Going Home

We visited Holy Cross Cemetery today. It was sunny and a cool 62 degrees out on this early October morning. The cemetery is timeless in its appearance. The weather worn limestone grave markers signal your entrance into the repose of the transplanted Irish. Many of the names are familiar to me, family friends and neighbors from the nearby community of South Buffalo.

The St. Jude section is a well known destination to me. We stop first at Brother Eddie’s resting place and straighten up his stone. The heavy grass growth had covered much of the in ground marker. A few rows away, we clean up Maureen & Dad’s/Danny’s stone. We say a prayer and move onto the nearby Assumption section where Brother Jack’s grand marble marker sits proudly. He would have liked the Irish blessing on its face. I leave a golf ball on the edge of the stone as a memento. The visit is a reminder to me of who we are and from whence we came.

We drive along McKinley Pkwy and then past Trocaire College/Mt. Mercy Academy. The homes along the way are a rota to me of friends and family some now long passed on. I catalogue each remembrance as we drive into the leafy green expanse of Cazenovia Park. The park entrance here at Abbot Rd. is now named after legendary Southpaw Baseball hurler Warren Spahn. He had been born and raised a few blocks from here before spending most of his playing career with the Milwaukee Brewers. They well remember their sports heroes here.

A little league soccer game was in progress in the small field opposite the old Caz pool and along Neuman Street. Throngs of parents and grand parents watch their progeny run up and down the field in a timeless pursuit of autumn. The old caz pool is filled in now. The renovated Caz Casino, sturdy brick and prosperous in its appearance is still empty, a monument to times long past. A hundred years ago the casino had rented out canoes for recreation on the small pond and nearby Cazenovia Creek. Different generations live here today, unaware of their collective past. We park next to the small brick structure that once served as a park office of sorts. A baseball game is in progress in the nearby diamond. Two Catholic elementary teams are going head to head. The team is coed, something novel for this area. Before the Federal Title Nine statues in the early seventies, young girls were relegated to the benches as spectators. We walk around the asphalt path that circles the “bowl” area of Cazenovia Park. The small grove of chestnut trees, immediately adjacent to the old St. John the Evangelist elementary school, reminds me of the Kingers games we used to play there. We would first capture the smooth chestnuts from the high trees before fasioning them into home made slngers. I wrote a story about it once and still have fond recollections of the area.

Next, we come upon Seneca Parkside, a small dead end street where the Martin Family had once called home. We walk slowly up the small street. The houses are older now, some dating back to the 1920’s. They show their wear, aging dowagers straining to retain their cosmetic beauty. I know each house from our years here. I mentally tick off the list of occupants as I walk along. Gaska, Fitzpatrick, Martin, Esford, Johnson, Sullivan, Doyle, Carroll, Brown, Reidell, Gray, Acquino, Pingre, Spencer, Munson, Jackson, Thilke. The names come easily to mind and with them a rota of faces and flash of memories from long ago. In some plane of existence they all still reside here living out their eternal existence.

At the corner of the street, I look along Seneca Street and see what once was there. Liberty Bank, Colonial Kitchen, Mohican Market, Sears, Hens & Kelly’s, Kinmaid Mattar clothes, the Seneca Show and several others. Only the venerable Ettore Winter Photographic studio remains from the past. The once busy commercial area is now a weary and dimmer version of its past. The area is changing. Like most eastern American cities, it is wearing down as successive genearations of people live out their lives amidst the gritty urban existence. We walk down Theresa Place, the next street over. I know the names here from my old Courier Express Paper route, Moore, O’Neil, Gorman, Cooley, Keifer, Devereaux. It is part of the same rota of memories from Seneca Parkside. I remember well the faces and personalities of those who once lived here. None I think remain.

The Cazenovia Park beckons. We walk past the old Caz Library. It is open now but only barely survives. Library consolidation has tossed it upon the tender mercies of a private support club. I remember my first library card here at age four and the many many hours of enjoyment spent inside its solid brick expanse. Just across the street, on the banks of the creek, I see the venerable American Legion posy #721. CBS newsman Tim Russert and his dad had made the place mildly famous in years past as one of their watering holes. I remember weddings and other events there from long past. We walk across the green bridge which straddles Cazenovia Creek between the two legions Drives. we see and appreciate the remarkably unique housing along Cazenovia Street. Spring Ice jams here had been both majestic and scary.Turrets and solid two story wooden homes sit in good appearance facing the park. Many local stories are etched there in these clap board homes.

The “pond” is gone now, replaced by a small grassy meadow. I remember ice skating on that rough surfaced and open expanse. The nearby “stone bridge” is also a distant memory. It was a gathering spot for teens in ages past. Stories of some manufactured scare called the “Pink Ghost” come to mind. I don’t remember who or what it was only that is was the “scare de jour” for a few years. The Tosh Collins community center occupies the corner of Cazenovia and Abbot Rds. Behind it an indoor ice rink and next to it an enclosed swimming pool. It is quite a complex for a city neighborhood. The small brick building here is all that remains of the open aired Cazenovia Ice Rink. One of the areas sons had been Buffalo Mayor for sixteen years. These structures are part of his favored legacy to his home turf. Across Abbott Rd. , sits Mercy Hos[pital in all its expanded glory. The Mercy Nuns could never have imagined the size of the place now, with its adjacent parking ramp.

We continue walking through the park. I see familiar athletic fields and even the Caz park golf course in the distance. We recross Cazenovia Creek, over another venerable iron bridge. We watch the flights of ducks and Geese wading on the shallow and swiftly running waters below us. The leaves are already changing in the high trees around us. The snows will come in a few weeks to clasp the park in its snowy embrace. Many memories from this Park are with me still. We walk through the small playgournd, near the old wading pool, and by the venerable Casino again. Another Soccer game is in progress in the field before it. This grassy expanse had once been a small lake. We stop at the shelter house and look at a section of newly paved bricks. Many are inscribed with names I have long known. It is a memorial of sorts to the better healed or larger families in the area. Each name on the stones evokes another memory for me of lives and times now long past. It is time for us to go. We mount up the chariot and drive slowly through the park ring road. How many memories can an area hold for you? Here there are thousand for me. Most are pleasant, and all in my distant past. We are who we were and this area is what I was and am. I come here not often but regularly to remind myself of that. It is a pleasant thing for me to do.

Joseph Xavier Martin

October 6, 2008