The morning was sunny without a cloud in the sky as I drove down Mahoning Avenue into town like I had done so many times before. Downtown Youngstown held a special place in my heart since I was young. I remember being a little girl of five or six and getting dressed to go shopping on Saturday with my parents. My mother would wear her best navy blue pumps with narrow heels and her smartest outfit – usually a sheath dress with a matching belt. She would fix me up in a pretty dress, white ankle socks trimmed with lace and my red Mary Jane’s. We would pile into Dad’s light blue station wagon and start our journey. We drove through the west side past the Mahoning Plaza and often stopped at Calvary Cemetery to visit the graves of my father’s parents. We would kneel in front of the headstone, my father and mother with me in the middle, fold our hands and bow our heads in prayer. My father dearly loved his parents and regretted that they died within three months of each other the year before I was born. Sometimes my father would trim the grass around the headstone while I danced on the neighboring stones. If it were early in the year, my mother would place plastic flowers in the vase installed below the stone.
Our ritual completed we would continue on our way down the sloping avenue with its tiny freestanding shops. My mother would take pleasure in pointing out the Daughters of St. Paul bookstore. It was there my father’s sister Kay would hang out ,eventually join the Order and become Sister Mary Paula. Our journey took us past Mill Creek Park’s Riverside Gardens and the Paisley Home for Aged Women on the left just before the bridge spanning the creek as it entered the Mahoning River. The bridge took a slight angle to the left and waiting on the other side was the symbol that welcomed us to town. The Isaly’s Building was an Art Deco masterpiece. Built in the 1930s of cream-colored tiles and red trim with a five story glass-block tower, it reminded me of my favorite Isaly’s ice cream flavor. It was named White House and was a rich creamy French Vanilla flavor filled with whole red cherries that would burst in my mouth when I bit into them. Across Mahoning Avenue from Isaly’s was the Hussman Building, manufacturer of industrial refrigeration equipment that one would find in dairy aisle of grocery stores. The building was white and dripping with ornamentation like icing from the top of a wedding cake. We made our way down the avenue toward the Salvation Army and a small greenish house that had become an antique shop or junk store as my father liked to call it at the corner of Mahoning and Wells Court. If we got stopped at the light, my eyes would gaze upon the wonderful glass bottles in the junk store window. Beautiful emerald greens and cobalt blues. Mom said the large blue bottle was a Milk of Magnesia bottle – whatever that meant. Soon we crossed over the bluish green Spring Commons bridge and saw the city skyline rise above the river like a phoenix with the Home Savings and Loan tower leading the way. The building’s large white clock capped the building like a bell tower finishes a grand cathedral and could be seen for miles.
Dad would park the car on the street, feed the parking meter and we would be on our way. Mom and I would head down Federal Street toward Strouss and Woolworth’s and I was never quite sure where Dad would go. Perhaps he went to the Stambaugh-Thompson hardware store or to McCrory’s or just sat on a park bench, smoking his unfiltered Camels and watch the people pass by. It mattered not. I was trying to keep up with my mother as she clipped along the sidewalks to her destination all the while being cautious to avoid the grates that would threaten to catch her heels and break them off. She would point them out to me every time we came here.
“Be careful of those”, she would tell me as she pointed to the metal grate it the cement, “I once got my heel caught it in them and had to walk home the rest of way lopsided.”
Sometimes smoke would rise up from the grates and I would be afraid to go near them. Mom explained that it was only steam being released from the heating systems. She said that in other cities the subway would run underground creating a breeze and there was a famous movie where the actress stood on the grate and laugh as the wind would blow her white dress up into the air. She would get a whimsical look in her eyes and I often wondered if Mom wished she were that girl. Of course she wasn’t, in her mind she was Ava Gardner which was not a bad option either.