them. Rain water got inside and rotted the wood. They were structurally unsound and had to be taken down.

cross3The church is locked during the day because the neighborhood is crime-ridden. The only reason we got inside is because we lucked upon the caretaker and he unlocked the door for us. [My sister insists that mom put him there because we needed him.]

The old Europeans never would have shot holes in that cross. To what do we attribute this change of attitude? Is it a symptom of societal and family derogation? I think we can rule out economics because the neighborhood has ALWAYS been poor. Dare we suggest it’s cultural? Anyone?

Asbury Park, August 18, 2014, 2:30 p.m.


50 thoughts on “Bullet Holes in the Cross

  1. Back then, the young people had fear of God and fear of their parents. Now? Doesn’t look like it. That’s one reason of many, anyway, don’t you think, Mark? Quite the trip back to the old Ohio neighborhood for you, sir. I can tell it gets you going in many ways.

    That Asbury Park photo shows equal portions of deterioration, by the way. Madame Marie wasn’t telling fortunes out there, was she?

    • I’m sure there are many, many reasons why people are so different not the least of which the ones you site. I’m trying to be provocative. Let’s see if anyone bites.

      Madame Marie still has a booth on the boardwalk! For real. I think it’s her daughter. It’s kitschy. I’ll send a pic the next time I’m there.

  2. It’s possible that your European neighbors were worse shots and couldn’t hit the crosses back then.
    Or that they weren’t as well armed as the new guys.
    Or that using a church cross for target practice results in significantly less mockery than peeing behind the garages.

  3. “The neighborhood, no longer European, is now Latino and these new residents saw fit to use them as target practice.” You don’t think that sounds slightly racist? The minute people of colour enter a neighbourhood expect an increase in crime?

    • Sounds descriptive to me, not racist. Does your political correctness extend to refusing description because it does not meet your sense of propriety?

    • I don’t know if I’d consider it racist. It’s provocative–especially if you have dark skin. But if the Norwegians or the Chinese or Brazilians or Indians or Canadians had moved in and shot up that cross I’d have reported the exact same thing. Does it make is racist that they happened to be Latino?

  4. Feels sad somehow, doesn’t it Mark? The concepts, feelings and emotions generated by that location and those landmarks are eternal with you (and at least in part definitive) – and yet the physcal reality is seriously degrading – soon to be gone entirely. However, the true reality will live on in you – and if I am right – forever.

  5. I’d put in down to the decline in religious belief and the fear of divine retribution, Also, the earlier generation of hoodlums may have had less ammo to waste. I once met a Slovak who complained about Count Dracula’s goons being Slovaks. I had no explanation for why that was.

  6. My old home town makes me feel sad…. more burnt out cars dumped all over the place. Quite pleased we’re not allowed guns.
    Thank you for sharing your trip of nostalgia.

    • It makes me wonder if the neighborhood I live in today will, generations from now, similarly deteriorate. Is this a natural progression? It seems that neighborhoods rise and fall with the tide of time. The Lower East Side of Manhattan, once a bastion if drugs and crime, is now chick-a-block with trust fund kids and hedge fund managers. Perhaps that’ll happen to Tremont one day as well.

  7. What a history your parents share, and to live across the street from one another. Wow. My mom and dad grew up in Sacramento, at least later in life for my mom. We drove by once to see her old house, but I’ve never seen my dad’s, and I live right here not too far. That’s sad about the bullet holes in the crosses and that they need to lock the church. I think generally we are just a more violent society, and kids have a total lack of respect, especially for history. There, I gave some reasons, but I’m sure there are more.

    • I hate to sound cynical but having a shared history that goes back that far isn’t necessarily a good thing. If you marry someone knew in elementary school, odds are you’ll get pretty sick of looking at each other after you’ve had a few kids together. That’s what happened to my parents.

      Can you imagine needing to lock up the church because you’re afraid it’ll get broken into? Its like the wild West.

  8. clear observation about your old neighborhood, sweet pea! i think all of our old (lower middle class) neighborhoods are like that now! i’m just back from lalaland and all i can say is, i was born in san francisco, i grew up in los angeles, and now i live in savannah. somewhere in between i’ve lived in quite a few different places and now i think it’s the same everywhere. better shots, less respect for tradition/the church? who knows, but i think you’re right about there being too many guns! (the church were we were married (46 yrs ago) is also locked during the day. super nana was able to get inside only because she was doing an observation at the elementary school.) xoxoxxo

    • Given your history I’m astonished that you’re living in GA. I’m betting that was a long, twisty road.

