Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Favorite Things

Wedgewood’s Brier Hill Pizza. Photo by Robert C. Trube, 2014. All rights reserved.

It’s been a crazy week that I won’t even try to go into. I thought for this weekend I would keep it light and fun and write about some of my favorite Youngstown things. I could make this a long list, but I’ll keep it to ten. That way, you can add to it. Let’s celebrate all of our favorite Youngstown things!

  1. Brier Hill Pizza. My favorite is Wedgewood’s but I bet we can have quite a debate about that one alone. Brier Hill pizza is a Youngstown original, and almost any Youngstown pizza is better than pizza anywhere else. I know.
  2. Downtown Youngstown at Christmas growing up. The lights on the Square, the displays in the store windows, and the toy selection in each store.
  3. Idora Park. The Wildcat. The Midway. WHOT Days. The Fun House. The Rockets. The Merry-go-round, The Rapids. It was all good.
  4. Cycling through Mill Creek Park in summers, sailing down those hills, pushing the curves as fast as possible. No helmet. Probably amazing that I’m still alive.
  5. Spending class breaks during college in the Butler. So much good art work. So FREE.
  6. Skyscraper cones at the main Isaly plant. There may be other ways to get more ice cream on a cone, but it looked and tasted awesome.
  7. Mill Creek Park again. Skating across Lake Glacier on cold, clear winter nights and then drinking hot chocolate by the fire.
  8. Lunch breaks at Jay’s Hotdogs downtown when I worked at McKelvey’s. I could eat for less than an hour’s work at minimum wage.
  9. The scary wonder of blast furnaces at night, making the Valley look like it was on fire.
  10. DiRusso’s Italian sausage sandwiches. Elephant ears. Lemonade shakes. Everything else about the Canfield Fair. The smell of all that food was part of the wonder of the fair. It was all good.

Like I said, we’re just getting started and I’m sure some of your favorites will be different than mine. No problem. There’s enough to go around, just like any meal at your grandma’s.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Do We Need New Metaphors for Argument?

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

One of the delights of reading is when you come across an insight that feels like that missing puzzle piece you have been searching for. In this case, I was reading Richard Hughes Gibson and James Edward Beitler III’s new book, Charitable Writing. Gibson and Beitler teach together in a writing program and are writing as Christians thinking about how Christian virtues, like humility and charity ought shape how one writes, and how one teaches writing. One of the obstacles this aspiration bumps up against is that writing is often about making an argument. It can be as simple as who has the better team, Alabama or Ohio State?

The challenge is that arguments often descend into rancor, and many of us shy away from argument, even when we have a significant disagreement with some. We’ve seen this end badly, whether on Facebook where stock clichés and one line repartee substitutes for real conversation, or when shouting matches and physical violence jeopardize the safety as well as the future of a marriage. Arguments split churches and undermine business partnerships.

Gibson and Beitler observe, drawing on the research of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, that our basic framework of argument is war. They offer these examples:

  • Your claims are indefensible.
  • He attacked every weak point in my argument.
  • His criticisms are right on target.
  • I demolished his argument.
  • I’ve never won an argument with him.
  • You disagree! Okay, shoot!
  • If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.
  • He shot down all of my arguments.

The way we think about argument shapes the way we think of the person with whom we argue. We consider them as enemies or opponents or adversaries. They may be colleagues, classmates, fellow citizens, business associates, part of our religious community, or even family members. But the “war” framework turns them into enemies.

Lakoff and Johnson (and Gibson and Beitler following them) propose that we need different metaphors. Some of these include dance, cooking, barn-raisings, joining pieces of wood into furniture, and conversation. I like the idea of performing a musical composition. Compositions have a variety of instrumental and/or voice parts. They don’t all sound the same. Musical pieces often involve parts where a tension is developed, and then resolved. Most of the time we like to sing in harmony, but dissonance has its place. It wakes us up, and often the resolution takes us to a new place.

What all these have in common is that everything or everyone is needed. Applied to argument, that means both, or all the parties to an argument are needed. In fact, in many situations, they have common interests and goals, but different ideas of how to get there. In a war metaphor, where someone wins and someone loses, what is really lost or diminished is the overall capacity to reach a common goal–whether it is a flourishing marriage or a flourishing nation. Just as all the instruments or parts are necessary to achieve the composer’s intention, we need each other in an argument. All the ingredients are needed for a good bowl of chili. The whole community is needed for an Amish barn-raising with some doing carpentry, some roofing, and some cooking!

This does not mean we should not believe in our own arguments or seek to persuade others of them. But in a good argument, one must hear and answer what the argument of the other. Where someone differs, if we do not understand why they differ, we cannot address the difference. In good arguments, we sometimes discover considerations left out in our own arguments. Sometimes, understanding differences makes the resolution better than what either of us has proposed because we’ve been forced to think about how is this good for all of us, for our shared interest, and not simply our personal interest. Good arguments refine our thinking (another metaphor), getting rid of the unneeded to focus on what is pure gold.

