Friday, December 18, 2015

1st LDS Chapel in Cleveland

Yesterday, Tuesday 15 December 2015, Robert and I went in to take my godmother, Patsy, to do some errands which included a marathon shopping trip for groceries.  We have learned to avoid driving through the city of Cleveland in order to avoid the traffic, construction and Dead Man's Curve so instead we get off I90 at West Blvd and pick up the Shoreway.  Part of the fun of that is that we always get to drive past the first LDS Chapel I ever attended, and can only spy it through a park system.  But it always makes me feel happy inside.

Yesterday, we started off the same way only to discover that we could not get onto the Shoreway at that point, again due to construction, and opted to turn onto Lake Avenue.  I was driving and knew this would be fun. I'd get see the house my friends, the Harlows, lived in and then a few more houses past that one and I'd see my chapel.

Instead...there was no chapel.  Only a fence with huge construction vehicles within and just a hole in the ground.  I was stunned.  I was saddened.  I was bereft (if that's not too huge of an emotion to admit).  I had just talked about that chapel with Bishop Falke on Sunday during tithing settlement.  And now it was gone.  The worse part is that I was so stunned, I didn't even pull over to take a picture or to see if there was at least one brick left over for me to grab and remember.  Not Fair!

Here is a picture of the chapel on the day it was dedicated by President David O. McKay, from a historical booklet the stake had put out.
There was always something so sweet and tender about this chapel that I can clearly still see and feel.  My mom and I were baptized in the font, which was under the stage in the basement.  There were classrooms that doubled as dressing rooms on either side of the stage.  We were baptized on a Monday night, the night right before my mom had her eye surgery.  It was a rainy and oddly dark night for July, 1960.  No family came other than my sister, Deborah.  A few men who would perform the ordinance.  As my mom and i dressed in our baptismal clothes my mom asked me if I was still of the same mind to be baptized because once we committed to this religion, there would be turning back.

Mom was also a believer/worshipper and had long been searching for the truth.  We had attended many different churches and she had taught Sunday School in at least Parma Methodist.  But once the missionaries had stopped by my grandparents who had sent them up to us, we investigated for quite a few years and finally knew we had to make a decision.  My sister wasn't 8 yet so her time would come.  Daddy Center had no interest.  My grandparents were waiting til the fall for when 'their' missionary would be in town for a BSA meeting and Elder Day could perform the baptism (however, Poppy died Oct 16 and so my grandmother was baptized alone).  I felt certain, even at that young age, that this is what I wanted to do and I have never regretted that decision.

Let me tell you about this lovely building.  We would walk up the few steps to the front door. Immediately on the right was the ladies restroom. During the Beatles' rise to popularity, Sue Hinckley had spent the weekend with me.  I did her hair like the Beatles on this one Sunday before church. Her mom had a hizzy fit when she saw Sue and marched her into the ladies room and made her comb it out. Sister Hinckley taught school, I think...elementary grades. Her handwriting always resembled the handwriting charts on the walls above the chalkboard in school.  From her I learned how NOT to embarrass my kids, wonder if I was successful? But i also learned to love pretty handwriting, even taking a class in Calligraphy, a 'skill' I still use today.

On the left of the foyer is the chapel. The chapel was a very lovely room. Light and airy.  Sundays for us meant Sunday School held in the morning  after the men had attended priesthood meeting and then after we'd go home for lunch we returned for Sacrament Meetings at 5pm or was it 6pm?  Often I would go to Cris Marriott's house or Sue Hinckley's house between meetings.  Sometimes they'd come to mine.  I remember filling a small bag with Charles Chips and during Sacrament Meeting I'd stick a chip in my mouth and suck it til it was soft and didn't make noise.  I'd share.  And we'd think we were getting away with something...and we were.

