“Oh that Shaker Heights…,” I’d say, reclining on a neutral sofa with clean lines. “It was such a charming place to live when we were first married….”
By Jennifer Kuhel
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
I’d been asked the question so much by the time I was in my early 20s that I thought about it as often as I wondered what I would eat for breakfast.
So naturally, when my husband Tony and I moved into our first apartment on Kemper Road in May 2000, I already knew my answer: Not Shaker.
At the time, I was 25 and I had Big City Dreams. Sure, the Rapid was great because Tony and I could both catch the train downtown to work. And yes, our rent was affordable. And Shaker was awfully scenic and runner-friendly. And we’d made some good friends. Still, it wasn’t, nor would it ever be, the Chicago or San Francisco or Washington, D.C., of my dreams. Alas, Shaker was where we’d pay our dues as our adult lives began.
I clung to a vision of my five-years-into-the-future self who would reminisce inside a chicly decorated Chicago brownstone. “Oh that Shaker Heights…,” I’d say, reclining on a neutral sofa with clean lines. “It was such a charming place to live when we were first married….”
Charming, indeed. A scant six months into life in our apartment, we started shopping for homes. Here. My running habit was responsible, in part, for this remarkable departure from my vision.
“ . . . the longer I lived in Shaker, the more attached I became to the idea of being rooted in a place that felt good, rather than one that merely sounded good.”
I’d spent my first winter here training for a marathon, running on Shaker’s plowed streets and sidewalks, and getting an up-close look at the neighborhoods. I ran east from our apartment down Fairhill toward the lakes and the Nature Center, then south on busy Lee Road before turning east onto the quiet streets of Fernway. I took midweek long runs after work through December’s darkness and found myself peering into backlit, shades-open dining rooms where young families ended the day with dinner together.
Maybe I was drawn to the diversity that was so absent from my hometown in suburban Cincinnati. Maybe I’d fallen under the spell of heroic leafless trees enduring the winter snow. Or maybe it was because the longer I lived in Shaker, the more attached I became to the idea of being rooted in a place that felt good, rather than one that merely sounded good.
So in spring 2001, Tony and I put an offer on a Fernway house near the Rapid. The sellers accepted and a new five-year vision was in the works. Only this time, I (naively) saw easily managed home improvement projects, well-behaved children sleeping soundly in the bedrooms, and joy-filled dinners with friends below the dining room’s crystal chandelier.
But the title hadn’t even transferred when the viability of my updated plan was threatened. During the final walk-through of the house with the sellers, the wife shared that the dining room chandelier had always moved with them. I asked why she was leaving it behind this time and she gave me a sideways glance. “Because I’m THROUGH with charming,” she huffed.
Our down payment was queued for distribution and I wondered whether I was wrong to defer my original five-year dream. Ill-timed comments aside, we moved in. Yes, the house left our bank account a little lean at times, but it also took very good care of us. So did the neighborhood. I loved that everything – from the ding-ding of the train as it passed over Avalon Road to our peace-loving kindly neighbor to the floats of local kids pitching candy during the Memorial Day Parade – gave me a sense of community and connectedness.
That feeling grew stronger when each of our three daughters was born and I became increasingly aware that, yes, we were firmly rooted in Shaker. Today, we’re still here and at 41, I can’t imagine living anywhere else, nor do I want to. Besides, I stopped considering where I saw myself five years into the future long ago. Now I just wonder where our girls’ lives will take them. Sure, I understand the short term plans of their young adult lives may not include Shaker, but that’s fine with me.