Whenever you have two or more people together in a room or an enterprise, you are going to have an argument sooner or later. Will it be a war with wounded or even dead (hopefully only metaphorically, although even this is bad)? Or will it be like a group learning to make music with each other? When you first “read” through a choral piece together, the result is often not pretty. The beauty and power of the piece are not apparent. Entrances are late or tentative, wrong notes are sung, rhythms are out of sync, some sing too loud or soft. It comes together both when each does their own work of practice and all follow the director, keep time, and not sing so loudly that you can’t hear the others in your section, let alone other parts.

And so it is with argument. Often it is the power of “and.” Adversarial arguments are framed as either/or, win-lose. In dramatic improv, the basic rule is that when one makes a statement, the other actor’s response is, “Yes, and…” and so it goes. Reaching the point of singing a piece as it was meant to be, where all the parts are working together can be exhilarating. So it is with a good argument, when the sum of our ideas are better than what either could come up with alone, where each of us refines the thinking of the other.

Our metaphors matter. I’d rather make music, dance, cook, and build than make war. How about you?

Review: The Columbus Anthology

The Columbus Anthology, edited and with an Introduction by Amanda Page. Columbus: Trillium (an imprint of The Ohio State University Press) co-published with Rust Belt Publishing, 2020.

Summary: An anthology of non-fiction prose and poetry by Columbus authors, mostly relating to Columbus.

As many of you know, I write quite a bit about the town I grew up in, Youngstown. There’s a bit of irony in that. I lived in Youngstown for my first twenty-two years, the first few of which I have no memory. I have now lived in Columbus for thirty years. Apart from a book by Wil Haygood, I’ve read nothing about the town where I have spent most of my adult life. That’s not entirely surprising. Columbus is this town where most everyone seems from somewhere else (including a substantial part of the Youngstown diaspora), that is the only major city in Ohio that has grown in the last thirty years. All this is to say that I’ve realized that it might be wise to know more about this place I’ve called home. So I picked this up on a Small Business Saturday from a local indie bookstore.

The Columbus Anthology is kind of a cross between local memoirs and a literary journal. If nothing else, it serves well as an introduction of the literary talent of the city, a city that has produced the likes of James Thurber and the aforementioned Wil Haygood. It evokes a city that is “a good place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit.” It celebrates the music scene of past years around Ohio State, the legendary Buckeye Donuts, neighborhoods past and present like Bronzeville King-Lincoln and Franklinton, and those marks that we have become a big league city, the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) and Columbus Crew (MLS).

Here are a few pieces I enjoyed, taking nothing away from the rest of the collection. David Breithaupt in “Every Day I Ride the Bus” captures the unique ambiance and sights riders of the High Street COTA bus route.

“In a City Marked by Change, Columbus Crew SC Remains a Powerful, Unifying Force” by Hanif Abdurraqib recognizes the ethnic diversity of the city and how our soccer team brings people together across these lines.

Both “The City That Raised Me Has a New Face” by Tiffany Williams and “What Would Jane Say” talks about the Bronzeville King-Lincoln area of Columbus, eviscerated by I-71 and the observations Jane Jacobs would make here about the once vibrant life and decline of a neighborhood.

The city that has been the nation’s test market for restaurant franchises (and is the home of White Castle and Wendy’s) struggles to define a distinctive food. For Nick Dekker, a restaurant writer, it is breakfast and he celebrates the great places to start the day in “Breakfast with Columbus.” We’re also the home of Marzetti’s, known for salad dressings. In the family’s restaurant days, they were the reputed inventors of “Johnny Marzetti,” which showed up on cafeteria trays all over Ohio–that casserole of ground meat, pasta, cheese and sauce–great comfort food. Shelley Mann Hite writes about the history and her quest to reinvent the perfect Johnny Marzetti.

Turning to poetry, “Nighthawks” perfectly evokes that institution of students and street people, Buckeye Donuts where:

Smoke from the burning doughnut oil/infuses with the lonely

post-game colognes lining the formica/counter at the High Street

haunt simmering in the late night.

“Night Hawks,” Joseph Hess, p. 127.

“Walking in the Topiary Park After Snowfall in February” by Jeremy Glazier beautifully captures a place and moment in time and the evanescent character of our lives.

“The New Oath” by Hannah Stephenson with its repeated, rhythmic “If a child…” enlists us all to the universal moral commitment to protect and pursue the flourishing of children.

Fariha Tayyab’s “Thanksgiving” describes the immigrant who, drawing on their own experience of colonial powers, sees through our national mythologies as one “Migrating from one stolen land to another.”

This anthology captures both some of the distinctives of this city and its underside. It is a great place for writers to live (“Five Reasons Why Writers Should Move to Columbus”) and Fayce Hammond’s experience of assault that began at a gas station weeks after moving to the city (“Fear of Fuel”).

