Memoir and Essay
The Wonders of Cleveland By Judah Leblang/2003
My mother steered our brown Pontiac through suburban Beachwood-our upper middle class town–toward Nanny’s house, on the edge of working-class Cleveland. I fidgeted on the vinyl seat, my body an unspoken, Are we there yet? Finally, we passed into the city and my mother stopped in front of the tall maple that dominated my grandmother’s postage-stamp sized front lawn. Nanny’s tiny bungalow sat in a row of identical white houses thrown up just after World War II when Cleveland was booming, years before my birth. continued
What a Fellowship
By Judah Leblang/2003
In August 1997, I made a special visit back to Cleveland to represent my family at a memorial service for my godmother Donna’s son Lonnie, who had died two years earlier. Since Lonnie had been a member of the little church where Donna was a ‘mother’ and senior member, the service was doubling as an afternoon fundraiser.
The goal of the congregation-one they were moving toward in tiny increments, year by year–was to connect their modest sanctuary with the warehouse-like building next door, tearing down the wall between them. The second building, which served as a reception hall, was really just a large concrete-floored room, looking desperate for paint and a makeover, like the ugly duckling at a high school dance. continued
The Pierogi-eating Contest
By Judah Leblang/2004
Slavic Village, Cleveland
“We got 24 people signed up for the Peeerogi eating contest,” announces the emcee, a heavyset man with a florid face and full, rounded nose. “We’re gonna have everyone introduce themselves and then they’ll be ready to start eating these delicious pierogi.”
He jumps around with a microphone and the crowd is quiet as contestants give their names, ages and hometowns. Most of the last names are Polish, and many are from the neighborhood. A crowd of a 150 people-maybe more-swarms around to watch the contestants, who sit at long tables joined together in an inverted ‘U.’ Soon teenagers pass around plastic plates of doughy pierogi, and the entrants are off – gobbling the pale white triangles with their thick potato and cheese filling. continued
|Judah does a great job capturing the wistful spirit of places where hopes have not been realized, where the mood is expectant yet melancholy. Humor plays at the edges of his writing, which is rich with visual and emotional details. He also has an ability to convey subtle shadings to readers, and he does so without being trite or obvious.
— Kathryn DeLong, editor, Northern Ohio Live magazineA friend recommended Judah’s writing to me. His keen observing eye, lyrical prose, and kind humor craft a warm thoughtful encounter. My enjoyment of his writing moved me to seek him as a teacher. I look forward to starting as one of his students next week.
–W.F. McCartinNational Account Executive, Winchester, MAWith a sharp eye, a wry sense of humor and endearingly offbeat sensibility, Judah serves up no-nonsense stories that touch the soul. They make great reading. And listening to him perform them
is a delight, too.–Barney Stein, Massage Therapist, Jamaica Plain, MAJudah Leblang is a marvelous writer whose work –both in fiction and memoir — is sharply observed, often contemporary in its setting, but honest, healing and wise, in the great old storytelling
tradition. It will also make you laugh.–Andrew Szanton, Writer, Newton, MA
by Judah Leblang ~
1975, CLEVELAND’S SOUTHEAST SIDE
My mother often said, “Your grandfather’s gonna die in that store,” and now it appears she may have been right. I press the accelerator hard and careen down Harvard Avenue, propelled by the scribbled note left on the kitchen counter.
“Papa rushed to St. Alexis collapsed at store. Hurry!” she wrote, and I do, a nervous 18-year-old steering Papa’s rusted out Chevy Bel-Air through Mt. Pleasant toward Slavic Village. I inhale the smell of tobacco that clings to anything he touches, his special scent of Camels mixed with musk.
The Road Not Taken
The school looks the same as I remember it, from 20 years ago. It’s a slit-faced red brick structure with tall narrow windows that don’t open, giving the place a fortress-like feel. The building folds inward, modern and stale at once, mired in 1971, a silent witness to white flight and the slow steady march of poverty, joblessness, and loss of hope. –continued
University Heights/Beachwood, September 1962-1963
On my first day of school, my mother sat in the stuffy classroom with the other parents. The teacher, a prune-faced woman with cat’s-eye glasses, named Mrs. Ulberg, went over a list of dos and don’ts while I nervously scoped out my peers. — continued