Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Labor Day Memories

Cartoonist: Clifford Berryman. “Uncle Sam and a schoolboy celebrating Labor Day by bowing and paying homage to the common working man.” Washington Post, September 4, 1899, The U.S. National Archives, Public Domain
Labor Day Memories

A day honoring the hard work of Youngstown's workers

Tributes to work ethic while workers rest

Sleeping in (unless you delivered the paper)

The last fling of summer

The closing day of the Canfield Fair

The final harness races and competitions

Lots of winners ribbons

One more elephant ear

One more afternoon to hang out with friends

The last family picnics

The final time for those burgers and dogs on the grill

Tossing washers or horse shoes

Crystal blue skies heralding the crisp nights of fall

Sunsets before 8 o'clock

School clothes laid out for tomorrow

The first day of school*

So early to bed

It's all of us to work tomorrow!

*When I was growing up, our first day of school was always the day after Labor Day.

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

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Our Parents Worked

Steelmaking in Youngstown

With Labor Day coming up, it occurred to me that perhaps it was a fitting time to remember how hard our parents worked. Many were trying to get a foothold on the economic ladder, to buy a house, and to see us kids have opportunities they would never have. Pretty soon, at least for my generation, they all will be gone. Last week marked eight years since my father passed. My father and mother both would have been 100 this year. It seems especially fitting this Labor Day to honor them.

They worked since they were children, collecting scrap metal during the Depression to contribute to family income. Many Youngstown men in my neighborhood worked in the mills, some within walking distance. It was hard, grimy, and dangerous. A lapse of attention could cost a finger, a foot, or even a life. Others worked in railyards, or in factories making rail cars, office furniture, or automobiles. Often, they retired as soon as they could, before the strength of their bodies was totally broken down.

Our mothers worked. During the war, many filled the factory jobs vacated by the men gone to war. My mother was a telephone operator. My wife’s mom was an aircraft inspector. Some returned to home making when husbands came back from the war. That did not mean they did not work. Diapers were not disposable. Washers had wringers that could wring an arm as easily as your clothes. Washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking–every day. There were few takeout options or labor saving conveniences. To supplement groceries and stretch budgets, especially during strikes there was gardening, and canning and cooking from scratch.

Men came home and worked on cars and remodeled or added onto homes and pitched in to help relatives and buddies who were doing the same. And they taught us how to do a job well and finish it.

Some worked at the same place for many years. But even before Black Monday, people had to re-tool and find new work. I watched my father go through that, trying a succession of jobs before landing a decent job as a department store buyer and department manager. He always worked hard while treating his people with decency and fairness. He paid all his bills, provided for us, and left no debts. That’s the way he wanted it.

Many of us do enjoy better lives than our parents. They sent us to college or trade school. We may even have inherited from them, adding to our resources. More than that, they likely imparted their work ethic to us, whether we learned the lessons or not.

Our parents worked. Youngstown worked. We enjoyed a richness of life in our neighborhoods and the city that we love to remember. Perhaps as we celebrate this weekend, it’s a good time to remember our parents, how they worked and made Youngstown a good place–and how that hard work shaped our lives. Thank you mom and dad!