The anthology includes brief profiles of all the writers and it is a diverse group that represents the diversity of the city. It’s a good collection that allows one to see the city through many different eyes.

Review: Dear White Christians

Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation, Jennifer Harvey. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2014.

Summary: Argues that a reparations rather than reconciliation paradigm is what is necessary to heal the racial divides in the United States.

The author of this book describes an address by Brenda Salter-McNeil at Urbana 2000 speaking of that student generation as the “Reconciliation Generation.” I was in the hall when she spoke and I found myself praying, Lord, make it so. Sadly, that has not taken place, and the contention of this book is that I was asking for the wrong thing. Jennifer Harvey, who is white, contends that the reconciliation paradigm has failed and needs to be replaced by a reparations paradigm.

Perhaps a word of clarification is needed here. Speak of reparations, and the response of most is to think one is talking of massive amounts of money paid for past wrong. Strictly speaking, the idea of reparations comes from the word “repair” and what the author explores in this work is what is the harm done that needs repair. Her contention is that racial reconciliation approaches are inadequate to address the harm done.

How so? To explore this she first describes the history of the reconciliation paradigm and the critical problems with that paradigm. At the core is the problem of whiteness. Racial divides exist first of all because of the social construction of race that defined “whites” as a race superior to others, and then created systems and structures to maintain that superiority. She uses two exercises that illustrate the issue. One is to ask whites to identify racial qualities they can wholeheartedly celebrate. The second is to ask what reactions we would have to signs that say “Black is beautiful” versus “White is beautiful.” The discomfort that occurs for many of us almost immediately underscores the reality of our racialized society. Yet the reconciliation paradigm ignores this and takes a universalist approach that ignores the particular work whites need to do in addressing race. Inclusion and integration is not enough. Given the history of racism, asking blacks to trust is asking the victim of abuse to trust their abuser.

As Harvey turns to discussing reparations, she begins with the Black Manifesto, presented in 1968 by James Farmer during a service at Riverside Church in New York. This was the first demand for reparations, in this case it was monetary, for $500 million. She describes the reaction and how national church bodies side-stepped the demand. But for the first time, there was a call for repentance and for a redress for harms done. As she turns to what a contemporary pursuit of a reparation paradigm would mean, she contends it means addressing “race as a social construct, an emphasis on racial particularity, and the focus on the repair of unjust structures” (italics in the text). She then considers what might be learned from Vine Deloria’s reparation efforts for Tribal groups, and the examples of several church bodies in Maryland (still in process at the time of writing).

This book has me wrestling. I am convinced that healing our nation’s original sin of racism against both Black and Native peoples means more than inclusion, more even than reconciliation. I do not see that we have ever in any national sense acknowledged how we’ve not only committed wrong, but also embedded injustice into our systems and structures. Nor have we committed ourselves to a serious and persisting effort to root these out of our structures. The work advocated in this book is for churches to begin this effort, rather than for a public policy agenda. I could see this extending to national bodies and to church-related institutions–colleges and seminaries. What I wrestle with is whether the will is there, particularly in our present climate. Yet I hear the longing of many for spiritual revival in the church. Isaiah 58 tells me that there is no true revival without repentance and reparation, of concerted efforts to pursue justice and remove oppression. Isaiah 58:12 addresses the repair aspect of this:

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

It seems to me that it would be good to be known as Repairers of Broken Walls and Restorers of Streets with Dwellings. Harvey remains hopeful. Amid the protests of this summer, a new edition of this book was published (the link is to the new edition, my review is of the first). She addresses in an introduction the changes that have happened since 2014, and also includes an appendix that gives more practical guidance of what a reparations paradigm might look like in practice. Hopefully, there will be White Christians who will read and listen, who will kneel in prayer and arise with their tool belts on to begin the work of repair.

Review: The Message of Wisdom

The Message of Wisdom, (Bible Speaks Today). Daniel J. Estes. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2020.

Summary: A study of the theme of wisdom, primarily in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament but also incorporating other passages in scripture including those in the New Testament focusing on the culmination of wisdom in Christ.

I’m not sure there has ever been an age when wisdom has been in abundant supply. In this work, Daniel J. Estes, an Old Testament professor at Cedarville University surveys the biblical material focusing around the Wisdom books of scripture: Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. His method is to present and elucidate the key passages in scripture on wisdom and to allow these texts to speak for themselves. Very simply, he believes the intent of wisdom in the Proverbs and throughout scripture is to “guide human beings, and especially the young, in the direction of the good life, not as contemporary culture measures it, but as the Lord defines it.”