      It IS like that in a lot if places! I wonder how it happened? What sad sequence of events lead to shooting at crosses and each other. No easy answers.

      Congrats in 46 years. Everyone should be so blessed.

  9. Thanks for taking us on your trip. My hoops-crazy son wants to take a road trip to Cleveland this winter to see you-know-who. Bullet-holes: eek!
    A complete aside: This play I’m in, I have to say “Asbury Park.” How do you pronounce “Asbury”?

    • Cleveland is so very happy about you-know-who. And I don’t mean Voldemort. I’m glad for them. That town is starved for a championship. Maybe they’ll get it.

      What play are you in!? Are you going to post about rehearsals? This is rich material. Don’t waste the opportunity. As far as the pronunciation, say “Azz-bury” with a soft z. Something between an “s” and a “z”. But don’t take my word for it. Let New Jersey’s own Frank Sinatra show you how it’s done. At the :45 second mark he sings:

      “Is that Granada I see or only Asbury Park?”

  10. I’m not sure if it’s cultural or not. I just think people don’t give a shit so much these days. It’s a shame though, to have no respect for historical architecture. I was always brought up to appreciate history and my environment. Maybe they have arseholes for parents.

    • I guess this is sacrilegious but I’m with you. I’m more saddened by the attack to the structure itself–to history–than I am to the Catholic Church. It’s like shooting a hole in Degas’ little dancer.

  11. As an informative (well, hopefully informative) aside: that “beautiful shade of aged-green” on the copper is called “verdigris” (pron. VERD-e-gree). So add that word to your already expansive vocabulary! (Aside: it’s one of my favorite rustic looks. If those crosses ever became available on eBay, I’d outbid all comers.)

    I think whoever took target practice at those lovely crosses will roast in hell eventually. There’s a special hell for “people” like them.

    Again, one lovely post.

    Can’t help but look at the Asbury Park photos and think of Bruce’s song, “4th of July – Asbury Park (Sandy)” and the coincidence of the devastating hurricane of October 2012 shared with the song’s common name.

    • Thank you, most kindly, for the vocabulary lesson! The older I get, the more I realize there’s a word for everything. If you bought that cross, do you have a place you could accommodate it? It’s huge! 9×6!

      I think roasting in hell would be lovely and appropriate just desserts for someone who shoots holds in a cross. I don’t have very deep spiritual feelings one way or the other, but it’s a matter of respecting what’s important to other people. What a bunch of dicks.

      The confluence of the hurricane and “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” isn’t lost on anyone in NJ.

  12. This was like reading a movie synopses, I could see it all.

    I think it probably is cultural in a broad sense: unfettered capitalism stigmatises the poor these days to the point where they have no hope, and nothing to lose. In your day there was still hope.

    • Thanks, tons, for the compliment. Tell me you like my writing and I’ll follow you anywhere.

      I think the difference between then and now is that yesterday’s “poor” were gainfully employed. My grandfather was a butcher, as was my father. It was blue-collar work, but it was work. Today’s poor are not only poor, but they’re poor and hopeless. Deprive a man of work and he’ll end up shooting holes in crosses.

  13. It was mom-he wasn’t there when we were walking around the church trying every door and the parish office door. Too much of a coincidence for any other explanation…..by the way if we went to the zoo instead you would have been posting about red butt monkeys.

  14. What a wonderful look back on your childhood. I think you should write a book about it someday. I want a dog like Brownie! The very first service dog in Cleveland. Hey! There you go –the title for your book! Now I need you to write about why your dad isn’t in your consciousness. That is so convenient that your parents grew up across the street from one another. It makes trips down memory lane so efficient! But I seriously enjoyed this. The pictures are beautiful. It’s a shame about the bullet holes. Sigh . . . what is this world coming to? All I can think is that Mom’s not home with the kids anymore.

    • If I could quite working to write a book about my misspent youth I’d do it today. But I’ve got more practical matters at hand. My time for greatness has passed, I’m afraid. But thanks for your kind words.

      I thought Brownie loved, and was looking out for, his master. But in hindsight I think it was all about the Eskimo Pie. Dad’s not in my consciousness for the usual reasons. Nothing all that interesting or salacious. Fun aside: When I got married I took my wife’s name. How’s that for passive/aggressive? Marrying the person you grew up across the street from is suicide. By the time you’ve had four kids together, you’re stick of looking at one another.

