Remembering Mom

It seems appropriate on Mothers Day to remember Mom, who passed away nearly four years ago at age 90. It is likely due to her that this blog exists. Not only did she do the obvious of giving birth to me (and my two siblings). She was an avid reader and I still remember lunch times at home. Part of the time was spent reading our books. Part of the time was spent talking about them–I guess that’s where the reviewing part comes in. I loved exploring the shelves of books in our house, including the stash behind the clothes rack in my closet. I guess that might explain the proliferation of books in my own home.

Mom after Carol was born

The first picture here is of my mom after giving birth to my sister in 1960. She looks pretty amazing considering she was nearly 41 and had just had her third child. The second picture was taken around 1990 when she would have been 70. I remember one of my male friends visiting our home when I was a teenager and when we were alone, he said, “Boy, your mother is hot!” I nearly punched him because you just didn’t go saying those things about one’s mother. But with the perspective of age, I have to say my friend was right!

Mom cropped

Mom was beautiful and smart as well. She was a good student and represented her high school (Chaney High School, the same school I attended) at a statewide Chemistry competition. If she were growing up today, she might have gone on to college, and perhaps a career in science or engineering. She loved learning all her life and was mentally sharp to the last.

In her later years, we would talk on the phone every Sunday, about what was going on in Youngstown, what she was reading, and politics local and national. She was a “died in the wool” Republican despite living in a heavily Democratic part of town. Consequently, for years she was recruited to work at her local voting place. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but you could always count on a lively conversation!

What I most remember was how she was always there for us as a family. I was sick quite a bit in my early elementary years until I got rid of my inflamed tonsils. I never was made to feel bad for being sick. Rather, it seemed like she always knew what to do to make one comfortable, whether it was a pain-reliever, a re-made bed, putting on the TV to watch (something we rarely did during daytime hours), or a glass of orange juice. She was also there to talk with when we came home from school. She wasn’t a helicopter parent running into school whenever there was a problem. Most of the time we talked it out and she helped me think through how to deal with a teacher, or a kid who was picking on me.

My mother’s name was Dorothea. I always thought that was one of the most beautiful names I knew. It means “gift of God” and I think we all would agree that she was that to our family. She stood by all of us in hard times and good.

Our own son and daughter-in-law treated us to a trip to Outback today and in ordering a steak, I was reminded how much my own mom loved a good steak, medium to medium rare. We were celebrating my wife, who also is a wonderful gift, but I could not help remembering with gratitude the “gift of God” my own mother was, and how much I loved her, and how much I miss her this day.



Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Part One

OH Youngstown aA while back I wrote a post titled “What’s Missing in the Diversity Discussion” and I observed that what we often don’t explore, although good work on this has been done, is the area of class differences. I mentioned growing up in working class Youngstown and being in a seminar where as a “get to know you” exercise, we could propose a question we’d like others to ask us about ourselves.  Mine was, “I’d like to be asked what it was like growing up in working class Youngstown.”

In response to that blog, “Steve” actually asked that question. I don’t think I can answer that in a single post but I’d love to give it a start with this post.

The first thing I can say is that, far from being conscious of this being a struggle, my memory of growing up in my neighborhood is generally quite positive. Our home was located on the inner west side of Youngstown, roughly a mile or so from the Briar Hill steel mills. The men who worked in these mills could walk to and from work, and the community was laid out so that almost everything you really needed was within walking distance.

So one thing growing up was that this idea of being driven everywhere was foreign. I walked to school, to the post office, the “Pops” grocery for baseball trading cards, to the Dairy Queen, and Isaly’s for ice cream, to the bank to deposit my paper route earnings, to the library for books, and to Borts Field to go swimming, or meet up with friends for pick up games of baseball, basketball, and football.

What strikes me is that from a fairly early age (say by 8 or 10) I got used to doing much of this on my own, without parents hovering about. There were no parents arbitrating game quarrels. We worked things out, often with the “do over” rule. Yet they were still a significant part of our lives. All of us ate at home nearly every night at a certain time, and often that was between 4 and 6 pm, timed to the end of labor shifts.

I think what made this independence at an early age possible was the combination of this neighborhood web where if you really got out of line your parents heard about it, and those evening meals.  It wasn’t perfect. Sometimes there were dinner table fights. But this sense of early independence combined with a community and family that really was in your life prepared us at an early age to assume our place in that community.

We didn’t know anything about extended adolescence. When you graduated from high school, you either started working (often in the mills or the Lordstown GM plant) or went to college — and often worked in the mills or elsewhere during the summer to pay for it.  Many of our families wanted us to go to college, because work in many factories was hard, dangerous and wore you down physically. They were aware that education afforded the “opportunity for a better life”. Yet there was an ambiguity about this. Education meant becoming part of “management” which was always suspect, or one of those “pointy-headed intellectuals”.

Steve, that’s part one of an answer. Stay tuned for more.

Review: Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present

Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present
Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present by Carolyn Weber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How often have you’ve been in a conversation where you’ve felt like the person you were speaking with was distracted? It could be something they were anxious about or somewhere they needed to be next. Perhaps you were that person. So often in the breakneck pace of modern life, we are constantly tempted to live in the future.

Carolyn Weber’s book, Holy is the Day, explores this temptation and the gift that living in the present, and being present to the Presence of God can be. She does this through a memoir style of writing, focusing around significant ‘days’ in her life over a several year period, beginning with the day she was sliced open without time for anesthetic for an emergency C-section during the delivery of one her twin boys–and experiences the presence of God as she is facing a situation that threatens her life and that of her unborn son.

Succeeding ‘days’ include the decision to write her conversion story while facing tenure consideration as an English professor, surviving an excruciating migraine with a “U-turn” friend, struggling with the harried life of a mom with three children under three and being reminded that “even Jesus went out on a boat” and so she also could take moments, walks, retreats to remember the Presence. We follow her and her husband on sabbatical, to a visiting faculty appointment and the “exclamation point” house, and the decision to leave faculty life to return to her Canadian home to care for parents and the day of the wonderful news that she was pregnant when physicians said this was impossible, and the day she learn of possible birth defects in her child. The book ends leaving us uninformed of the outcome but conscious of someone who is living in the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, awaiting with hope the One who is Present to her.

The book is written by one who loves words, literary allusions, and the metaphorical use of language, and word play. I found that because of this, I needed to slow down to be present to this writing, to reflect on the metaphors and the poetry of MacDonald and Wordsworth and others. This is a book to be savored slowly and thoughtfully but doing so can take one into a place of being present to the present moment, and to the One whose Presence matters above all else.

View all my reviews

(I should also mentioned that my good friend and colleague Jamie Noyd, has just written a review of this book as well on her blog, “Walking the Path of Story.”)