He organizes his study of the biblical material into five sections:

  1. The Concept of Wisdom. Through expositions of Proverbs 1, 2, 8, and 9, centering around the idea of the fear of the Lord as the beginning or source of wisdom, reflected in a life centered around obeying God and trusting his teaching.
  2. The Context of Wisdom. Here, Estes widens his focus to the rest of the Old Testament considering history in the law, history, prophecy, and in Psalm 112. Throughout the choice between wisdom and folly is clearly evident.
  3. The Conduct of Wisdom. Estes examines the teaching of Proverbs in four aspects that pervade daily life: work, speech, decisions and righteousness.
  4. The Complexity of Wisdom. What happens when the law of retribution does not work–when the righteous suffer and the wicked seem to thrive? Job and Ecclesiastes address life when this principle doesn’t work and how to live wisely, by trusting in the all-knowing God, and enjoying as it is given, God’s good gifts in life.
  5. The Culmination of Wisdom. Here as in other things, wisdom finds its fulfillment in Christ, who teaches wisdom and is the wisdom of God. To know him is to know wisdom’s source and to walk in wisdom.

While Estes provides lexical and contextual help, the focus is clearly expository and applicative. One hears in Estes writing a teacher who cares that his students walk in wisdom, and who understands how they can be drawn away from it into folly. In his chapter on wisdom in speech, he offers these insights in his concluding section of the chapter:

“Why is it so hard for us to be truthful? Truthfulness can fail for many reasons, but oftentimes it surrenders to fear. We fail to be truthful because we fear criticism, but then we end up looking like cowards when the truth eventually comes out. We fail to be truthful because we fear responsibility, but we end up trapped in a web of our deceptions. We fail to be truthful because we fear the personal cost of getting hurt, but we end up enslaved to the guilty conscience pricked by our dishonesty. We fail to be truthful because we fear upsetting others, but we end up missing the chance to provide constructive reproof that would actually help them” (pp. 121-122).

The book from beginning to end reflects a kind of exegetical and moral clarity much needed in our day, beginning within the Christian community. Engaging this work is aided by a study guide written by Ian Macnair that follows the passages treated in the text, aiding in personal study and group discussion. This book is a gem for those who want to learn to live well and wisely with God and others.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Month in Reviews: December 2020

I began and ended December reading Louise Penny mysteries (#3 and 4 in the Chief Inspector Gamache series) and these were great books to frame the last month of 2020. In between, there were 16 others (I was on vacation for part of the month and with shelter-at-home, this was a great opportunity for some extra reading. A few that stood out included the first volume on Barack Obama’s memoirs, which I chose as my book of the year. Another was the sixth edition of the late James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door which has framed my years in collegiate ministry. A couple other notables for me were both written by Butlers. Dawn is an Octavia Butler sci-fi classic, the first in a trilogy. White Evangelical Racism by Anthea Butler makes a concise but persuasive overall case for the complicity of white evangelicalism in America’s racist history–hard to read as a white evangelical! I finally finished Jonathan Levy’s massive Ages of American Capitalism, which for its length is a highly interesting survey of America’s economic history.

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Gamache #3), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2007. Gamache returns to Three Pines to solve a murder during a seance at the old Hadley House while forces within the Surete’ (and on his team) plot his downfall to avenge the Arnot case. Review

Original Sin and the Fall (Spectrum Multiview Books), edited by J. B. Stump and Chad Meister. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. An overview of five different views of original sin and the fall, with responses by each contributor to the other views. Review

March: Book Three, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2016. The culmination of this three part work, focused on the movement to obtain voting rights in Alabama and Mississippi, the March on Birmingham, and the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Review

The Liturgy of PoliticsKaitlyn Schiess (Foreword by Michael Wear). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. Drawing on the thought of James K. A. Smith, explores how the liturgies of our lives shape our political engagement and the gospel-shaped formative practices our Christian communities may embrace. Review

Wisdom From Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age, Gordon T. Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. Considers what it means to live in a secular age, different ways of responding as churches, what may learned from sources ancient and modern, and the competencies of church leadership we need. Review

Sustaining Grace: Innovative Ecosystems for New Faith Communitiesedited by Scott J. Hagley, Karen Rohrer, Michael Gehrling. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2020. A collection of articles arising from conversations among church planters, traditional church leaders, denominational leaders and academics connected, in most cases with the Presbyterian Church (USA), 1001 New Worshipping Communities, and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Review

A Promised Land, Barack Obama. New York: Crown Publishing, 2020. The first volume of the presidential memoir of Barack Obama, tracing his early life, his entry into politics and rise, his first presidential campaign and first term up to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Review

Exodus Old and New (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology), L. Michael Morales. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A study of the Exodus theme from its anticipation with Abraham, to the exodus from Egypt, the prophesied second exodus and the new exodus of Jesus the Messiah. Review

We Will Not Cancel Usadrienne maree brown (Afterword by Malkia Devich Cyril). Chico, CA: AK Press, 2020. A plea to those within the modern abolitionist movement to not use “cancelling” or “call outs” against one another. Review

Ages of American Capitalism: A History of the United StatesJonathan Levy. New York: Random House, (Forthcoming, April 20,) 2021. An economic history of the United States, dividing the history into ages of commerce, capital, control, and chaos. Review