      When the cat’s away, the mice will…shoot up the cross on top of a church?! Is that how that goes?

  15. that much copper is worth some serious cash on the scrap metal market… surprised the crosses haven’t been stolen and sold. as for the bullet holes? guns and ammo. although ammo is getting pricey and hard to get, too… we have a bullet shortage in this country, can you believe it? you can’t find 9mm to go to the gun range these days unless you stake out a delivery truck at the WalMarts…. #fuckit #movingtoanislandsoon

  16. I think when you inherit something– like moving into an established neighborhood– you’re less likely to feel ownership or pride in something like that. It’s unfortunate though. And yet also kind of impressive that they hit them.

    • That’s the philosophy behind why government housing is always trashed. The theory is that because it’s given to people, they don’t feel an ownership and, therefore, don’t respect it. But I don’t know that if it applies here. They purchased these homes fair and square. I’m not sure what motivates them.

      It IS quite a feat to hit something so tiny and so far away! You would think they’d need a powerful scope. Never mind punishing them. Enlist them and get them into sniper school.

  17. The Polish men who joined our forces during the war were highly respected and well liked.

    It’s amazing what you can come up with delving in one’s family past. Reworking the early part of my book I have come to the conclusion that my mother got pregnant deliberately, aged seventeen.

    She was R.C. and Dad was chapel so marriage would have been out of the question but she won her parents over and was married before the birth. Who knew?

    • My grandmother, who immigrated when she was a teenager, was a proud Pole. My dad told her a Polish joke once and it didn’t go over well. That was it for the polish jokes.

      I don’t have much of a memory but certain visuals tend to unlock the floodgates. If I go on YouTube and search TV commercials from when I was a child, I’ll spiral down memory lane. That’s an astonishing revelation about you mom. Was that pregnant with you or a sibling? I picture you book as a sprawling saga in the vein of Graham Greene. Can’t wait!

  18. Wait a second, what part of Tre’mont (pronounced TRAY-mon and not Tree-mont) is this? I hung out there back in the early 90’s, used to get ridiculously drunk at the Literary Cafe, score gear near Lincoln Park i believe?, party at the huge place my friends rented complete with widow’s watch and neon spray paint and blacklights to enhance the psychedelics back before the Gentry began to move in, last time i cruised through Tremont i barely recognized the place, all the seediness and danger was gone and it looked more like the suburbs, at least the part i saw, it’s more yuppie/hipster now… and i can’t remember that part of the West Side having English as a first language, i remember driving around and even the graffiti was in Spanish, reminds me of this stripper i knew who lived over there and danced at the long gone Pinky’s, oh the memories… and thinking of Clevo i could really go for some Jack Frost donuts, i always dug how the kids got a free chocolate smiley face donut when the old man bought a dozen…

    • I think you’re referring to Ohio City, which abuts Tremont. Ohio City near the West Side Market is pretty gentrified. Have you been to the Great Lakes Brewery? It’s about a block or two away from the market. I do remember Pinky’s but don’t know nuthin’ about no Literary Café. I’ll have to Google it. I can assure you that parts of Tremont are not, and probably never will be, gentrified. Do you remember the story last year about the scumbag who locked three girls in his basement for over a decade? That house was a block or two away from St. Michaels. The place is a mess.

      • Was talking to the old man and a little digging on the net confirms, Tremont and Ohio City are both gentrified or getting there, the old man said the area near Lincoln Park is still a bit rough, that’s where the Lit is at and it’s still there apparently, but the rest is a whole lot nicer, my friends wife runs the Tremont Tap House and it’s a swanky beer joint and restaurant, the old man was laughing when we were talking about it, he said just check the real estate listings and what shits going for over there, it happens in every city i guess, Lawrenceville and Bloomfield, my old hoods in the burgh are the same way, there’s still some rough sections but for the most but the rents are rising and the you can sell these old houses for a bundle…

      • I suppose that was bound to happen. The gentrification. It seems like a bad choice; either gentrification or rot. There’s no middle ground. I can tell you that the block my mom grew up on and down Scranton to St. Michaels is still a bit of a mess. But once you get up near the West Side Market it starts to improve. If that’s your idea of improvement, that is. Then again, Middleburgh Heights and Brook Park are starting to look a little worse for the wear. Lakewood, too. It’s all a big wheel that spins.

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