Mary Sickora futzes with her sunglasses. They’re way too big for her face, and on a warm fall day sitting on the porch, they don’t let enough air through. Her doctor says to leave them on, but she pulls them off every few minutes to wipe the sweat away. The vision in her right eye is coming back after a recent medical procedure, but she doesn’t like what’s coming into focus. She’s 88 years old and has lived here on East 61st Street for 45 of them.
Boy, has this place changed.
Slavic Village has always been full of working-class people. But many of the hard-working folks who died or moved away seem to have been replaced by people who hardly work. The once well-maintained homes with meticulously pruned lawns now have chipped paint, hanging awnings and missing roof tiles. A few houses look like a good whack might send them crashing down.
If Mary looks to the left, she sees the old tool-and-die factory. It was a small shop and employed a few locals. After the place closed, a mechanic bought it. Sometimes he’d let others come use his tools to fix up their cars. Now it’s nothing. It sits there empty, slowly decaying. Stolen cars are sometimes parked on the street in front of it.
If she looks to the right, she sees a property that was foreclosed on and sold in a sheriff’s sale for $7,000. It belonged to the Metcalf family for 51 years, and then was rented out until late last year. Now the place is trashed. All the copper piping has been stolen, and it will need some major repairs before Mary gets a next-door neighbor.
Her house sticks out. One of Mary’s sons, Anthony, takes care of the place. He bought a new roof and fixed up the porch so he and his mother can sit on a swing as they do most afternoons. During the day, their part of the neighborhood looks a little run-down. At night, it’s Baghdad — or at least Detroit. Sounds of gunfire are no longer surprising. Young men walk by with disregard of curfew laws. Their stares and intimidation cause most people to relinquish the streets to them at nightfall.
Mary says it’s a nice place to live, but Anthony wishes she’d consider moving. “It’s a good neighborhood,” she insists.
She’d rather die than be forced out by those who steal her nights: “I’m not going anywhere. I’m not afraid of them. I’m not afraid of these people. It’s a quiet neighborhood. They’re trying to make a mess of it.”
Check back Nov. 1 for the full story