Usually I write one of these Youngstown posts a week. But my post yesterday on “Diaspora’ elicited an amazing number of responses (over 90 at last count!) to my question, “if you’ve left, would you ever think of returning?” One of the things I realized after the post was that I did not answer the question myself. So I thought I would take the time today to say a bit about that and to respond in general to your comments.
A bit of personal biography. I moved from Youngstown after finishing college in 1976 to work with the collegiate ministry organization I still work with–it is a great organization and I count myself blessed to have spent my adult life working with them–maybe that reflects an old Youngstown value as well. So I departed from Youngstown before 1978 and the closure of the mills. Since leaving, I’ve lived in four Ohio towns–Delaware, Toledo, Cleveland, and for the last 24 years, Columbus. So while I left, I never strayed very far! My wife (also from Youngstown) and I were married in June of 1978 and she joined me in Toledo and worked for several years on the city desk of the Toledo Blade.
For most of our married life, until 2012, we had at least one living parent in Youngstown, and so visited regularly. We still have friends in the Youngstown area and connections with several Youngstown area churches that help fund our collegiate ministry work. So, in our case, it seems we will continue to make regular pilgrimages back to the area.
To be honest, we find ourselves with mixed feelings when we visit. We rejoice in the rejuvenated downtown, the continued growth of Youngstown State (of which we are proud alumni!), the renewed attention to protecting the treasure that is Mill Creek Park, the continued excellence of St Elizabeth’s, which nursed my parents through several serious illnesses before they passed. Perhaps the greatest heartbreak is the decline that is evident in some once beautiful neighborhoods, including the one I grew up in. The house I grew up in, last I knew,was vacant and ‘strippers’ had apparently been at work removing siding, and who knows what else. I heard at one point that it might be slated to be demolished. I haven’t gone back and looked.
Would we return? I’ve learned never to say “never” to God, so I won’t say that! But like a number who commented, we have put roots down in Columbus, and our son and his wife and work I love are here. I think Youngstown actually taught us to love the place, the people, the institutions of the town you are in, and that is so for us with Columbus. But like many of you who do not plan to return, we always remember, and frequently talk about, and keep in touch with Youngstown. Every town we have lived in has had its problems, including our current home, so it just seems wrong for me to point fingers at others. I would much rather both remember Youngstown’s rich past and its impact on my life as well as celebrate the present victories and future hopes of those who call it home.
I was amazed by how many who responded to the blog had returned to Youngstown and were glad they did. That is so part of the diaspora experience. There were many others who said they would in a heartbeat. While most had wonderful things to say about Youngstown, some had negative experiences or perceptions that they would not want to relive. This is one question where there is no “right” answer, one that each of us must answer in our own ways.
It was fun to see the connections people made with each other on the Facebook comments and heartening to see the care expressed toward several who had experienced loss. I started this series of posts out of a blog post on class and having someone ask me, “what was it like to grow up in working class Youngstown?” What has surprised me is how so many have joined in this conversation, sharing memories, making connections, and offering insights that have helped me understand more about the answer to that question. You’ve reminded me of what I’d forgotten and made me think of that I’d not considered and I’m profoundly grateful. Thank you!
I’ve been thinking of other topics to write about but since this has turned into a conversation, I’d like to hear what you would be interested in seeing in these posts and talking about. And that goes for those not from Youngstown who have found things they identify with as well.