Stuart Terman

Kinsman Stories

Southeast · Kinsman · Essay

‘Kinsman kinz’ man) n. pl men
A relative especially a male relative
Ref; Websters New world Dictionary of the American
Language Pg 334 Copyright 1979

Originally named South High, and then called by its present name of Kinsman, this road stretched from Cleveland’s inner-city Woodland, a name thought more bucolic, and continued east through the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood, towards far-off Kinsman, Ohio near Pennsylvania, that was named after John Kinsman, a land agent.

The etymology of this name notwithstanding, it bravely winds its way east past buildings, stores, apartments, churches and the previously named Kinsman Jewish Center that was one of the city’s first Orthodox congregations to be organized along non-national lines.

My grandfather was sent to the US by his parents from Poland in 1913, meeting my grandmother who was also sent here by her parents around the same time. They met, married, and, nature taking its marvelous course, were blessed with three children, the youngest being my late mother, with the temple he’d visit now a beautiful and well-used church.

The streets bordering Kinsman were at that time an affordable neighborhood where many Jewish people were settling, where my grandfather found a home he could afford, where I lived for several years as a child, and which gradually changed from largely Jewish/Italian/Caucasian demographics to the present mostly African-American population, with the census of people decreasing as the years rolled along. Relatives and families often keeping near their families, indeed confirming the appropriateness of Kinsman’s name.

In 1959 or 1960 however, the residents of the adjacent suburban Shaker Heights were becoming concerned about the reputation of “Lower Kinsman,” and renamed the stretch of the road within this suburb “Chagrin Boulevard.” This name continued further east through Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The more easterly and generally rural communities, being apparently unaware of the distaste that their suburban neighbors had for the original name, were quite happy to continue calling this well paved and well used road by its usual name of Kinsman.

My grandfather was a storytelling pro, with an endless number, most taking place in the pale of Europe or in 1950s Cleveland, usually involving a monkey named Doniel. He’d heard them
from his own grandfather who heard them—where?? And a monkey in 1880s Warsaw . . . who’d have thought?

The Kaiser and the Czar could settle their problems without involving him, and at age seventeen he travelled alone to New York and then to Detroit, before coming to Cleveland where a relative settled.

He sold tires for his uncle at a building on Carnegie Avenue before acquiring a horse and wagon, selling fruit and making his way.

Pa eventually bought a truck, buying and selling scrap metal.

As a child I’d often travel with him on trips through the city, occasionally taking grandmother to a St. Alexis Hospital hearing specialist, where he’d speak Polish and where his humor cleared away much red tape—a skill he brought with him to the new world along with a small suitcase, his parents’ blessing, and his own dreams.

When visiting Mt. Sinai Hospital where my mother worked as an RN, he spoke Yiddish, with English being used in a pinch.

How Pa navigated through street with their signs in a foreign language—English being the foreign language to him—let alone figure out how to save up enough to buy a horse, a wagon, a truck, etc., all seem more like fiction. My grandfather appeared older than his stated age in 1952, but a photo taken in 1920 was quite different, showing a well-dressed, powerful-looking young man, holding my then three-year-old uncle’s right hand gently with his left, and a much younger version of my grandmother off to the side, holding uncle Al’s other hand, her right hand on Pa’s shoulder. His polite gaze looking directly at the camera; a man sure of his abilities. My grandmother, from Odessa, was into baking, sewing and not into telling stories except for the one—and only one—I recall. As a child of nine or ten, while playing outside with her two Ukrainian girlfriends, she overheard some local toughs looking down at the three, fair haired/blue eyed children looking like sisters, commenting “none of them here . . .” and riding off on their horses.

She went home and described this event to her mother who related it to her father Simcha, a wary soul, who understood that the “ . . . them . . . ” included him, and he soon packed up his four children, the oldest daughter Shaindel, age nineteen, being entrusted with getting them to a safer place: travelling here where she met Nathan who’d already acquired the horse, wagon, and suit.

They eventually found that three-story home in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of the welcoming city of Cleveland, the place of refuge from the terror that was developing in the beloved homes that they’d both left.

