Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — It All Began at the Red Barn

Red Barn” by Salem Ohio Public Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.*

It all began at the Red Barn. It was Friday, September 22, 1972, the second day of my freshman year at Youngstown State University. At that time, the food options around Youngstown State were still somewhat limited. So I ended up at the Red Barn Restaurant on Lincoln Avenue. At that time both Cushwa Hall and the parking garage to the west of it were under construction across the street. Much of the campus was under construction at that time, enjoying the infusion of state funds in the five years after becoming a state university in 1967.

I ordered my food and when I looked for a place to sit, I saw a girl I’d met that summer. She was sitting with a tall and slender girl with long brown hair. Her name was Marilyn. She was also a freshman and had known the friend she was with since their early teens. They both grew up in the Brownlee Woods area. Marilyn was a Mooney grad who was majoring in English and minoring in journalism. Little did I realize at the time that I had met my future wife that day.

I can’t say it was love at first sight. But Red Barn was kind of the default restaurant for me at the time and she was often there. And I started to notice that she was an interesting person to whom I found myself attracted. We were both in Honors English, though in different sections. We spent a lot of time discussing books and our other classes and life at Youngstown State. She even let me borrow a couple of books that she would be reading at a different time. Finally, a few weeks later, I asked her out, and as they say, the rest was history. If she were telling the story, she would probably add that by the time I asked her out, she’d concluded I was not interested (although she was!). We guys can be slow sometimes!

We dated all through college, graduating together in June of 1976. We took some time after college to get established in our jobs and were married in June of 1978. The years since have taken us to Toledo, Cleveland, and for over 30 years, the Columbus area.

We have always loved eating out together. We would linger over “bottomless” cups of coffee while we were dating. Every year, in the early years, we would go out on the “anniversary” of when we met. As the years passed, our wedding anniversary tended to get more attention. But this year, we are planning to go out, not for a burger, but we probably will get some beef in the form of a good steak!

The Red Barn where we met is no more. It is an attractively landscaped green space. The restaurant chain succumbed to competition in the late 1980’s. It is hard to believe that fifty years later, we are still sharing meals and life together. But it has been quite wonderful–so many events, places, and people have been part of our lives since–leaving us with many memories. But it all began at a Red Barn Restaurant where two freshmen shared a lunch together.

*The picture of the Red Barn is not the one on Lincoln Avenue, but one very like it on State Street in nearby Salem, Ohio. A postscript: Several readers noted that the building pictured is still in use, currently as a pizza shop, formerly a dry cleaners.

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

Five Years Later…

Stats ‹ Bob on Books — WordPress com

I received this little recognition from WordPress, where my blogs are hosted, on Sunday. A day after I registered, I wrote my first post, Writing on Reading, and took the plunge into the world of blogging. That was on August 13, 2013.

It has been, on the whole, a delightful journey. What has made it so special are the interactions with so many who follow the blog, either on WordPress, or via social media. Many of those interactions are online, and often, I feel I am learning as much as I’m sharing. Perhaps some of the most delightful interactions, though, are with people I would call “anonymous followers” who I run into at a conference or other gathering and tell me how much they appreciated a particular post, or the blog more generally. It reminds me that there is a world of readers out there beyond the comments and the likes and the stats.

But if you like stats, here are a few. Currently 1099 people follow the blog. Actually, a month ago this number was more like 3300, but included all my Facebook friends on my personal profile as well as my WordPress followers. Facebook changed their policy recently and would only count and allow posting to those on your Facebook Page. Actually, that’s OK, because the current number is a more honest reflection of those really interested. Over the past five years, I’ve written 1630 posts and, as of writing had 301,787 visitors and 439,774 views on the blog. That’s an average of 240 views a day over five years–which in blogging circles is modest success.  The all-time top post was Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top 10 (from 2015) that has had 19,966 views to date. Nearly since the beginning, I’ve posted six days a week, taking Sundays off, with a couple of breaks, one for a conference I was directing, another for emergency foot surgery.

Somewhere over the past five years, I went from posting book reviews to becoming a reviewer. The transition was one of simply reviewing whatever I read to developing relationships with various publishers to review newly published books, either in print or e-galley form, sometimes before the books were published. I’ve learned the value of becoming a reliable reviewer, producing clear content related to a book in a timely fashion. The payoff is the chance to review more of that publisher’s books. Sometimes I’ve had the chance to interact with authors as well. I love it when an author reads a review, and whatever I thought of the book, says, “you understood what I was trying to say.” It is gratifying when I learn that I’ve been able to connect an author whose work I deeply appreciate with a reader who will find the work amusing, informative, or even, on occasion, transformative.