A Bigger Table, Expanded Edition with Study Guide, John Pavlovitz (Foreword by Jacqueline L. Lewis). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020. Traces the author’s journey into a bigger vision of and practice of Christian community that is far more inclusive in welcoming people and chronicles the stories of a bigger table and the lives it has touched. Review

The Fantasy Literature of England, Colin Manlove. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2020 (first published in 1999). A study focusing on and surveying the fantasy literature of England, distinguishing it from that of other countries, identifying six types, and discussing a tremendous variety of writers. Review

Dawn (Xenogenesis #1), Octavia Butler. New York: Popular Library (Warner Books), 1988 (publisher link is to a different, in print, edition). Lilith is chosen to lead a handful of humans preserved after a thermonuclear war by an alien race but faces difficult choices when she realizes the price she and her people must pay for their survival. Review

Stained Glass (Blackford Oakes #2), William F. Buckley, Jr. New York: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Media, 2015 (first published in 1978). When a charismatic German who fought against the Nazis in the resistance in Norway campaigns to become Chancellor on a platform to reunite Germany, Soviets and Americans come together to block this, with Blackford Oakes at the center, restoring a family chapel of the candidate. Review

Angry WeatherFriederike Otto. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2020. A description of the use of attribution science to assess the probability that anthropogenic-caused climate change is a factor in particular extreme weather events. Review

The Universe Next Door, Sixth Edition, James W. Sire (Foreword by Jim Hoover). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A new edition of this foundational work on comparative worldviews, exploring the contours of various worldviews, including a new chapter on Islam, through the use of eight questions. Review

White Evangelical RacismAnthea Butler. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, (Forthcoming, March) 2021. A short history of the evangelical movement in the United States, showing its ties to racism and white supremacy from the time of slavery down to the present. Review

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2008. The Gamache’s getaway to a peaceful lodge is interrupted, first by an unloving family reunion, and then by the death of one of the family, crushed under a statue. Meanwhile, the naming of a child forces Gamache to face his own family history. Review

Best of the Month: Since I gave the nod to A Promised Land for my book of the year, I decided on A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. The Gamache series keeps getting better and the combination of intricate plot and the character development of Gamache as well as several other recurring characters makes for a satisfying read.

Best quote of the month: There were a number of candidates here but Anthea Butler’s concluding comments in her book White Evangelical Racism capture for me the challenge facing American evangelicalism:

“Evangelicalism is at a precipice. It is no longer a movement to which Americans look for a moral center. American evangelicalism lacks social, political, and spiritual effectiveness in the twentyfirst century. It has become a religion lodged within political partyIt is a religion that promotes issues important almost exclusively to white conservatives. Evangelicalism embraces racists and says that evangelicals’ interests, and only theirs, are the most important for all American citizens.”

What I’m Reading. I have two books ready for review. One is Dan Estes fine study titled The Message of Wisdom on the wisdom literature. The other is Dear White Christians and contends that we cannot speak about racial reconciliation without addressing the issue of reparation. I’ve just begun reading Charitable Writing in preparation for an interview with the authors. A much needed exploration of the connection between virtue and our writing. Prayer Revolution is a stirring call to prayer that fuels kingdom movements. The Columbus Anthology is a collection, similar to a literary review with contributions from various Columbus writers. Prince Albert: The Man Who Saved the Monarchy is on the life of the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. Frozen in Time is about a real life mission to retrieve the remains and the aircraft of two Coast Guard aviators who crashed on the ice cap of Greenland after 70 years had passed.

Well, there’s the rundown. I wish you much good reading in 2021 with the hope that this time next year we will be looking at the pandemic in the rearview mirror. Stay safe and read on, friends!

Go to “The Month in Reviews” on my blog to skim all my reviews going back to 2014 or use the “Search” box to see if I’ve reviewed something you are interested in.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — George L. Oles

New York Tribune, January 8, 1922, p. 54.

It began as a joke. Then it turned serious, and one of the more unusual political stories unfolded in Youngstown’s colorful political history. George L. Oles grew up in Riceville, Pennsylvania and after setting up fruit, grocery, and meat markets in a number of different towns came to Youngstown in 1907. He took over the building of the former Youngstown Opera House on the southwest corner of Central Square and opened his Fulton Fruit and Meat Market. His ads appeared every Thursday in The Vindicator. He touted the superiority of the food in his market, his prices, and commented on the matters of the day. He wrote all the copy himself. A New York Times article compared his ads to Billy Sunday, a contemporary evangelist, for their “slam-bang statements.” His ads were one of the first things to which people turned. Here’s one example from June 23, 1921:

The campaign that began as a joke started in the summer of 1921 after Mayor Fred Warnock won his party’s nomination for another term in office. Some of his ads had expressed dissatisfaction with what he saw as the “machine politics” of both parties in the city and that he thought he could do as well. He first declared his intent to run on August 4, 1921 declaring that women should vote for Mayor Warnock or Mr. Doeright in the primary taking place the following Tuesday, so they can vote for him as an independent on November 8 to defeat them. He calls himself “The Next Mayor of Youngstown.”