Once in the chapel there was a door along the right wall that lead to the parking lot outside.  At this same wall at the back is the Cry Room as it was called back we would call it the Nursery.  The speaker system piped in the people who spoke but the people tending their children in the Cry Room could see what was going on.  Interestingly, the kids were never allowed to go crazy and be all playing during church meetings.  Sure, they might walk around but there were no toys out.  They just needed to sit their with their moms (usually the moms) until they could figure out how to sit reverently.   (How sad many parents today haven't figured out how to teach their children reverence at this early age.)Behind this room was at least on classroom.

Continuing down that hall was the men's bathroom on the right but on the left was a set of stairs that went the branch president's/later the bishop's office (I think....I actually don't know if I ever saw that room.  Just knew it was there).  But at the top of the stairs was a room was that officially the Relief Society room altho the girls 12-18 met there on Tuesday nights for class.  There on the wall in the RS room was the amazing picture which always gave me peace and a moment of much so that I always wanted a copy of it.  Decades later a man in the ward (Br. Conrad was also our building's custodian)  who knew of my love of this picture called to tell me he had seen the picture in a furniture store in Westlake. (Warners, to be exact).  Robert and I raced over and Robert was so generous and allowed me to buy it, despite the fact we didn't have much money, at all.

Do not know the actual name of the picture but we always called it Woman at the Well.  This picture hung in our apartment in N Olmsted, then at 809, and now it's back on the wall at 3830.  The effect is still the same.  When I feel stressed or tired or any sort of negative, I go and stand in front of this picture for a few moments and just let go of everything. And she fills me with whatever I need.  Isn't she lovely?

Back to the the church building.  I've already described part of the basement.  The baptism font that was under the stage flooring and the changing rooms which also were used as classrooms.  When mom and I were still investigating, Pearl Vasenda would pick me up for Primary on Tuesday afternoons.  She was also my Co-Pilot teacher (7 year olds).  One day she was teaching us about Judgement Day.  She told us what it would be like.  That it would be like we were sitting in our cars at a drive-in movie and this huge screen would roll down from the skies and all our sins would be played out on the screen for EVERYONE to see.  It's a lesson I've never forgotten.  In discussing this moment with some friends today at lunch, one said "it would have been a great lesson to have remembered when you were in your teens."  As I told her, it probably was the reason why I was such a good kid.  I remembered the story! Pearl had come from Mormon stock but had married Pete, a non member his whole life.  But through all the years, Pearl remained faithful to her beliefs.  She would go into her bedroom by herself and talk to herself in a Family Home Evening.  Pearl and Pete fostered Rick Johnson and for a shorter time his brother.  It must have been difficult to take in a boy so in need of love and stability but they did it and remained close as he grew into an adult.  When I had my car accident and was unconscious, I 'came to' and who was sitting beside my bed?  Rick Johnson, the cutie patootie of our youth group.  I wasn't aware at how I looked all bandaged up, only one eye visible. But apparently it didn't bother him.  Rick told me he had just been sitting there watching the last thing I ate (Manner's Big Boy) go through the tube that was pumping my stomach...sesame seeds, lettuce).  I have an idea that perhaps Pearl might have had a hand in having Rick come to sit with me.  She would have done that sort of thing.  Pearl had 2 beauty salons and she hired me to work for her throughout high school. She even frosted my hair and then bleached me out to a champagne color before my 2nd year at BYU.   From Pearl I learned about giving with a generous heart and teaching with object lessons. And she had many and often shared what she thought during the hours at work.

Primary was a very special time for children under the age of 12.  I loved my few years there.  When as a girl you turned 9 you entered into a 3 year type program.  Initially you were a Gaynote, then a Lark, and lastly a  Seagull.  We also learned to embroider.  I still have my piece framed and currently hung in my bathroom.

