Neighborhood Stories and Testimonials
The following stories are excerpted from a larger city-wide neighborhood story compilation titled "Facing Dayton: Neighborhood Narratives" published on April 18, 2018. The full text for these and other neighborhood stories can be found here.
Dayton: The Home I Never Thought I’d Have
Storyteller: Leona Marmolejo
I wasn’t born and raised in Dayton ... I’m actually from Chicago. How did I make my way from Chicago to Dayton? Well … I came for a boy. We were supposed to get married, so I packed up and moved. I enrolled at Wright State, got settled, and was ready to begin my life here … then by Thanksgiving, the boy and I broke up.
I don’t know why I stayed. I could have went back to Chicago and returned to the teacher’s college, but I liked my classes at Wright State. I was doing well, I had friends at school, and I liked my roommate. I flirted with the idea of going back to Chicago, but I think I liked my independence in Dayton a little more. I even started staying over the summers. I graduated from college, got a job here, and eventually bought myself a little place in the Northwest area … so I just continued to stay.
Once I was settled, I met a man who would later become my first husband. We got married and moved to Trotwood where I was teaching ... but less than a year later, he had died. People thought I was gonna leave after that, but I stayed. My life was here: I had a job, I was connected to the students and the people, and I had stuff to do. It might not have started off as my plan, but Dayton was my home now.
I eventually moved out of Trotwood and into a condo in the Northwest again. Trotwood was too small for me and that’s why I moved. Chicago was a big city, much bigger than Trotwood. Dayton was a nice size. It was not congested, and everyone was always smilin’ and wavin’. You get comfortable in an area, and I was comfortable here. It was convenient. There were shops near where I lived ... Kroger, a hairdresser, Fashion-Bug, little restaurants and things ... The Elder Beerman had everything from fur coats to diamond rings, all high quality. Anything you could want was there. There was even a little movie theater that my dad loved going to when he and my mom would visit, and then there was the beautiful Salem Mall. Everything I needed was in Dayton, so I stayed here. I could walk to all of those little place and I didn’t need to go downtown unless I wanted to go downtown. Living there for so long, I saw a lot of things change. Not many of those stores are there anymore, most of them started closing down ... but I remember them, even though they did not stay.
I met my second husband while living in that condo and we ended up living there. Meeting him was not a part of my plan, but it sure was someone else’s. Slowly but surely, I learned to trust God and what he was doing with my life. After a while, my husband and I decided that we had outgrown the condo, so that’s when we bought our house. I guess it was the next part of the plan. We now live in the Triangle, which is near Salem Avenue. It’s quiet and friendly, as are the neighbors. We started a group where we would go to each other’s houses and have dinner. The people who know each other, know each other. We don’t have a neighborhood watch, but we do have a neighborhood association and sometimes we get together and discuss what we want to do in the neighborhood. We are not in and out of each other’s houses, but we have a sense of community. It feels like home.
Looking back, it was strange that I ended up in Dayton at all. I came here for a boy, and then ended up staying here for the rest of my life. I have watched a lot of things change along the way, but I stayed through it all. God knew I needed to be here in Dayton. Without it, my life would have looked so much different … Dayton became my home. If you would have asked me in high school if I’d be living in Dayton forever, I probably would have told you no. But you see, it was all a part of a plan, it just wasn’t mine.
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The Rugrats of Harvard Blvd.
Storyteller: Marco Marmolejo
Some of the kids these days just drive me crazy. It makes you wonder where in the world their parents are! Just last week I had an incident with three little rugrats. I do have some experience working with kids. Unfortunately, Leona and I couldn’t have our own; although, between her career as a teacher and my involvement with the youth group and soccer, we feel that we have too many children to count. Of course, some were easier to deal with than others but all were a gift from God.
