Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — “Social” Media

media-998990_1920A friend of mine recently sent an email around with this humorous look at Facebook:

Your morning smile!

For those of my generation who do not, and cannot, comprehend why Facebook exists: I am trying to make friends outside of Facebook while applying the same principles. 

Therefore, every day I walk down the street and tell passersby what I have eaten, how I feel at the moment, what I have done the night before, what I will do later and with whom. 

I give them pictures of my family, my dog, and of me gardening, taking things apart in the garage, watering the lawn, standing in front of landmarks, driving around town, having lunch, and doing what anybody and everybody does every day. 

I also listen to their conversations, give them the “thumbs up” and tell them I like them. 

And it works just like Facebook. 

I already have four people following me: two police officers, a private investigator and a psychiatrist.

–Source unknown

I do suspect that our parents and grandparents probably would have thought our involvement with sharing our statuses, posting our photos, and “liking” and sharing cute little emoticons with others a bit bizarre.

In the past probably the closest we got to social media was listening in on a party line. We didn’t use media to be social unless it was to subject our friends to utter boredom by showing the 400 slides from our last vacation. Often a slide would get stuck, turning the sleep-inducing travel narrative into a blue streak of cuss words. That woke us up!

Social was something we did most of the time face to face rather than through a phone or computer.

Summer evenings were a great time to be social–everyone sat out on their front porches and shared their “statuses” in the form of regular conversation with the neighbors walking by on a trip to the local DQ–the remodeling project in the house, the vacation plans, who was getting married, who was “expecting, or just how hot it was.

Social happened as we sat on the hoods of cars at Handels. It happened when we were hanging around at the pop machine at the local service station. It happened at the neighborhood bar as people talked sports, work, and sometimes about how hard things were in their lives.

Social happened at company and church picnics and family reunions. It happened on the midways of Idora Park and the Canfield Fair. Social happened as neighbors talked over the back fence while working in their gardens. It happened in the driveway as you changed the oil on your car or washed it up on Saturdays.

Social happened at the coffee shop, the mom and pop restaurant with the other “regulars”. It happened at the family grocery, where you knew the butcher, the produce guy, and the cashier. Often, they were all related.

We didn’t post pictures from our local sporting events. We went, we cheered for our team, we enjoyed sitting in the stands during a summer evening game. Better yet, we were on one of the teams, whether a local softball league, or an intramural basketball team or a pickup game of tag football.

We didn’t keep track of the number of “friends” we had. We just had friends. Instead of nearly running into each other staring at the rectangles we carry in our pockets, we waved, smiled, stopped and talked with people we met along the way.  We often had time for unhurried conversations, uninterrupted by buzzes and beeps and “dings.”

It’s funny though. At one time we all would have thought all this social media stuff a bit nutty. And here I am writing all this on a blog. And here you are reading it on a computer, on your phone, perhaps from seeing it on a Youngstown Facebook group. How did that happen?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Jay’s Famous Hot Dogs


Frank Petrakos, serving up Jay’s hot dogs the way I remembered them. Photo courtesy of Greg Petrakos, used with permission.

They were just down West Federal Street from McKelvey’s, where I worked during high school and college. I don’t remember what they cost, but the chili dogs were the right price for someone earning minimum wage in the early ’70’s. You walked in and could watch the owner working over the grill with a row of buns up his sweaty forearm, putting in hot dogs and ladling his special chili sauce over top of them.

That was Jay’s Hot Dogs in downtown Youngstown. It was the perfect place to get a quick and tasty meal of chili dogs, fries, and a drink. It wasn’t health food and some might be a bit squeamish about how they were prepared today, but no one I know ever suffered anything other than a full stomach. It might have been a case of “that which doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger!” To me it is the quintessential Youngstown working man’s food place.

Jay’s Famous Hot Dogs is still going strong in its 37th year at its Boardman location at 68 Boardman-Canfield Road (Route 224), in their distinctive A-frame building. We stopped by a few years ago with our son so that he could get a “Youngstown original,” a Jay’s chili dog. It was a treat for all of us. The restaurant is still in the Petrakos family, run by Greg Petrakos, son of Frank Petrakos, pictured above.