The name of this area, Mt. Pleasant, was derived from its leafy appearance and dramatic views, with Kinsman Road being the main through fare running from the inner city out towards the more suburban Shaker Heights and eastern Cleveland suburbs, and continuing east towards where African Americans were moving to the area that would be incorporated in 1944 as Woodmere, Ohio.

The streetlights near my grandparents’ East 153rd Street home shone into our room as Pa would tell me his evening story, occasionally speaking English but more often Yiddish or Polish, though no rigid boundaries existed or prevented this being told in two, or even three, languages. A free flow of the language and story, each with some instruction, till its conclusion, sensible, expected.

The feather-quilt warmly enveloped me along with his heavily accented winters’ evenings’ story, and I only had to continue these stories for my own children, although the requests became less frequent as each of the four got older.

Our now lovely home is just a few blocks south of Chagrin Boulevard, perhaps just a coincidence although to this day I’m not certain as it’s almost exactly the distance south from Chagrin Boulevard, as my grandparents’ home was from Kinsman, and the occasional train whistle one hears when opening up our bedroom window is identical to that I’d heard when opening the window on East 153rd, and quietly listening. Perhaps the same train is still at work so far away. . .

Doniel would arrive, occasionally to join the school orchestra to bail out the violinist who’d hurt his hand playing ball or help usher an older grandparent to a front seat to listen to the concert.
He was a role model for good deeds—mitzvot—and decency, with talents limited only by my recollection and imagination. The stories would arrive whenever my children requested them, just as I remembered them always doing.

By age eleven and a half, though, requests for stories by my youngest hadn’t come in months, and I wasn’t sure if they ever would as his adolescence was now coming up our driveway.

At 11 p.m., the lake effect snow blew horizontally outside. Our neighbors’ Christmas tree colors were lighting through our woods and into his bedroom. I said good night, putting my papers away before going to bed, pausing where the beige of his room met the grey of the hallway carpet, hearing “ . . . a story . . . ?” Quietly. Clearly.

No question, he’d asked for a story; I wasn’t sure why, but then again, why not? I stopped, turned and re-crossed back over the threshold between the carpets—between childhood and adolescence—and sat down on the rocking chair I’d bought at the garage sale in 1987 when he was born. Now dark. Wind outside and the lights just visible between gusts of snow.

The sleepy boy on the bed, covered with his own feather quilt, was indeed suddenly longer than I remembered. Doniel was now sitting in Cleveland Municipal stadium at the Browns-Jets playoff game of January 1987, but THIS time quarterback Bernie Kosar, still peeved about the Mark Gastineau foul, needs reliable help and looks to the stands for someone who could catch a ball in bad weather. Doniel answers, fortunately remembering to have brought his helmet . . . a terrific catch, soon a field goal, and the roar of the fans as loud as the gale off nearby Lake Erie.
A few quiet sounds and Sam is asleep, drifting off as the crowd exits the stands and I leave his darkened room, closing a door . . .

A few nights go by, a birthday with games, laughter, friends and a week passes. Two. More. A few spent Christmas trees appear on tree lawns and the lengthening of days noticed by those paying attention. Doniel was away for awhile, but certain to return since my oldest boy, a Sergeant now back home after six months in Afghanistan, called to say hello and mentioned that his three-year-old son likes bedtime stories.

Stuart Terman

Stuart Terman is a physician, previously Assistant Clinical Professor/Ophthalmology/Case Western Reserve in his home city of Cleveland, married, and blessed with 4 grown children. He was on the surgical/Ophthalmic surgery staff of the Cleveland VA Hospital for a number of years. His ophthalmology practice in Maple Heights, and then Solon, in addition to being privileged to be on the staffs of the old St. Alexis Hospital, Meridia Southpointe, and SVCH, until he retired. He’s had publications in the Annals of Plastic Surgery, the Annals of Ophthalmology, The Ohio Family Physician, Glaucoma Today, EyeNet (the American Academy of Ophthalmology monthly journal) and the Consultant for Pediatricians, among a number of others over the years.


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