Learning About Your Home Town

vintage youngstown postcard

Vintage postcard of the downtown Youngstown, Ohio skyline

For the past five years I’ve been on a journey of learning about the place where I grew up, Youngstown, Ohio. You can read all about it if you click “On Youngstown,” where all my posts, and readers’ comments may be found. Recently, I’ve talked to several friends who have been inspired by these posts and have begun researching and writing about the towns where they grew up and their own memories of that experience. Based on my own experience, it is something I would highly encourage.

It has brought back a number of good memories of people, places, and experiences that shaped the person I’ve become. It has afforded chances to express gratitude to some who are still living, and chances to honor those who have passed. Remembering has again and again brought a smile to my face, particularly when some long lost memory surfaces. Sure, I have some bad memories as well. I tend not to write about those online, but to understand how these have shaped me as well brings the gift of self-understanding.

I’ve discovered how much I did not know about my home town–and that I’m not alone. It’s odd that with all the things we learn in school, we don’t learn about our home towns, especially when the names of places and the places themselves often have such interesting stories behind them.

Writing about this online has brought me in touch with a whole community of people from my home town from high school classmates to people I’ve never met, but who share the same experiences of people and place. Often, they remind me of things I’ve forgotten about, or in some cases never knew.

And that leads into another reason. Learning about one’s home town is like a real-life detective story. One fact sparks a question, or another memory, and chasing that down usually leads to two or three others. That’s why five years have passed and I’m still coming up with new ideas.

Your memories are history. If nothing else, it is family history, and other relatives may appreciate it. But I’ve found myself consulting oral histories to learn about everything from pizza recipes to working conditions to local traditions. Local history is a collection of personal histories.

I think learning about a place fosters love for it. I think that can be true of the place where we grew up, and if we’ve moved, the place where we now live. Learning about a place and recalling our own memories of that place are what makes it special to us. Sadly, I think it is possible to live in places without caring for them. I don’t like to think of the consequences of that when it is true of most of those living in a place.

How might one start? I’d suggest starting by thinking of all your favorites: foods, activities, music, hangouts and other places, people. It might help to think through the seasons of the year, or different periods of your life: early childhood, elementary school, middle and high school, post secondary school, etc. Probably as you start writing or recording your memories, questions will occur to you: where did that name come from, why are so many things named after this person, how did my town get its start, how did it grow? Or pick one aspect of your home town that interests you, and try to find out all you can about it.

Where do you go to find answers to what you don’t know? It has been fun to build a library of books about my home town and you might look online for what has been written about yours. In some cases, you might even find free works online in the public domain. Google is amazing for searching down online resources. Beyond this, if you really get into the local history, your local historical society (most towns have them) or library can be a trove of resources. Becoming a sleuth chasing down your questions is part of the fun!

If you do this, I’d love to hear from you, and compare notes. I’m sure each of us will think our home town was the best. And we will be right.

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Easter Memories

IMG_1956

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.

–Peeps!

–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?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Midway Memories

DiRussos

Father and son at DiRusso’s

The 170th Canfield Fair starts next Wednesday. And hearing of this brings back memories that stretch from childhood until the early years of our son’s marriage. I wonder if it is like this for you:

  • Going to the fair as a child and seeing all the lights at night, particularly from the top of the ferris wheel and experiencing a whole new sense of wonder.
  • Seeing real live farm animals, smelling them, and realizing they don’t have the same sense of privacy we do when they pee and poop!
  • Having my first footlong hotdog, having never heard of such a think but thinking, “what a wonderful idea.”
  • Going to the fair with a girl and trying (and not usually succeeding) to win her a prize in the games of skill. Eye-hand coordination was never my strong suit.
  • Strolling the midway with a girl, sharing a cup of fair fries drizzled with vinegar.
  • Working one year in college at an old-time evangelist’s booth showing the curious these glass boxes designed to foster the fear of hell so they would turn to Jesus. I still like encouraging people to “turn to Jesus”, but decided this was not the way I wanted to go about it.
  • Going to some of the grandstand shows. I remember seeing the Beach Boys one year, Kenny Loggins another, and countless tractor pulls. Can we say “deaf”.
  • Then there were all those vendors under the grandstand. We would get a can of carpet cleaner from one of them that really worked!
  • For many years, we used the fair for an annual reunion with college friends. We started when our kids were in strollers and this went until our kids were getting married.
  • We always had to stop at DiRusso’s for an Italian Sausage sandwich. And once my son’s stomach could handle it, he joined the fun.
  • For a period of time, we could buy the kids a ride wristband and turn ’em loose for a few hours so that we could look at some of the exhibits like the art show and various 4-H exhibits that they would consider b-o-r-i-n-g.
  • Speaking of the art exhibit, the fair was responsible for my wife showing one of her paintings in public for the first timed, at the urging of our artist friend.
  • We grew up in the city but it was amazing to watch young boys and girls ride horses and put them through their paces competing for various ribbons. Then we’d walk through the barns and see them caring for these animals, sometimes sleeping in an adjacent stall or a trailer and being impressed with how responsible they were.
  • I think I always loved the nights the most, with all the lights of rides and stands. There seemed to be a haze over the midway–a combination of all the things being fried and the humidity of a late summer night.