What are your memories of Jay’s? When did you last have one of their chili dogs?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Promotional Items

Currier and Ives plates from our A&P Grocery Store. (C)Robert C Trube, all rights reserved.

Businesses have always tried to provide items, sometimes for free, and other times for a deeply discounted price to bring customers in and keep them coming back. I think the years when I was growing up was a heyday of such promotions.
You might remember some of these. Gas stations would give out cars and trucks with their emblems. The old Sinclair stations would give away toy dinosaurs. My wife talks about a gas station near the Point Market that gave away these beach balls with a handle that you could punch or bounce.

Grocery stores did this as well. Remember when you could go each week and get another volume of The Golden Book Encyclopedia? They did another series of Natural Science Encyclopedias. I acquired the whole set through my dad’s weekly trips to the A & P.

Perhaps the classiest offering I remember were the Currier and Ives dish set. I learned on the JustCollecting website that these were produced in nearby Sebring, Ohio by the Royal China company from 1950 to 1986. My parents acquired a set at our local A & P during the 1960’s, replacing a collection of mismatched plates that were probably handed on from their parents. We could eat in style! A small number survived to this day and we inherited these. You see them in antique stores and flea markets everywhere. They are reproductions in blue of various Currier and Ives lithographs.

As I recall, it was not only the stores but also the companies that sold dish soap and other products that included things like glassware and dish towels. Of course, the fast food chains took this to a high art with collectible glasses of different comic strip characters, Happy Meal toys and other items.

Come to think of it, this practice continues down to the present. When my son was small, it was a series of yellow Sesame Street books we picked up at our local Bi-Rite when we lived in Cleveland. We walked into his room one day and he had used them to build a version of the bridge of Star Trek’s Enterprise! And my son has a whole box of “McJunk” from his childhood.

These days digital coupons and gas discounts have seemed to take the place of these promotional items. They serve the same purpose of keeping us coming back. But one wonders what collectibles we will pass along to our kids.

What promotional items do you remember from when you were growing up?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Arby’s


Old fashioned Arby’s sign. Photo by Jim, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

Remember when the first Arby’s opened on Route 224 in Boardman? We used to drive over from the West Side to get a bag full of Arby’s on Sunday evenings. At first there weren’t many options other than a regular roast beef sandwich. This was still fast food, but definitely a cut above the hamburger places that were spreading all over the country. And in a blue collar town like Youngstown, it was red meat on a robust bun. A couple would make a good meal for under $2 in the early days.

That Arby’s was literally the first. Arby’s as a fast food chain started in Youngstown in 1964. The name comes from Raffel Brothers (Forrest and Leroy), hence R.B, or Arby’s. It also is the abbreviation of Roast Beef (clever, huh?). The chain spread rapidly, beginning to spread to other states in 1970, by which time they were growing at a rate of 50 stores a year. The menu expanded as well with Beef ‘n Cheddar sandwiches, Curly Fries, and Jamocha shakes, among other things. Eventually they opened up a franchise in Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State, replacing Hardees, which was there when we were students and an entirely forgettable chain as far as we were concerned.


Arby’s in Kilcawley Center, Jgera5 of English Wikipediaself-taken photo by the author, Public Domain

In 1976, the corporation was sold for the first of several times, first to Royal Crown Cola, then DWG Corporation owned by Victor Posner, and eventually the parent company of Wendy’s (which began in Columbus, Ohio–we live a stone’s throw from their headquarters). Currently Roark Capital Group has the controlling interest with Wendy’s continuing to have a minority share.