I can remember when Emily, around 16 at the time wise beyond her years, had affirmed this. After bumming around one day she told me, “You don’t understand, coach. You are meant to be the Meadowdale coach. You’re a papa to some of the kids that don’t have one.” Like wow. If that isn’t a sign that I am where I am supposed to be, I don’t know what is.
Of course, God likes to challenge us too sometimes. Going back to those rugrats from last week. You see here’s what happened.
The grass had just come in that I planted the week prior. I had to plant more from the last time those kids had come through. I saw them out early in the afternoon. Riding their bikes all through the neighborhood, treating yards as one of those skate parks. Over the years I have been losing my patience with these kind of things. Leona on the other hand still had hers. She could tell I was getting antsy and wanted to check the situation out for myself.
“Oh they are just trying to enjoy the nice weather let them be,” she said.
I assured her I wasn’t going to cause any trouble. But those daisies weren’t going to plant themselves. We had less than a month before the home show. I just wanted to see what those kids were up to.
She persisted. So, I just told her I was going to grab the mail, wouldn’t be more than a minute, two tops. I am sure she didn’t buy this for a second but before she could get another word out I slipped on my sandals and was out the door.
My eyes were planted on the three young boys. They seemed to be around Emily’s age. I remember my initial thought was, “Man the little one could really use a belt ... ”
I began to fumble with the mail box, I could feel Leona’s stare from a mile away. Surely enough I turned to the window, Leona was waving that day’s mail with her other wrist on her hip. I was caught in the act, surely wasn’t the last. I blushed and gave her the look. She smirked and turned away. It works, what can I say. Just as I had charmed her over back in the day, it has been winning her over for years. I’ve still got it. Back to those boys though. I had given up on my mailbox decoy but before I could even turn around, “Swoosh.” One of the bikes skidded to a stop sending old gravel stones into the yard.
I took a deep breath and spoke. “What are you kids up to?”
Two of them looked up at me and then quickly turned away as if they had just heard a gust of wind. My patience was beginning to run thin, “Excuse me, I was speaking to you.” This time I got reactions from all three. It was also the first time I could get a pretty good look at them.
The shortest one had fair white skin. I was initially tempted to offer the belt off my own pants but it was Maire’s dad’s, she probably would have gotten upset. Anyways, the other boy would be easily mistaken for any other tan white young man but he reminded me so much of Miguel, my older brother, when we were younger. I used to envy him for his fair skin as a Latino. When he spoke I even heard a hint of an accent. The last had very dark skin. If it was my guess, probably from a few houses down, being the west side and all.
I didn’t get very much out of them at first. To be honest they almost reminded me of myself when I was that age, especially the one who had looked like my brother. I was telling them all about how I used to fool around and play the dozens. Of course, they gave me a funky look. Sometimes I forget it’s not 1984. I felt that I was really starting to get to them though. After all I had been in their shoes. Unlike theirs, mine were tied … but I have certainly been there.
Once I seemed to have their attention couldn’t stop. I tend to do that, but it doesn’t help that I just care so much about this area. I went on to tell them how beautiful the neighborhood used to be, being sure to make note of the abandoned houses with the broken windows, that who knows keeps causing … I could see the ashamed expressions on their faces as if theyhave done something similar in the past. I let it slide, I wasn’t here to lecture them. I described the families that grew up here. The vibrant park across the street. The stores and places to hangout all up and down Salem and Main Street. I told them I wouldn’t keep them here all night. So, I reached up for a handshake and without hesitation each young man smiled and shook my hand.
I’m always looking for these kids to have some type of “ah ha” moment. Within 20 minutes I may have gotten one. I am by no means attributing myself to fixing the youth these days. The point I’m trying to make is that conversations really do matter. We need more of them. We need to show these kids what a neighborhood should look like. To respect one another as neighbors and support the children as if they were our own.
I went back inside and sat down in the living room. Leona looked up from her book and just shot me a smile. I couldn’t help but smile myself as I looked past her through the window and saw all three boys riding away … off the grass.