The Fair was always the last fling of summer for us. School didn’t start until after Labor Day back then. Even as adults, the Fair marked the end of the easier pace of summer as our kids started back to school, and everyone got back from vacation at work. I think for all of us around Youngstown, it was, and still is for those who live there, the last big celebration of summer.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Hot Summer Nights

20160610_205430

Street scene near Ohio State on a hot summer night (c) 2016 Robert C Trube

Hot summer nights. The air is slightly hazy and humid. Break out a sweat just walking down the street.

Firefly nights. Catching as many as you can in a jar. Make sure you poke holes in the lid. And watch the jar glow while you try to get the smell of “lightning bugs” off your hands.

Ice cream nights. Walk up the street to the Dairy Queen for a nickel cone. Check out the scene. Any of your friends there? When we have cars, go to Handel’s, sit on the hood enjoying the best ice cream anywhere.

Front porch nights. Indians game on the transistor radio. Parents on the porch chairs. My friend Jimmy and I sitting on the front steps talking sports and girls. Waiting to see how long it will be before our parents call us in.

Ice tea and lemonade nights. A pitcher and some glasses. Mom and dad enjoying a cold beer.

Idora Park nights. French fries. Getting soaked on the Rapids ride. Oh so good. The Wildcat even wilder after dark. Riding the Merry-Go-Round with the breeze in your face.

Drive-in nights. Watching the thrillers as kids. Watching the couples making out. Wishing it was you.

Open air concert nights. Blankets and lawn chairs. Sousa and jazz and show tunes.

Sleepless nights. Take a bath only to be sweaty within minutes. Lie in bed. No sheets and not much else on. Waiting for the fan to finally cool the house down. Or sleeping on the porch. Sleeping in enjoying the cool of the morning.

Stormy nights. Heat lightning in the distance. Distant rumbles of thunder. A breeze picks up. The smell of rain in the air. Lightning in the night and the simultaneous crash that makes you jump out of your skin. The downpour and rush to shut the windows. And the clean coolness after the rain.

Hot summer nights in Youngstown. The valley aglow with the blast furnaces while the rest of us try to cool off. Hot summer nights…

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — What We Still Have

IMG_0773

Stone Bridge on Lake Glacier (c)2015, Robert C Trube

How good it was. How much we’ve lost. These two phrases seem to capture the gist of so many of the online conversations I’ve had with present and former Youngstowners since starting this series of posts.

On the one hand, so many of us, especially those of us who grew up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, share these incredibly rich memories of working class Youngstown ranging from good jobs to healthy neighborhoods to close extended families to a surprisingly rich cultural life ranging from ethnic festivals to classical concerts, from baseball and bowling leagues to art shows at the Butler.

On the other hand, even with all the efforts to create a “new” Youngstown, we live with a communal grief for what has been lost–from the skies aglow with steel-making, to summers at Idora Park, to the sadness when we visit the neighborhoods of our youth to find an abandoned house or vacant lot where we once lived. It is not a simple thing to occupy, let alone maintain all that housing stock when you’ve lost 100,000 of your people.

I could go on but what I would rather focus on is what we still have, whether we are living in Youngstown or are part of the “Youngstown Diaspora.” What I’ve discovered as I’ve written and interacted and reflected is that having grown up in Youngstown, there are things we carry with us. You may take us out of Youngstown. You can’t take Youngstown out of us.