Arby’s seems to be doing well these days, with James Earl Jones doing voice-overs on their commercials. [Note: Several readers pointed out and I confirmed that it is in fact Golden Globe award winning actor Ving Rhames. Thanks for the correction!] We still like to stop by to get a sandwich occasionally, and even though they now have fancier deli style sandwiches, I almost always just get a roast beef sandwich. I always reflect on what that sandwich and I have in common–we were both born in Youngstown!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Vietnam


3rd Marines patrolling near Quang Tri River, Russell Jewett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There was a cloud that hung over many of our lives growing up in the Youngstown of the 1960’s and 1970’s. No, it is not the clouds from the mills. It was the ongoing war in Vietnam (which was actually good for industry). Many of our young men would go there, some would die, and others would return, some wounded, and some bearing mental wounds they carry to this day.

While our involvement began in the Eisenhower era, and John Kennedy sent a growing number of “advisors,” it was during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson that I became aware of the war. I was in about fifth grade when I first started reading daily news stories in The Vindicator of “body counts” and plans to send more troops there. We were told with more troops and bombing, we were winning the war. We would see nightly news coverage of embedded journalists and footage of battle action in our living rooms.

For many, the turning point seemed to be the Tet offensive of 1968, a major reversal despite a half million troops and extensive bombing. We began to wonder if this was a different kind of war and if we were being told the truth. It helped bring Richard Nixon to office in 1968, on promises to get us out of the war with our dignity intact. Around this time, I was a paper boy. One of my customers was a returning veteran. He offered to tell me the real story of the war. I regret I never took him up on it.

In 1970, I was a high school sophomore at Chaney. Richard Nixon decided to extend bombing campaigns into Cambodia where enemy troops took refuge. To many college students facing the draft, this was a betrayal of the promise to end the war and demonstrations and riots broke out on many campuses. At nearby Kent State, May 4 was the terrible day when four students died and thirteen others were wounded by the Ohio National Guard troops. All of us at school the next day walked around stunned. Stunned shifted to scared when we heard some adults say, “they should have killed more.”

It made me wonder how they looked at me, with my longish hair. It told me how deeply we were divided, and I think this gave everyone pause as campuses suspended classes early. Somehow, we walked back from the abyss as a nation. In 1972, I registered for the draft, hoping I wouldn’t be called and that I would get a high lottery number. Mine was 12, but I dodged a bullet in more ways than one. Nixon was winding the war down and bringing troops home. The last men drafted were those a year older than I was.

The most difficult thing perhaps was that we lumped our soldiers in with our politicians who lied to us about the war, not explaining the kind of conflict we were in honestly. I know there are lots of arguments about whether we could have achieved victory in Vietnam. I don’t want to re-fight that war. Rather, I want to acknowledge that the men and women who served deserve all the honor as heroes they have only belatedly received. Many were just like me–hoping it wouldn’t come down to them–but doing what their country asked of them as their fathers did in World War II.

Vietnam was a lesson for us as a nation of how important it was that our leaders tell us the truth, particularly when making the case for sending our young men and women into harm’s way. While deceiving the nation cost Lyndon Johnson another presidential term, it cost thousands of young men their lives. It has marked our life as a nation ever since. It is always the case that when our leaders lie, it will be our people, and especially our working classes that will bear the brunt. To paraphrase an old protest song, “when will we ever learn?”

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Senior Proms


Ken Stokes, CC BY-SA 3.0, Via Wikimedia 

It is prom season. These days, it seems a much bigger deal than it once was involving stretch limos and coordination of dresses and men’s wear, and sometimes elaborate after-proms.


Did you go to your senior prom? I did. I dated a girl (a sophomore) throughout my senior year at Chaney so we had both kind of expected to go. We went with another couple who did the driving. Those were the days where you bought a corsage that you pinned on the girl’s dress–always a bit of a scary experience! I think the wrist corsage is a great idea.

I don’t have any pictures from that night. Dad’s camera did not work for some reason when we came by to take pictures. Perhaps that was just as well. Crushed velvet was in fashion for tux jackets back then, and I had one in blue (which did match my girlfriend’s dress). I’m kind of glad there is no evidence!

We went out for dinner at Palazzo’s. I actually don’t remember much about the dinner except that the food was good, and I paid. Then we arrived at the prom. I think we made some kind of entrance as a couple. I have to confess that my memories are pretty vague here. There was some kind of seating of the prom court, lots of dancing, punch that really was just punch.

