Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Why We Remember


It is hard for me to believe that I have been writing these posts for over three years (going back to April or May of 2014)! It has been quite a journey, not only through my own memories of growing up in Youngstown, but also the memories of so many of you who have commented on Facebook or on the blog itself. You have reminded me of things I’ve forgotten and enlightened me on things I either did not know about or poorly understood. My wife often sees me smiling when I am reading comments from you and that is because so many of them have recalled good things and brought joy to my heart, especially as we have savored memories of good food and good times in our common home.

That brings me to the question that is the title of this post–why do we remember? I have encountered a few along the way who scoff at this, who contend it is best to leave the past in the past, and as for Youngstown–we have to deal with what is now, and the future, however we see that. I respect that, and agree that we can’t live in the past.

At the same time, I do think there is value in remembering our experience in growing up in Youngstown. Here are several reasons why I think we remember:

  1. We enjoy remembering. While we may have painful memories, in time, many, but not all, fade and what stands out in our minds are the good experiences we have had through our lives. As we grow older, I suspect most of us would agree that while it is nice to have a flush bank account, what you really want is a bank of memories of family, friends, good food, and great experiences that you can make daily withdrawals from without it ever being depleted.
  2. We learn from our memories. Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher wrote, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” I have found that I’ve learned through reflecting on memories, particularly about how growing up in Youngstown shaped me. Everything from a love of beauty to being able to detect when someone is giving me a load of bull came out of growing up in Youngstown. Growing up in Youngstown taught me both how to work hard, and how to savor the fruits of work.
  3. We dignify what it means, and meant to be “working class.” Remembering, and celebrating our shared culture, and writing it down leaves a record of the richness of life in a working class town. In some educated circles, it is not unheard of to look down on people who grew up where we grew up. I would suggest that the culture of other classes, and what some call “elite” is not superior to working class culture, just different. We enjoyed a rich cultural life of food, music, sports, and celebrations, and there was an emphasis on education, hard work, the value of money, and appreciation of beautiful things and places like Mill Creek Park.
  4. Remembering is also a way that we sift out and decide what we want to take from our past and carry into our future. While some of the things I’ve written about are about the good things that are no more, there is so much about what made Youngstown a great, good place that had nothing to do with jobs and economics. They were already present when Youngstown was getting on its feet and are important for the future of Youngstown, or any place we live — good civic leadership, an investment into cultural institutions like art museums and symphonies, the creation of good parks as well as good businesses, the value of family and neighborhoods where people look out for each other, good schools and universities, and maybe most of all, lots of good occasions to gather over good food and drink.

Finally, without remembering we would not have stories to bore our grandchildren! Happy remembering!

To explore more memories of Youngstown and what it means to grow up working class, all my posts can be found at “On Youngstown” on the menu.

8 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Why We Remember

  1. Bob-
    I look forward to your writings on Y town. I was home a few months ago and Mike at the gas station told me my grandmothers house on S Portland will soon be gone. I went down the street, took a picture and cried about all of the memories I have left in me. I do not know if it is always true, but all of the memories get sweeter with time. Thank you for helping me walk memory lane again and again.
    Maria Vince Yane.

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