He made his declaration the following week. This necessitated him moving into the Tod Hotel to establish residency in Youngstown in time to register as a candidate. He explains all this in this ad from August 11, 1921:

He announced he will work forgo his salary (which he was not able to do because that could be construed as a bribe) and announced his commitment to clean up vice and dirty politics and bootlegging (this was prohibition). He focused his appeal on women voters (who had just recently won the right to vote) and held meetings with women’s groups all over the city, introduced by his wife.

When November 8 came, the amazing happened. This “Potato Peddler” running as an Independent on a Reform platform won by 459 votes over the incumbent Fred Warnock. (He was the only Independent elected as Mayor in Youngstown until Jay Williams ran as an Independent for his first term in 2005. He ran as a Democrat his second term.) He left for Florida with his wife immediately to avoid office-seekers, returning shortly before he took office on January 3, 1922. On his first day of office he informed city workers he expected them to work eight hours or leave and set strict rules forbidding police from drinking and accepting favors.

Like many other reformers, he found that he was up against entrenched interests in the city. His life was threatened. City council resisted his efforts. By the end of June, he was fed up and tendered his resignation, effective at 12:00 am Saturday July 1, 1922. That evening a rally of citizens on Central Square, and later at his home asked him to reconsider. He did and asked for his resignation to be returned at 9:00 am Saturday. Council refused, arguing his resignation had already taken effect. Council president William G. Reese was sworn in as Mayor. In 1923, he lost by a landslide to the Klan endorsed candidate, Charles Scheible, during the heyday of Klan activity in the Valley.

Oles went back to his profitable market, It suffered a fire in 1934, but he rebuilt and continued to serve the Valley. In 1945, having purchased a shipment of potatoes at a favorable price, he donated $500 immediately when he received a request for assistance from the Infantile Paralysis (Polio) Drive. By the 1940’s the market was called Oles’ and in 1948, George L. Oles celebrated 50 years as a grocer with this ad:

Surveying the newspapers for ads for Oles’, I noticed the rise of chains and other grocers that may explain this somewhat cryptic ad that appeared on September 9, 1948. As far as I can determine, this was the last ad to appear in The Vindicator.

I cannot find out anything else about George L. Oles after this date. I would love to know how his story ended. He pulled off an amazing outsider victory for mayor in 1921. He had a passion for good government that seemed to reflect his passion for good business. His market and the ads he wrote each week were a Youngstown institution. It sounds like he was an amazingly generous man. Reading between the lines, I suspect that as Youngstown grew and people moved further from downtown and competitors arose including grocery chains, it became harder to sustain his business. I wish I knew the rest of the story….

Addendum: Tips from a couple readers added to this story. Oles lived on Youngstown Poland Road in Poland. His estate later became the site of Byzantine Catholic Central with his house becoming the home for the Sisters. It is likely that Oles’ health was declining around the time of this last ad. He leased out the deparments to employees. He died on July 15, 1952 and was buried at Tod Homestead Cemetery.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

New Year Reflections

December Vectors by Vecteezy

Happy New Year!

I find myself coming into this year saddened, grateful, waiting, and hopeful.

Saddened: So many lives ended too soon by COVID-19, including at least one friend. The divided state of our nation that can’t even agree on something as simple as wearing masks, that can’t unite around a common enemy in the form of a virus. The deepening unsettling recognition of how deeply engrained racism is in our country and my own complicity. I grieve today for Andre Wells and Casey Goodson from my city who won’t see the new year. I grieve for a warming planet and the existential threat that we refuse to face. I grieve the culture of deception and the death of truth in a grave of universal suspicion. I wish all this would have ended with 2020. The trouble is that time passes, but we carry these things embedded in our lives. I’m not pleased with what I’ve seen of myself and as I move into the new year, I want to look at what God wants to change in me.

Grateful: Quite simply, I’m grateful to be alive, for each and every day. With so much closed down and so many at home, I’m grateful for all the conversations I’ve had with friends during 2020–so many I’ve not spoken with in years. Our church hasn’t met in person since March yet I’ve been touched by the mutual care we’ve practice from prayers to porch fairies with bags of groceries for shut-ins. We’ve still been able to serve a community through a garden, a food pantry, school supplies and Christmas gifts and winter clothes for children. I feel our pastor has been touched by God to speak into our hearts to help us all live through this time. Significantly, so far, none of us have been sickened. There has been time to read, to think, and to realize that we don’t need to shop and eat out to be entertained. I’m grateful for deck, patio and driveway visits with our son and his wife. We’ve enjoyed plein air painting with friends and participating in a virtual choral work. I hope I can learn the lessons of gratitude and its companion, generosity, in 2021.