Eventually we made our way to the after-prom, which was at Wedgewood Lanes, if I remember. We snacked, talked to friends, bowled and partied until nearly sunrise. I think that was one of the really cool things–this was the night without curfew. I remember being so tired–a bit loopy by the end–and getting ready to bowl the ball only to drop it behind me. Watch out friends! You can tell that late nights were not my thing.

We dropped off dates, went home and finally caught a bit of sleep after a quick report of “fine” when our parents asked us how the prom was. Then it was time to get the tux back to the rental store. I have a hunch that with flowers, dinner, the prom itself, after prom and tux rental, I spent maybe $150, probably less. Wikipedia says that the average price of a prom in 2013 was $1139.

The truth was, by the time of the prom, the relationship between my girlfriend and I was strained. I suspect we were holding out so that we could have someone to go to the prom with–you could probably go without a date but I don’t know anyone who did. A month later, the relationship was history–probably a relief to both of us actually.

It’s funny how often it seems to work like this–although I also know friends who married, and are still happily married to, their high school sweethearts. I can’t say that my senior prom was that special of an experience. But it was part of the celebrations that marked this rite of passage from high school to young adulthood for many of us. It was a kind of entry into adulthood. The girls we saw everyday in jeans and t-shirts or sweaters suddenly appeared as beautiful women. And scruffy boys cleaned up and for a night looked like a young approximation of James Bond (that’s probably an exaggeration in my case!). It was a bit of a “Camelot” type of experience, before our entry into the world of work, or the preparations for a career in college and graduate school. We danced with the sense that all our life was before us.

This year marks 45 years since that prom and graduation. How does that happen? We’ve watched our son go through the same prom rituals (and this time the camera worked and we still have the pictures). Now we pass by homes where others are taking pictures, or we see the pictures on Facebook. And we think, there was a time…once we were young…what a couple we made!



Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Family


State Library of Queensland, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Family. Not family values, but family, was important in the working class Youngstown I grew up in. They weren’t perfect, by any means. Then, as now, families could be abusive or even violent. Now we talk about it more, which is a good thing, particularly if it means protecting women and children.

In most cases though, barring divorce (which was much more rare) or death, you could count on both a mom and dad being around. From what I remember, this was true in almost every house on our street. Families were usually larger than today. The Pill was just coming into use, and some still obeyed religious teachings that banned the use of contraceptives. Families of three children were common (including mine) and, if memory serves, a couple families on our street had five kids.

But family didn’t stop with mom, dad, and kids. Often grandparents, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins lived in the city, sometimes in the same part of town. Sometimes, an elderly grandparent would even live with the family. People didn’t want to die in a hospital or nursing home. They wanted to die at home, with their people.

My wife’s father had two brothers who lived within blocks. They built each other’s garages, went fishing together, and my wife grew up regularly seeing her cousins. One even shares the same birth day. Holidays were often a movable feast, going from one household to another, sometimes in the same day, sometimes over several.

Families looked out for each other. They helped each other get jobs, and helped out when someone was out of work. They started businesses–tool and die shops, groceries, restaurants, real estate development– you name it. Some of those names have become well known around Youngstown–Butler, Wick, Stambaugh, Cafaro, DeBartolo or Rulli Brothers. Some were more local–like Cherol’s Market on the West Side.

Extended families were important. If the worst happened and a parent died, or divorce happened, there were often aunts, uncles, or grandparents who helped fill the void of both love and mentoring that often was the difference of a kid succeeding despite bad circumstances. Networks of families, particularly in ethnic communities made for cohesive neighborhoods, good friends, and not a few marriages.

There was a dark side to this in Youngstown. Some extended families and family alliances pursued businesses outside the law and used force and the threat of force to bend others to their will, including public officials. No one wanted a “Youngstown tuneup.” A way of doing business that compromised public figures and siphoned public funds into private coffers drained resources from the city and undermined the rule of law.

