Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Dog Days of Summer

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Canis_Major,_Lepus,_Columba_Noachi_&_Cela_Sculptoris

Canis Major as portrayed on a set of constellation cards printed in London c. 1825, by Sidney Hall. Image available from the U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

 

We’re in the middle of the “dog days of summer” right now. It’s those days where it is so hot and humid that you can work up a sweat sitting still. If you leave the A/C at all (and many of us growing up in Youngstown didn’t have A/C) you were sticky and sweaty five minutes after your last bath or shower.

Many of us think of “dog days” as days were all our dogs would do is lay in the shade and pant. And while that is true, and making sure that our dogs and other pets get enough fluid and are NEVER left unattended in a vehicle, the name has nothing to do with the four legged creatures we call pets, but rather one that roams the heavens, the constellation canis major or “The Great Dog”, whose most visible star, Sirius, or the “dog star” rises just before the sun in the period of late July to about mid-August. The term comes from the association between this star and the time of the year that is often the most sultry in many northern countries.

The “dog days” were often those when it felt like you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. A haze seemed to descend on the Mahoning Valley. We could see much of the Mahoning Valley from the second floor back windows of our house. During the “dog days” the features of the Home Savings building, Stambaugh Auditorium, and other landmarks we could see all got kind of soft and fuzzy. When there was no breeze, these were the days of pollution alerts when some people had difficulties breathing.

Those were the days I tried to spend as much time as possible at Borts Pool. Usually the pool was packed, as were all the Youngstown pools. I don’t think I realized then how blessed as kids we were. Most of our parents didn’t have the luxury of an afternoon at the pool. The guys in the factories and mills had it worst. My wife speaks of how her dad would take salt tablets and how his shirts would be stained from sweat after a shift at General Fireproofing. And our moms probably didn’t have it any easier if they had to do housework in a home without A/C.

I know I hated delivering papers on those days, having a canvas paper sack and the newspapers slung over my shoulders, sometimes two if it was a Wednesday paper with lots of ads. My shirt would be drenched by the time I was done and it was everything I could do to keep the papers from getting damp as well.

Those were the days when an ice cold glass of lemonade would taste especially good–probably the nearest thing we had back then to Gatorade. And often back then, it wasn’t from mixes but made with real lemons and plenty of sugar. Probably not the greatest for our teeth, but who was thinking of teeth in that weather!

Sometimes we beat the heat at movie matinees at the Schenley Theater. Theaters advertised their air conditioning, which sometimes may have been more of a draw than the movies! Double features were even better because you could spend a whole afternoon in blissful air conditioning.

The evenings may have been the worst when you tried to get to get to sleep. Often it wouldn’t cool down that much because the humidity held the heat. You might try sleeping on a porch to catch any breeze. We had a fan, but on nights like this, it seemed you just lay there with as little on as possible and prayed for any movement of air to cool you enough to drop off to sleep. There might have been a few hours of early morning where it sort of got comfortable.

I think the only thing that probably got us through sometimes was remembering that it was better than shoveling a foot of snow, and the gray, cold days of winter. And, at least in early August, we weren’t in school!

I’d love to hear your “dog days” memories and how you beat the heat!

6 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Dog Days of Summer

  1. Growing up on S. Schenley Avenue in the ’60s, we didn’t have A/C, either. Though the present owner has it, as I see the outside unit when I drive past my old home.

    I remember the breeze making a noise as it blew in, and out, of the house as I tried to sleep in late (still not an early riser, if given the option). I remember going to Borts Pool with my dad, but that pool was not in walking distance for me, otherwise.

    During the “dog days”, I would be in the basement. I had a 4×8 sheet of plywood on sawhorses. I would build cities with my Erector Set, Lincoln Log Set, and Kenner set for high rise buildings. I would also make streets with my slot car set. Funny that I would be come an electrical engineer, not a civil engineer. Anyway, the basement would be cool and clammy.

    In our second home in Poland, no A/C again. But when my dad had the furnace replaced in 1976, he added A/C. I’ve lived in A/C since then.

    In 1978, 90 days after my probationary period was up in my 10 month job in Virginia, I bought a new car with A/C. Then I went to work as an engineer for GM. Have had car A/C and power windows/locks since then. As a side note, most of the cars that I have been an engineer on since 1978 were not available without A/C, power windows and locks!

    • Now that I think of it, I spent a lot of time in the basement as well. Erector set. Check. Slot cars. Check. Thanks for sharing your memories and bringing back some of mine!

  2. I know you’re a prolific reader & writer and can’t have a lot of free time.

    I enjoy reading about your views, & often consider forwarding your posts to friends.

    But may I recommend that you revise for grammar, spelling & punctuation, or enlist someone as a copy editor?

    I would then be delighted to pass along your thoughtful blogs.

    I hope you regard this as constructive advice.

    Regards, Carmela Hopkins

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • True enough. I usually give these a quick read through but I’m surprised at what I miss. At this point, this is a labor of love, with no budget to pay a copy editor. I will if I ever re-work this material for publication.

  3. Bob
    I share your time at Bort’s Pool. Please keep writing. As an academic with a long career, I enjoy them so much with small if any grammar or any other typos. It is pure YTown memories.
    Best regards
    Michelle

    • Thanks! It’s been great to interact with so many others about Youngstown who have reminded me of much I’d forgotten and filled in blank spots in my own Youngstown experience. I often write quickly, and don’t always have much time for polishing–perhaps when I’m retired! Sometimes I go back later and see things I missed or wrote poorly (and fix them). Funny how difficult it is to see your own mistakes! Thanks for reading and your gracious words! –Bob

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