The colors were my mom's suggestion and I always would listen to her because she was always right.  The 3 encouraging statements... Greet the Day with a Song,  Make Others Happy and Serve Gladly what we were encouraged to do.  My mom was really good at commenting to anyone that she always knew if I was home or awake because there was always music playing.  Altho the fabric has slipped a bit, you can just read the date that says I finished it Juy 2, 1959.  The evergreen tree above it was the emblem the boys of the same age actually had.  They were known as Trail Blazers  Interestingly both the home and this tree was present and in the year of so many issues about gay marriage, I can see how our church always taught the equality of man and woman and the need for both in a union.

Beneath the stairs that went up to the RS room, was a set of stairs that lead you to the basement.  The main part of the lower floor was a huge room used for parties, dinners, dances, and Jr. Sunday  School as well as Primary.  I was the pianist for Jr. Sunday School for years while as a teen.  After classes for MIA (Mutual Improvement Association) we'd gather with the boys for fun or treats or games or whatever.  There was a door down there that opened up to a set of outside stairs that went up to the parking lots...where more fun could be had (Once our leader Br. Glen Pont was joking with David Vasenda who was driving then, and Br. Pont was a big guy. He threw his body into David's car and dented in the side).  There was only one year that I could attend Seminary once it started in our ward and Glen was our teacher.  From him  learned to laugh and how to open my house and heart.  He and his wife fostered a young, troubled girl and eventually adopted her.

There was a room opposite the stage, behind the main room, which could be divided into two by a folding door.  My grandmother taught the 3 year olds in Jr. Sunday school for years and years in that room.  From grandma I learned about steadfastness.  It was also the room that I was positioned during the Gwen and Christ Miller  wedding reception.  I was asked to be in charge of their wedding gifts. I would receive the gift placing a numbered tag on it and open the gifts!  Can you believe that? I opened all the gifts. Then I would record what the gift was and who gave it on lines numbered in Gwen's wedding book, associated with the number of the gift.  Wasn't I the lucky one?  (But be it known by the time I got married, NO ONE was going to open our gifts but me and Robert!)

There was one more room...a huge long kitchen.  A COLD huge, long kitchen.  I think the vents went directly outside and in the winter you'd need to keep your coat on to keep from having your teeth chatter.  I remember Br. Astle being out teacher for awhile. He was a very, very smart man, brilliant in fact.  The other thing I remember about classes before I was baptized is that next to my name were the letters NM.  I didn't initially realize what that stood for but they disappeared when I joined the church.  Then I figure it out...Non Member.  Mormons are very big on keeping accurate records.

So this is the building wherein I formed my spiritual life.  That and in my home with my very wonderful, spiritual and wise mom. From mom I learned everything I would ever need to know and to do.  She was amazing in all things...honest, courageous in face of opposition, always seeking more knowledge,  It was here that I developed crushes on boys.  It was here that I learned about activity and being true and faithful.  It was here that I recognized that not all those people were as steadfast as my mom and I were, as my grandmother and sister were.

There was Br. and Sister Early who were pillars.  Br Early had  Parkinson's Disease.    Toward the end, Sister Early would put him against the wall, near the coat racks, to be out of the way and safe.  He would stand there and shake but he was the sweetest of men.  He came to church as long as he was able but there came a time when he was bedridden and we didn't see him again. From this couple I learned to attend meetings no matter how I feel, that there's always someone worse off than I am.

Br. Yoshimi and Sister  Helen Inouye were there with their 3 kids, Steve, Susan and Sharon.  Steve was 2 years older than me. He had a motorcycle and took me for a ride on it.  Once he took me to a drive-in theater to see some movie.  Br. Inouye would drive us to MIA.  One night he refused to let us go home until we went back to his house and ate some dried seaweed.  And he laughed the whole time while Sister Inouye tried to make his stop but she was laughing as well.  We all laughed.

Sister Inouye and my mom were the best of friends.  She came from California and during WWII she and her family were put into camps because they were Japanese.  But she loved her nationality and taught my mom how to cook some native dishes and I still have her Fried Rice recipe.   Helen and mom also put on parties, with the guests seated on the floor around the lowered tables and sometimes Sr. Inouye's girls, Susan and Sharon, would dance for the adults, dancing in their lovely kimonos. The Inouyes never put themselves forward, always were in the background and always served everyone.