On balance, though, families were good for Youngstown. They brought cohesion to neighborhoods, stability to kids growing up, and functioned as a kind of “safety net” when neither government nor employers offered much. Today we are much more scattered, and many families, particularly children left Youngstown in search of jobs. I can’t help but wonder if one of the things that might renew Youngstown and other cities like it would be to figure out ways to make it possible for families to stay together. Ultimately it takes jobs, but I wonder if it might also be a good idea to provide incentives for families to create their own businesses and stay together. Maybe that’s a pipe dream.

Families take a number of different forms today. Whatever form they take, at their best, they form character, provide mutual support and care, and a sense of identity (Callan, p. 2). Strong families helped make Youngstown a great place to live. I can’t help but think this is still true.

What did family mean for you growing up in Youngstown?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Recipes of Youngstown Volume 3

Recipes LargeIt just could be that I am about the last person from Youngstown to find out about the latest addition to the Recipes of Youngstown series. I posted a picture last week of my “Youngstown library” which includes the first two volumes in the series, only to get a raft of comments about the latest addition to the collection. Volume Three is now available and may be picked up at the Arms Family Museum (if you can get to it with the Wick Avenue construction) or the Tyler History Center during regular hours (Tuesday-Sunday from Noon to 4:00 p.m.). You may also purchase copies for yourself and friends online at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society website. I just ordered mine.

As I’ve come to expect, the people behind Recipes of Youngstown Volume 3 came up with another great cause to support and some great ways to support it. On May 13 from 12-4 pm at the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center, there will be a formal launch of the cookbook and a tasting event that will feature at least 30 recipes from Volume 3. Proceeds from the tasting and from cookbook sales both at the event and elsewhere will help establish a scholarship fund for veterans attending Youngstown State. Appropriately, the event is being billed “From Mess Hall to Mom’s Kitchen.”

Similar to other events this group has hosted, it will include the opportunity for tasting all these delicious recipes. You may purchase six tasting coupons for $5. There will also be a basket raffle and prizes, and a Best Cobbler Contest. Of course you will be able to purchase copies of Recipes of Youngstown Volume 3 (and probably the other volumes as well).

Here’s a list off of the Recipes of Youngstown Facebook page of the dishes lined up so far:

Johnny Marzetti
Shrimp Cocktail for a Crowd
Potato Pasties
Chex Mix
Homemade Italian Sausage
City Chicken w/ Mashed Potatoes
Baked Beans w/Kielbasa
Creamed Chip Beef on Toast
BBQ Smoked Pulled Pork Sliders w/Coleslaw
Ham & Bean Soup w/ Corn Bread
Sloppy Joes
Banana Bread
California Onion Potatoes W/Green Beans
Bolony Salad Sliders
Bean n Greens
Potato Pancakes
Chicken over Rice/Orzo
BBQ chicken
Summer Corn & Tomato Salad
Zucchini Pancakes
Daffodil Dip
Ham Rolls
Betty’s Potato Salad
Walnut Apple Cake
Tequila Lime Chicken
Mexican Rice
Mini Cupcakes
Potato Leek Soup w/French Baguette
Apple &/or Cherry Pie Wine
Zlevanka (Croatian Cheesecake)
Croatian Sliders (Mini Burgers)
Coconut Wine
Dago Red
Italian Beef Stew

This list makes my mouth water just to read it.

I have to admit that I am so amazed at what a group of Facebook friends who loved talking about and sharing Youngstown recipes has accomplished over the last four years, publishing three cookbooks, hosting a number of fun events, and funding three worthwhile projects in the Youngstown community. It seems to me that these folks bring together some of the best of what Youngstown is about:

  • Good food shared together.
  • Love for all things Youngstown.
  • A “go getter” spirit that sees a need and acts rather than waits for others.

