* This is the fifteenth in my series of walking Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods to discover what makes each community relevant to me.
As I headed towards Mt. Auburn, early, early morning, I was alone.
I hiked up Main Street and eschewed the steps and former incline run, then turned onto Mulberry, which is part OTR, and part Mt. Auburn, veering up Rice Street. The first person I came upon was a man leaving his home, hot coffee in hand. I smiled and waved and walked on, wondering how much of this city I should be walking alone.
But then, two young school boys, perhaps fourth-graders, traipsed down the hill as I chugged up.
“Hey! School today?” I paused to ask.
“Yes, ma’am.” Both boys looked at the sidewalk.
“Where do you go?”
“Rothenberg,” one announced.
“Great. What do you like there, I mean subjects?”
The first boy spoke up, “Math. And science.”
The second hesitated then his face beamed. “I like recess.”
“Ha, those were my kids’ choices too!” I wished them a great day and left them wondering if my kids liked recess or math/science or both.
Every day, children walked that stretch, and other less-inhabited blocks within the city. They might be fearful. Also, they might not have a choice. There was no SUV-driving parent, sitting with them in the rain, waiting for the bus, or driving them to school.
A few yards up, a car slowed to take the turn, and I held back until the driver and car were out of sight. I kicked myself. That was one of my chief complaints – about me. Why would I be fearful of walking somewhere school-age kids tread every day? I have no answer other than I am learning.
I continued along Rice St. and came upon the site where Sam Dubose was shot and killed by a University of Cincinnati policeman. The houses in the enclave appeared lost in the shadows of Christ Hospital’s parking garages. Despite the steps from Gage Street connecting down below to up above, there was an obvious disconnect in the life that seemed reachable.
After hiking up Vine Street towards Inwood Park, I spied the white tower of The Christ Hospital, visible from just about anywhere in the neighborhood. Their old tagline was once The one hospital that stands above the rest.
Inwood Park, home to a monument of the Father of Gymnastics, was one of my favorites because of its views into Clifton, but was also in need of renovation. I fell for bathhouses every time because I was sucker for history, and because we, as a city, once supported pool in every neighborhood, and now that didn’t seem likely.
I wound through another path or two, and landed at Wellington Place where a new housing community was planned north of Christ Hospital, along with renovated apartments and affordable living spaces where a stretch of row houses had been torn down. I hoped there were plans to aid in the renovation of Inwood too.
I strolled along Auburn to capture a photo of my favorite structure here, the one I want someone to buy and turn into a boutique hotel. Someone not me preferably.
Another set of school kids, giggling and teasing each other, were on their way to the bus stop. A short, African-American woman about my age watched them pass me.
I stopped to chat. “Those your kids?”
“Yeah, just watching them walk to the bus stop.”
“Oh where do they go to school?”
“My daughter goes to the Performing Arts.”
From there, we segued into a conversation about her daughter, a singer, and what her plans might be after high school graduation.
Then the petite woman quietly asked, “Do you live up here?”
“No, I live in OTR, but come up here early mornings, get some hills in, then go back down and get to work.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
She raised her eyebrows, either impressed or surprised.
“What do you do?”
“Oh, nothing right yet. Just getting this last one through school. I’m almost ready to go back to work, after my husband died three years ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. What happened to him?”
“Cancer. Lung cancer. Runs in the family.” She named about a dozen family members whose lives had been touched or lost by cancer.
I nodded as she finished. My first husband’s leukemia diagnosis had led us back to Cincinnati. Devin had selected a Christ Hospital affiliated oncologist as his new provider. We had wanted to be closer and thus, chose Loveland, though Loveland was not close at all! In the later months, we experienced a dozen ER runs and I spent many mornings dreading the cut in the hill, driving to Christ Hospital to “work” with Devin in his cancer treatments.
I knew a little of Sharon’s pain and told her about Devin, on the same hill where he spent some of his last days, and ironically, across the street from Cancer Family Care. Our conversation continued with an in-depth discussion of cancer references in earlier times.
My favorite walks were those when a ray of light pierced the invisible shield we all carried around, and we opened our souls enough to be touched by another human being.
After the woman and I digested our cancer stories, we stood in silence as buses whooshed by.
The woman extended her hand. I furrowed my brow. Usually, I was the first with my hand out to shake.
“Sharon, my name is Sharon,”
“Sharon, I’m Annette, I’ll see you again. Or look for me at the bottom of the hill.”
We exchanged a gaze I could only call knowing, knowing we had been changed by each other’s willingness to step across the color line, the neighbor line, the stranger line.
Sharon stayed on my mind the rest of the walk. I found myself at the base of a No Outlet hill, and was forced to hike up grass, through a fence, and over to the Mt Auburn International Academy. The area also hosted the Mt. Auburn indoor pool. And a few blocks away, passing through the campus of God’s Bible College, I was back near the outdoor Mt. Auburn pool, where employees hosed down the bowels of the pool that morning. I descended the Main Street steps near Jackson Hill Park to land in Prospect Hill.
Mt. Auburn also included the Prospect Hill Historic District, which could be its own separate post, with its special Italianate style homes, covert courtyards, and many personal connections, including my boss, my dog sitter and Milton’s Prospect Hill Tavern, site of the famous burn a snow man in effigy during Bockfest.
The pieces of pie that made up this neighborhood each offered their own peek into a way of living. Some historic, some battling for economic or physical security, some just battling for life.
Nowadays, my new husband (of ten years), Mark, works at Christ. On occasion, when I popped in to visit during his lunch, I would catch my breath and quiver, feeling the sadness I had deposited at the same hospital 16 years ago.
Mark’s first wife had been treated for her cancer at Christ Hospital. And I wondered how he had persevered, performing his job, while encountering multitudes of patients in the same position as Susan once was. His obstacles had been mountainous compared to mine.
Life had moved me along, though I still stopped when someone I knew was battling cancer, especially my two sisters, and was taken back in time. It’s in those moments when I remember my own strength. And the resilience of love.
I will plan another walk to Mt. Auburn during a school day at the exact same time, so I can meet Sharon and honor her willingness, her vulnerability, the fears we are all trying to conquer each day.
The Mt. Auburn neighborhood was once called Key’s Hill, after a former settler, until 1837, then was named after a cemetery in Boston. The neighborhood technically includes in two historic districts, Prospect Hill and Mt. Auburn Historic.
Mt Auburn has an active community council and community development corporation. Also, William Howard Taft National Historical site is there, along with one of my other favorite buildings that we were three years too late in buying at auction. There are too many streets with interesting discoveries to name, Alma, Maplewood, and some just end beneath a canopy of trees, but suffice it to say, I have meandered them all.
And each time I climb up Mt. Auburn’s hills, I scale another round of fears, making them appear rather minuscule from my view at the top.