RS and all the other organizations were allowed to have fundraisers back then.  Once a year the RS always held what we would call a bazaar.  It was a lively event, a culmination of a year of crafting, sewing, cooking.  A dinner was offered and people could then go round the large room in the basement, filled with tables ladened with hand made things.  The money earned was used to support their activities and events. The ladies would also sell used clothing in a store front rented for the week in Cleveland.  One day at such a sale, a very hateful man came through the doors, saw Sister Inouye and started screaming awful things at her. Suddenly this VERY old lady, Sister Rowe  (one of two faithful, elderly women who were always present...the other was Sister Kaiser).who was just sitting quietly, stood up and with her cane beat the man out of the store. Sister Rowe was , indeed, very old but frail she was not.  At least not on that day.  Yes, it was a lot closer to Pearl Harbor destruction than today and yes, emotions were still very high.  but Sister Rowe didn't care a thing about that. She was going to protect Sister Inouye who could only stand still, with tears streaming down her face.  It made no difference to us that she was Japanese.  She was our friend. She was our family.  I still talk to her every couple of months...she now lives with Susan in Utah. From this family I learned what true humility is, what true friendship and service is all about. 

One of the boys my age was Larry Adeboi with whom i still communicate  often.  Larry's parents were the best ever. But very quiet. I don't remember what callings they ever held when I was young but they were always present.  Years later, Br. Adeboi became the patriarch for our Stake.  He gave my 5 kids their patriarchal blessings and I was so glad.  When he died, Sister Adeboi moved to LasVegas to live with Larry.  Now they are both dead, buried just above my mom and Roger.  So when we bring flower to my folks, we always stop and bring some to this wonderful couple.  This Christmas both sets of graves are adorned with a small shiny Christmas tree.  And yes, I always had a crush on Larry but he only had eyes for Cris. From this family I learned it's not where you serve but how you serve.

There were the Rices....Tom and Mae and their kids. These were the sweetest people (Golly...I think all these  mentioned families/people were incredible.  That's what I remember. I don't ever remember any gossip about any of these people I've written about).  Son Tom became our Stake President for about 10 years and now he is our Stake Patriarch. I have served with Tom's wife, Marina, in the Stake RS.  This generation learned well from their parents on how to do what the Lord requires of them.  From this whole family I learned more about faithfulness.

Frank and Fern Woodbury was a very special family to my family, too.  Frank was the branch president and I can remember driving to the big meeting when we became a stake and my mom and Pearl talked about how awful it would be if Frank was not called to be bishop.  Luckily he was.  Lucky for all of us.  He was such a tender man.  Had about 7 kids.  And a lovely grand piano.  There was also laughter in their home.  From this family I learned to be gentle and genteel.  At least I tried.

And the best part of this story, is that all these people mentioned remained faithful to their baptismal and temple covenants to this day or until their deaths.  So I would like to believe this wonderful building that was built by service missionaries had something to do with that dedication.  When a group of people strive together, in small numbers, they seem to fare better.

So altho the building itself is no longer standing on that patch of land, it still stands on my heart and in my brain.  I can see it as I sit here as easily as if it were right there in front of me.  And for that, I guess, I must be grateful...even if I don't have brick to remind myself.  I have better....I have the lives of faithful Saints.


heather said...

What a wonderful tribute. And the painting of the woman is lovely. So glad she helps you partake of the living water when you're feeling parched.

Lin Floyd said...

beautiful memories-hope you share them with the families of those you wrote about...I'm going to be teaching a RS class in Jan about Leaving a Legacy-Sharing our Testimony (and spiritual experiences) which you certainly have done here....lovely!

Dawn Barrett said...

I love that sampler!!! you're awesome!

Sophia Corbridge said...

This should be in the Ensign, Susan. Now I need to find the woman at the well. That is inspirational. Love you.

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