If you are in or around Youngstown on May 13, why not stop by. And if not, you can always order a cookbook (or several for other Youngstown friends) and bring a taste of Youngstown to wherever you live!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Before Starbucks and Craft Beer Pubs


The Open Hearth Bar on Steel Street, Photo by Tony Tomsic, Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

Much is made these days of the idea of “third places” which are places between work and home that function as social gathering places. Starbucks and other coffee shops particularly serve that function for a certain kind of crowd. Free wi-fi, custom-made coffee and other hot and cold drinks, tables, couches, and an ambience that encourages conversation, or for those who are into it, work, and sometimes a bit of both. For the adult crowd, it seems that one of the trendy places where this happens is at craft beer pubs, perhaps with locally brewed beer, or exotic lists of craft brews from all over the world. It does seem that all this comes at a premium–expensive coffee, or beers that cost what a six pack would at the grocery.

I was thinking today of what would have been the equivalent growing up in working class Youngstown. My wife, ever the realist reminded me that for many people with families, there was only work and home, and you didn’t drop money at coffee shops or bars. A treat might be a dinner out together as a family at the Boulevard Tavern or other places like it.

I do think the neighborhood bar served this function to a certain degree. In some parts of town, they were places mill workers would stop at on the way home. Others had the neighborhood regulars, and others who would drop by less frequently. For the younger crowd, places like McDonalds might be a great place to catch a burger and a Coke after school and hang out with friends. In the summer, Handel’s certainly was this kind of place for people who gathered from all over town, and sat in (or on) their cars and enjoyed good ice cream.

For those of us who worked downtown (this was in the late 60’s, early 70’s) you might take a break at the Plaza Donuts in the Arcade, or pop over to the Ringside after work. For those of us who were students at Youngstown State, the Kilcawley Pub on campus was convenient–little did we know that Ed O’Neill would turn out to be famous! Nearby, there were places like the Golden Dawn or the Royal Oaks (which I hear is still quite good!).

I think the big difference between then and now was so many of these were locally owned (some of the new places are as well) and had their own unique flavor that reflected their clientele. They were also good value for the dollar. You didn’t have lots of fancy coffee drinks, you had coffee. No fancy craft beers–heck, I remember when Coors was a big deal!

Where did you go to meet up with friends before the days of Starbucks and brew pubs?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Easter Memories


Sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains (c) 2014, Robert C Trube

Easter memories from childhood…

–Cleaning the house from top to bottom on Saturday.

–Helping dad wash the car–for me it was usually scrubbing the white wall tires and hubcaps.

–Taking Easter food to church on Holy Saturday to be blessed (my wife’s family).

–Getting haircuts at Jerry the Barber’s.

–The Saturday night bath before Easter–scrub behind the ears real good!

–The Easter bunny couldn’t hold a candle to Santa Claus.

–Coloring eggs and writing your name or “Happy Easter” in wax that would appear magically when you dyed them.

–Easter egg hunts.


–Finding an Easter basket waiting for you on Easter morning–fake grass, yellow cellophane, funky colored basket but chocolate bunnies, eggs, jelly beans and more–all good!

–Only being allowed one piece of candy before breakfast and church–not so good.

–Sunrise services. Sometimes outdoors. Chilly sometimes but loved the play on the idea of sunrise and the Son’s rising! Favorite time was gathering with a youth group in Mill Creek Park.

–Getting dressed for church in your Easter best. Still remember my blue blazer with a “coat of arms” on the pocket. Cool!

–When you got older, looking at all the girls who always seemed to dress up much better than us boys.

–Easter services. Along with Christmas, the most joyful music of the year. The black drape on the cross replaced with white. Saying, almost shouting together, “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”

–Easter dinner. Ham, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole. Family gatherings. Going for a walk afterward around the block to work off a full stomach. More Easter candy.

–Going out to Daffodil Hill on Lake Newport. The air so fresh and everything looks and smells new as the trees are budding out, the grass greening up.

–Putting the basketball away and getting out my baseball glove. Batter up!

–With the coming of spring, realizing only a couple more months until school is out.

On so many levels Easter was about coming back to life. Of course, there was the event of Christ rising from the dead that all Christians celebrated–Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox (not always on the same date). But there was also the marvelous sense of the world coming alive again after what seemed like endless winter. All of this is what I still love about Easter.

What are your Easter memories?