My walk through East Walnut Hills started at the sign just north of Eden Park. I love when I find signs – I’m a sign kind of person – so I can absorb the exact boundaries of a neighborhood. As I careened around the corner, the first building to come into my view was the Victory Lane building. My sister lived in that building and I often couch-surfed there despite only living a mile away. Pat Barry, the weatherman, lived above her. In those days, he had a little more weight on his frame, such that when he moved around in his apartment, we heard every creak in the floor.
The apartment’s proximity to Eden Park is what drew us out on weekends with our magazines and LaRosa’s antipasti salad – it was the closest we could come to anything Italian in the neighborhood – and the full sun and rap music of the neighbors grilling out amongst the panoramas and ducks.
Just past that building was UC’s Victory Parkway campus of OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, where many of my peers (yes, I may be of this age) took classes or taught classes, to keep their minds sharp.
Multiple conversations over family dinners have taken place regarding the Maronite Catholic Church versus the Marianists. Marianists priests look to Mary as a model for their spiritual teachings and run the local Moeller High school. The Maronite Catholic Church was named after St. Maron and was the only Eastern church, originating around Lebanon and Syria, to have closely followed the pope’s teachings since time began. The church hosts a mean Lebanese festival in the fall.
Sometimes, I am struck by individuals who look open for a chat. In this case, a set of colorful sticks tilted up against an oak tree caught my eye. My eyes then landed on a shorter, African-American man who was leaning on another stick of the same ilk.
My father-in-law used to make walking sticks, I called to him on the hill of his apartment complex.
Oh, yeah. What kind of wood he use?
Mostly Oregon wood, some myrtlewood, whatever else he found in the forest, I suppose.
Yeah, he do all that carving and colors?
Not quite as bright as yours, I shared as I joined him on the hill.
I’m Corneil, he said, once again, another stranger hitting me up first for the handshake. They call me Shorty.
Same, I quipped. We both laughed. Actually, its Annette.
What you doing out today, you live around here?
No, just walking all the neighborhoods of the city?
He tipped his head, perplexed.
It’s a long story, I divulged and changed the topic. Where else you do sell these?
Oh sometimes I get out downtown and just walk around and see if someone is interested.
Nice, I summed up and had to take my leave. I had encountered Shorty too early in my walk and couldn’t stay for fear of getting distracted.
I crossed Madison Road, turned up Lincoln Avenue, past a dear friend’s home with amazing irises in her backyard. I had once thought an East Walnut Hills or Walnut Hills walk would take me to Walnut Hills High School, but according to Google maps, the school was situated in Evanston.
I curved around the backside on DeSales Lane, passing Gilligan Funeral Home, which blended in with all the mansions I later hit upon as I wove in and out of the streets near the Cincinnati Tennis Club. Ironically, later that weekend, I would meet someone who lived in another of these intriguing homes.
On the north side of Madison Road, several small parks dotted the landscape. Annwood Park was donated with the condition it never to be turned into a playground or sold. It is strictly for walking or sitting and contains a waterfall grotto. Owls Nest Park is a Cincinnati Park. The sixteen brick columns, part of the estate of the original owner, are now in Eden Park. The columns and wrought iron fence features were originally copied from those near the Charles River Bridge at Harvard University.
East Walnut Hills stopped just before entering the O’Bryonville Business District, but one can traverse down Torrence Parkway, meet up with Taft Road and trek up, or as I did, circle back around past two specific mansions.
When my sister and I were in twenties (we sure did a lot together back then), we fantasized about these two structures. We would buy one and make it into a restaurant and called it Sorellas (Italian for sisters), or we would make a pact, and if we both hit it lucky, buy the homes and live side by side. Note: We also had this pact about two homes in Wellington, near where we were raised, that we had to pass on Route 58 each time we drove home from Cincinnati.
Neither of us hit it lucky. I stayed rooted to the view for a while, mourning a piece of my past. I am always burying moments like this here in this city.
Soon, alarmed by the sheer speed of cars passing by, I crossed the road and circled through Keys Crescent where a former co-worker of mine now lived, hiked up and behind Seven Hills School, and found my way down Taft and back up McMillan.
About then, my stomach ached. I was hungry. I texted my husband who had been off of work that day.
We met for lunch at Kitchen 452, one of my favorite local establishments because it felt local. There was nothing about 452 that says I want crowds, including their hours. Many of the businesses were like that in E. Walnut Hills during the day. But at night, they got quite the traffic from Woodburn Brewery, Myrtles, Hi-Bred, etc.
Do you want a ride back to your car? My husband asked after I coveted his lunch and not mine.
No, I’m not done yet. But you’ve got to see some of this. I directed him around some of the streets I had just walked, and he dropped me close to his original parking spot.
Walnut Hills housed some of our wealthiest population, and always had, as well as some of our most creative business districts. They have an innovative development corporation and active council, but like other neighborhoods, the community butts up against those that are struggling with recovery and crime.
I darted in and out of a few more dead end streets, walking past St. Ursula Academy and the New Thought Unity Church. The hanging banners (signs, again) were a fitting end to my walk that day, to be in peace with my place in the world.
Ironically, one of my learnings has been to pay attention to bus times, or walk times up into these neighborhoods. For instance, when we’re with our kids in NOLA or Boston, we often walked thirty minutes or more to get to a destination. It’s that easy to get around, if you have the wherewithal to do so. In thirty minutes, I could have walked the three miles to EWH, or ridden the bus, which is problem in and of itself that I hope is sorted out during the city’s elections.
Here in Cincinnati, this is where my disappointment with the founding fathers of the city appears, as they situated the towns at the base of so many hills. We citizens were forever disconnected to one another in the physical sense.
I am resolving, through these walks, to be more intentional about traversing the city and the neighborhoods, and traversing the terrain of personal connection.