Waiting: Our pastor spoke honestly and thoughtfully this past Sunday about waiting, and that waiting would continue to be part of our lives in 2021. This year, and these past weeks of Advent, have taken me more deeply into how waiting is so much a part of my faith–the coming of the Savior and his good rule. It has made me long more deeply for that coming. I do struggle with knowing those for whom waiting is difficult–businesses going under, those wrestling with depression–I don’t see easy answers as long as infections are high and we must “hunker down.” I also know of stories of many who have stood by those who wait, whether with patronage and GoFundMe campaigns, or simply by being present. This time of waiting, particularly as we look toward vaccines and the hope of a return to some kind of new normal, can also be a time of taking stock of what we have learned. I suspect there are some things we might not go back to, and some things that will be all the more precious. I want to use the time of waiting both to wait with others and to discern what God’s invitations are as we come out of this.

Hopeful. I am hopeful for the impact of the vaccine. I’ve seen vaccines eradicate other diseases. I know some of the scientists who have worked on these vaccines and believe they can make a big difference in suppressing the disease if we work together and accept the vaccine when it is our turn. But ultimately, I’m hopeful because of my faith. My hope in the resurrection leads me to hope for many mini resurrections. Creative new work arrangements, new businesses and rejuvenated ones, new educational methods, and hopefully new initiatives toward racial justice in our country and my own city. Will the lessons we learned about reducing energy use be ones that lead to permanently reducing our carbon footprints? And like many of you, I’m looking forward with hope to many of those deferred celebrations, all the sweeter because we’ve had to wait so long.

This blog is in its eighth year. I am so grateful for all of you who take time to read and comment, some of you regularly. It’s been a place of sharing so many favorite things: good books, important ideas, and great memories of Youngstown among other things. Lord willing, we’ll get to do a lot more of that this year. I will leave you with a thought I came across recently in Louise Penny’s A Rule Against Murder:

We’re all blessed and we’re all blighted, . . . . Every day each of us does our sums. The question is, what do we count?”

I do wish all who read a Happy New Year. Stay safe and count well…you all are dear to me!

Review: A Rule Against Murder

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2008.

Summary: The Gamache’s getaway to a peaceful lodge is interrupted, first by an unloving family reunion, and then by the death of one of the family, crushed under a statue. Meanwhile, the naming of a child forces Gamache to face his own family history.

Manoir Bellechasse is one of the most exclusive and peaceful getaways in Quebec, and just a stone’s throw from Three Pines. Armand and Reine Marie Gamache have come here for anniversaries for many years, reveling in the hospitality of Madame Dubois. Displaced by a family reunion of a demanding and unhappy family, they are once again in the smaller back room where they had spent their first visit to the auberge. They are treated by the family as “shopkeepers” who didn’t belong. They observe and befriend the strange child, Bean, whose gender is unknown. S/he is Mariannas’s child, a quirky single mom. There is Thomas, the seeming business success, Julia, perfect it seems in every way, but recovering from divorcing her husband, in prison for securities fraud. They talk disparagingly of “Spot and Clare” called the greediest of all. Given this, imagine the surprise of the Gamaches when they discover that Spot and Clare are Peter and Clara Morrow, artists from Three Pines who have become good friends. The family is together for their mother Irene, and their barely tolerated step-father, Bert Finney. The father, Charles Morrow had died some years earlier and would be remembered by the unveiling of a statue that Manoir Bellechasse agreed to give a home in exchange for a substantial gift.

The place to which they have come offers peace, attentive hospitality, and safety, away from the world’s troubles. Madame Dubois and her deceased husband turned an old hunting lodge into a premiere getaway. She remembers her husband in every corner of the inn. Pierre Patenaude is the maitre d’ and along with Chef Veronique are the two permanent residents, alongside Madame Dubois. Pierre oversees the wait staff, young people from all over English-speaking Canada to learn French, and the skills of serving and attending to the needs of guests. Most are trying to “find” themselves. One, Elliot from Vancouver, the same city as Julia, is the exception to the rest who are grateful for Pierre and Veronique’s attentions. He is determined to defy Pierre.

The statue of Charles is unveiled, surprising all with its expression of sadness. That night, the family’s ugliness unfolds in front of the Gamache’s. Julie throws a cup to the floor, crying out “Stop it, I’ve had enough.” and proceeds to eviscerate each of her siblings, including Peter, who she calls cruel and greedy. She concludes by looking around at all of them, and says “I know Daddy’s secret.” Overnight, a terrible storm hits. The next morning, Gamache is aroused from his breakfast reveries by screams, coming from the gardener, Colleen, who has found Julia crushed beneath the statue of her father, arms out as in an embrace.

The question is not only who could have done this but how. The heavy statue would be impossible to push off the pedestal. Furthermore, there were no marks on the pedestal. Even the sculptor has no explanation for this. Gamache, de Beauvoir, and LaCoste gather, and patiently unravel the stories of the family, and those who work at the inn. But “how” eludes them.