Booksellers are another group of my heroes. In the age of online sales, I so appreciate the work of those who curate a selection of books in a way that is responsive to their customers, work hard to build a customer base, host book events, and attempt to pay the bills every month. I appreciate those who have taken the time to let me into their world, even a little.

I mentioned a Youngstown post earlier. This was something I think I fell into by accident. It began with a post where I talked about one of these conversation exercises used at conferences. The question was, “what is something I probably don’t know about you that you should ask me about?” My answer was “what it was like growing up in working class Youngstown.” I wrote a post about that and someone said I should write some more about that. Early on, I wrote a post about food, which exploded when I posted it in some Youngstown Facebook groups. For the past four years I’ve been learning about everything from ethnic foods to city founders, reading more than a few Youngstown books, writing about it, and then learning a ton more from the comments of others. I’ve discovered that to know who you are, you need to know where you’ve come from.

Downsides? There is the struggle of every writer to figure out what you want to say and then making the words on the screen reflect the ideas in your head. Mercifully, I’ve had few “trolls”–perhaps I’m not that interesting. I’ve learned that your website can be wrongly blacklisted, and it can take months to undo. It happens often enough that there are businesses who deal with this stuff. Add this to all the ways people try to defraud you online and offline….

To end on a positive note, I have to give a shout out to the folks at WordPress, who have designed software that is easy to work with and gets you online quickly. Beyond that, I’ve found their support people among the very best to work with whenever I’ve had a question or problem. Most of the time, it all just works so seamlessly that you forget all the people working behind the scenes that make it work. After five years, though, it seems appropriate to say thanks to the folks at WordPress that help my voice be heard, my reviews seen, and all those great Youngstown conversations to happen. Thank you, WordPress!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Forty Years Ago

wedding-pictureForty years ago tomorrow would be June 3, 1978. At 2 pm that afternoon my wife and I exchanged rings and vows and began an amazing journey together. Some would blink and say “How is that possible?” I can’t boast to any great virtue on my part, apart from the fact that I have honored the vows I took that day. Mostly, I attribute it to the grace of God and a forgiving and patient woman.

I know it doesn’t always work out the way it has for us. It certainly doesn’t mean we are different or better people. I think it had a lot to do with where we grew up and the models both of us had in our families. My parents were married nearly sixty-nine years when my mother passed. My father was holding her hand when she breathed her last. My wife’s parents married in their forties, and he passed in his sixties, but they were together until the end. My brother, who is ten years older, and his wife are celebrating fifty years together this year. When I think of the families on my street, I can’t recall hearing of divorces. They fought, and sometimes loud enough that we could hear. They certainly weren’t perfect. But the model was that you worked it out and stayed together.

In the years since, we’ve lived in three different cities, moving as work dictated. We’ve gone through childbirth, getting up in the night for feedings and diaper changes, childhood illnesses and broken bones, teenage and college years. Family vacations and Boy Scout campouts and many trips back to the Canfield Fair. We’ve been in the “sandwich” caring for elderly parents and our own son. We’ve faced loss, bouts with cancer, the death of a close friend. We’ve shared delightful moments of walks in the woods, painting together, cultural events and quiet evenings at home. When we dated, we would sometimes talk for hours over cup after cup of coffee. We still like a good cup of coffee and conversation.

Someone once advised us that it is not love that sustains a marriage, but marriage that sustains love. That seemed baffling to me in our honeymoon days. The longer we’ve gone, the more sense it makes. Remembering the vows we made, and living into them has deepened the passionate love of youth into something deep and enduring. We’ve seen each other at our worst as well as our best, and not walked away. Instead of thinking that the grass might be greener somewhere else, we’ve devoted ourselves to watering and feeding our own lawn, and cultivating our own garden!

I had no clue in 1978 where our journey together would take us. In 2018 I still don’t nor how many years we have to travel together. What I knew then, and know now is who I want to be with on the journey. I consider myself the most blessed man alive. I love you, sweetheart! Happy anniversary!