  • For one thing, we know good food. If nothing else, our mission to the world ought to be one of educating people about what makes a good pizza! It has been a delight to meet Bobbi Ennett Allen and see the great work she and her friends have done in Recipes of Youngstown to preserve so many of those family recipes and good ethnic dishes we grew up with. [2/8/15 update: There is now a second Recipes of Youngstown that will be coming out soon to benefit the Mahoning Valley Historical Society that may be pre-ordered at their website.]
  • There are values we grew up with that are worth preserving and passing along to our families and others. Youngstowners are no-nonsense, hard-working, family-oriented, and resilient. Youngstowners do not tolerate those who whine, indulge in self-pity, or self-adulation. We would say they are “full of it” (or something more earthy).
  • Not all our memories are nostalgia. We know what makes a good place. We know what the “new urbanists” are only just discovering–that a good place has sidewalks, home owners, and a diversity of businesses and services in walking distance. I’ve had a chance to talk to some working in the Idora Park area to renew the neighborhoods there and they get this–and that good places are not 90 day wonders but take years of hard work.
  • We cherish beauty. Somehow, we’ve managed to preserve and enhance Mill Creek Park and we return there whenever we visit. We’ve always supported the fine and performing arts. The gritty world of manufacturing taught us that it was not enough just to make things–we craved things of beauty. The world still needs people with this vision.
  • We are people who know how to celebrate. I can’t think of any place where the weddings are more fun than in Youngstown. Nobody else (except some Pittsburgh folk who probably got it from us) even knows what a cookie table is let alone what a good one looks like! We didn’t think all of life is a party. Much of it was hard, so when there was a wedding, or even a wake, you celebrated. When there was a holiday, you cooked and baked like crazy and you celebrated.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. There is so much we carry within us that has not been lost. But it can be if we keep it within because none of us lives forever. The best of our heritage can live on if we share it with our children, and bring our best into our communities, our places of worship, and our work.

Writing this series has been a fun project with a serious purpose. The experiences and memories that we’ve shared and enjoyed together are things that have shaped us. I think much of that is profoundly good–good to remember if we are seeking the peace and prosperity of Youngstown–and good to be mindful of and draw upon wherever we find ourselves.

Read all the posts in the Growing Up in Youngstown Series by clicking the “On Youngstown” category link either at the top of this page or in the left column of my home page.

Passages

We just returned from a family vacation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, staying in a cabin at a conference center owned by the organization for which I work. The trip itself was kind of a passage, back into winter, or the very beginnings of spring. The bay on which the cabin is located is still completely frozen and snow still covered many areas although we were told that two feet of snow had thawed in the four days before our arrival. If you think we’ve had it bad this winter, folks in the U.P. have most of us beat! And after several warm days, we had one more blast of winter, shared by much of the Midwest as 2-3 inches of new snow fell. Temperatures were at 16 degrees the morning we left!

IMG_2068

This trip was a kind of journey into the past in some ways that reminded us of the passage of time, and the many rich memories that have filled those years. This began when we paged through the guestbook in the cabin, which we have stayed in as a family four other times. One of our entries was from June of 1985, and we remarked on this being our son’s first visit to this conference center at a month and a half old. Now, it is nearly twenty nine years later, and it was fun for his wife for whom this was a first visit, to read this entry and to realize some of the family history wrapped up in this place.

As we showed our daughter-in-law around, memories unbidden returned of programs I had led or participated in, in just about every room. Seeing a recently built lounge area named after the founder of our organization in the US, I was reminded of hearing him speak at this site in 1977 during my Orientation of New Staff. Walking into another room in the same building I remembered a crazy and delightful time of suddenly assuming the direction of a program I was attending for the first time when the director was ill. It was a scramble and yet God met us in wonderful ways as we improvised and stayed maybe a half-step ahead of the students.

IMG_2062

I looked out on the frozen bay from some of the same spots where I sat enjoying the summer sun and spending personal times in prayer, reflection, and reading at a student leadership training program I was attending in July and August of 1974, my first visit to this site. I remembered a TV being brought into the meeting house so we could watch the resignation of President Nixon at the end of Watergate. And I thought, could nearly 40 years have passed so quickly?

Indeed they have, and yet as I thought of all this, my mood was not so much wistful as thankful. I mention in the “About ” page to this blog of how I live at the intersection of the love of learning and the love of God. So much of my passion for these was cultivated in this place. So much of life over the past 40 years has involved sharing with successive generations of students and faculty at a number of universities as well as at programs at this site how these two things walk hand in hand and how loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39) is not only the greatest of the commands but central to a life well-lived.

How well-lived my own life has been is ultimately a matter for God to judge. But as I look at things so far, I have to say that my own sense is one of having no regrets and great thankfulness. We’ve shared as a family in so many of these ventures. It was rich to share our memories together, as well as make new ones, like evenings in the cabin playing hearts or Scrabble and laughing at the turns of the game, usually against me–I didn’t win even once!

As we departed, both we, and our son and daughter-in-law left new entries in the guestbook. While none of us knows what the future holds, perhaps it will be that at some future date, we and/or they will mark yet further passages of time and hopefully have new and rich memories to share.

Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12, NIV)