Meanwhile Gamache wrestles with his own family’s past, thrown in his face both by his son Daniel, and by the Finney family. His father had been a pacifist, and had been accused of lack of courage. This is brought up by the family in their anger and grief. But his son has gotten their first. The son wants to name their first child, if he is a boy, Honore’, Gamache’s father’s name. Because of the disgrace with which his father was regarded, Armand opposes this, at the risk of estranging his son.

Penny continues to develop Gamache, exploring the ways his father’s life, who he lost at eleven, shaped who he is. We also discover that Peter Morrow may be a more complicated character than we thought, the one other character in a previous murder that Gamache thought capable of becoming a murderer. The conversations between him and Gamache offer Peter the chance to expose the complications of his story.

After the intricate plot and tense climax involving Bean, Gamache sits with Bert Finney on the dock by the lake. Throughout the book, it was thought that Bert, an accountant was doing his sums. It turns out that he was, counting his blessings. He leaves us with a stunning piece of wisdom:

We’re all blessed and we’re all blighted, Chief Inspector,” said Finney. “Every day each of us does our sums. The question is, what do we count?”

Review: White Evangelical Racism

White Evangelical Racism, Anthea Butler. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, (Forthcoming, March) 2021.

Summary: A short history of the evangelical movement in the United States, showing its ties to racism and white supremacy from the time of slavery down to the present.

This was an uncomfortable book for me to read and review. In our racialized society, I would be identified as white. By conviction, I would identify as evangelical. What troubles me about this account is that it makes a good case that the evangelicalism in America with which I am identified is inextricably bound up with the history of racism, America’s original sin, as Jim Wallis has called it.

Anthea Butler offers in this book a concise historical account of white evangelicalism’s complicity in racism. She traces that history from the support of slavery in white, mostly southern churches. She follows this through post-Civil War Jim Crow laws and the support of white churches for segregation, and the participation of churches in lynchings. While some mainline denominations gave support to the civil rights movement, evangelicals remained on the sideline, calling this a “social gospel.”

Butler is not the first to note that the coalescing of evangelical political engagement in the Seventies and Eighties came as much around the denial of tax exemption for segregated schools like Bob Jones University as it did around opposition to abortion, which was originally not an evangelical cause. She traces the rise of organizations like Focus on the Family, the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition that led to an increasing alliance of evangelicalism with the Republican party, culminating in the support of 81 percent of self-identifying evangelicals with Donald Trump in 2016 despite race-baiting language, anti-immigration stances, and support of white nationalistic aims.

Perhaps no one person has defined American evangelicalism more than Billy Graham and so Butler devotes a chapter to him. While he desegregated his meetings, and hosted black speakers on his platform, and even include a black evangelist on his team, he took care to distance himself from the civil rights movement as it embraced nonviolent civil disobedience. King may have shared his platform once, but no more. Graham also preached against communism, associated by many in the South with the civil rights movement. His record was ambiguous at best and in the end, the focus remained on winning people to Christ rather than unequivocal stands for racial justice.

Parts of me wanted to protest against this sweeping indictment by citing the abolitionist efforts of northern evangelicals, and other socially engaged efforts in the nineteenth century. Butler does mention this as well as other forays like that of the Promise Keepers into racial reconciliation. The sad fact is none of these movements prevailed over the long haul in standing against white supremacism. The first decade and a half of the twenty-first century saw some promising evangelical initiatives around racial reconciliation and immigration reform, only for these to wither over the last five years.

I also wanted to protest that evangelicalism is not inherently white. Black and Latino churches in this country share the same theology. And people globally identify with the same theological convictions that form the core of American evangelical belief. I’ve been in a meeting with representatives of over 150 countries where this was the case, where those of my skin color were a minority. But in the ways American evangelicalism has separated itself from its Black and Latino kindred, the judgment stands. The typical first response of many white evangelicals to a Christian person of color trying to talk about racial injustice is to defend and argue rather than listen to a fellow Christian. We seem remarkably untroubled that divisions by race in our churches mirror our political divisions.

Butler, a former evangelical who still cares about this movement, reaches this sobering conclusion:

“Evangelicalism is at a precipice. It is no longer a movement to which Americans look for a moral center. American evangelicalism lacks social, political, and spiritual effectiveness in the twentyfirst century. It has become a religion lodged within political party. It is a religion that promotes issues important almost exclusively to white conservatives. Evangelicalism embraces racists and says that evangelicals’ interests, and only theirs, are the most important for all American citizens.”

I have no defense against this. I fear evangelicalism in the United States may be like the church in Ephesus described in Revelation 2:1-7. The church was marked by its orthodoxy and yet Jesus has this to say: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Revelation 2:4-5, NIV). I fear we are at imminent risk of losing our lampstand, that is, our witness within the culture. In fact, I find most churches are more concerned about political interests than even their historical distinction of seeing lost people come to Christ. Butler’s message mirrors that of Jesus in Revelation. This book is a call to repentance. The trajectory of history is not inevitable. We can turn away from the precipice. But I fear the time is short.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. The opinions I have expressed are my own.