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May 25, 2009

The Wrong Side of 31st Street

The Wrong Side of 31st Street

We lived on the "right side," of 31st Street. And didn't cross 31st Street very often.

The Street runs east to west, in the '50s dividing two distinct neighborhoods and urban Kansas City,  like a long, ragged scar.

Our address was 3140 Coleman Road, south of 31st..

Oak tree boulevards and streets of handsome middle class, stone homes....Redemptorist Parish.

Below 31st, , small wood framed houses crammed on small lots with Hispanics and poor whites.

The two parish teams competed in basketball; but rarely went  into the other’s church, school or  neighborhood, unless invited.

Much, I can’t remember from the early '50s.   Good thing my twin brother recalls everything:

* Obscure kids who lived and went to school with us for a couple years. 

* Particulars about the hot girls in junior high.

"Tell him Linda Cole is on the phone,"  I hear my Bro' say to his secretary with a laugh,  calling to chat before the Christmas holidays.

* Details on the two distinct routes we traveled to and from School each day. 

One we labeled "The Campbell Soup Trail," and the other, "The Rainbow Trail." Neither was a trail...but a 1.3 mile walk  through urban streets..... We covered the "trails" up to 4 times a day.... to serve Mass at 6 a.m…..to School …..home for lunch ….and home at night. 

Always tussling, pushing, shadow boxing with each other ... exploring alleyways and trash bins..... Stopping along Southwest Trafficway at  Stack’s Drugs for a cherry Coke...the Candy Store for jugeabees...or to knock on the glass and startle Red the Barber, asleep in his chair.

A large hill, rock quarry and dump separated the two neighborhoods.  

We'd roam the quarry and woods;  a bit uneasy over who or what we'd find.

* Lots of summer afternoons spent in the rock quarry  ….tadpoles….. exploring the holes and caves, where dynamite had been used for mining….not so long ago.

It was inner city, but not inner city.  Urban life but not urban life.

And…in the quarry…. the two came together unpredictably and sometimes dangerously.

There would be the sudden appearance of kids from ‘the other side,” wild deer and rabbits, old men looking for empty bottles or the chance to bluff kids out of their Ice Cream Truck  money....

and  then the hot afternoon, when we were twelve or so….

A group of kids, stumbling over the body of Sister J.B.'s (our Catholic Grade School principal) old Irish immigrant father. Who had suffered from dementia, lost his way, fallen and died in the quarry.  

Large black flies swirled around his head, maggots crawled from his distended mouth.

After that, I thought Sister J.B. looked at us with an edge and different attitude, in 7th grade class.  Did we remind her of her father and what happened? 

Or, more likely, something else, like our poor grades. :-)

Sister is gone, of course.

But some days -- while thousands of miles and light years  away from 3140 Coleman Road -- I have a hard time leaving the neighborhood.

At least in my mind.


For a very different slant on these years, read my blog, "Growing Up Catholic" at




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