Monday, January 11, 2010

My Version Of The Culture Club

The culture my father had could be held in a thimble. It really wasn't his fault. His up bringing in the hard scrabble neighborhood off Hillman Street on Youngstown's South Side didn't lend itself to being a place remotely considered High Society.

My mother on the other hand, had "Champagne Taste on a Beer Budget", as my Dad used to say. Mom grew up in Struthers, far from a life of the privileged, the oldest of four other siblings. Her father labored in the Steel Mills and later was an electrician at an industrial plant. Her mother was raised in the hills of Kentucky in a conservative religious family.

Besides a short stint for about a year in New York City as a telephone Operator, all my mother really knew about the world she learned from the comforts of Suburbia Youngstown, Ohio. She appeared content, but you knew underneath, there was a George Bailey from "It's A Wonderful Life", wanting to explore the world.

Mom used our annual 2-3 week family vacations to teach us as much about the sites we were to see as possible. Thanks to her AAA Travel Books, atlases, and campground guides, she gave everyone a narrative when touring about the history of our current location. All of us kids and Dad would look at each other and roll our eyes, as if to say, "Here we go again." Mom would occasionally catch our bored glances and tell us how lucky we were to be able to see these sights. It would be thirty years before I realized how right she was.

Mom insisted on teaching us some things about the finer things in life and proper etiquette. Proper table manners were drilled into us on a regular basis and she enlisted my father's help in enforcing the rules. I can remember my elbow being knocked off the table or getting jabbed with a fork for reaching across the table. I believe Emily Post, the manners and etiquette author, had a firm grip on my Mom's physique. She frequently said that we would go further in life with good manners than a good education. In a lot of respects, I suppose her words rang true. Today, a good combination of both would serve us better.

Mom and Dad loved to dance, regardless of their strict Baptist upbringings, which prohibited it. As a teenager, my mother would sneak off to The Point, a dance hall on the outskirts of Youngstown, to dance the night away. It's alledged she even smoked a cigarette or two, back then. The audacity, can you imagine! I guess we all need to sow our Wild Oats.

In any event, after my folks married, they started a dance club with their friends. About once a month, several couple would converge on our Rec Room to "Cut a Rug", as they used to say. Couples with children were encouraged to bring them to learn to dance. Between our Basement Ballroom and the Masonic functions I got dragged to, I felt comfortable dancing at a young age. I must admit, I had an advantage on a lot of my peers at those awkward Junior High Dances. I wasn't afraid to ask a girl to dance.

Because my Dad usually worked the afternoon shift, I became Mom's escort for anything going on during the week. She had joined The Monday Musical Club at Stambaugh Auditorium which featured primarily Classical Music and Pre-Rock and Roll Artists. Despite my whining, I was expected to be showered with my suit and tie on by 6:30 P.M. to leave for my Monday Plunge into Culture. I actually enjoyed most of the performances and got to see a lot of top acts in the day. Needless to say, I never gave my mom the satisfaction of telling her that until well into my adult years. I had played that card for years that I was doing her a huge favor.

My mother's Glory Years are long behind her as she withers away in a Nursing Home with Alzheimer's Disease. For that matter, the prime of my youth is long behind me. I can never forget the dedication Mom put forth to her children to try and give them the best she could. She certainly expanded my horizons and raised the bar for her expectations of what I should become. I became a lot more than what I would have with her guidance and learned a lot more than I would have at the local pool hall. Also, as a bonus, you'll never see my three children with their elbow on the table.


  1. What a great tribute to your mom. I see myself in her, not in trying to teach my kids etiquette, but in dragging them to historical sites throughout the years. I kept saying, "You'll thank me later." And I hope, when they're grown up, they'll write a blog like this one and that will be thanks enough!

  2. Great post, Tom. Yeah - "back in the day" we didn't have every bit of information at our fingertips and our parents were the avenues of our extra-curricular learning. I remember that we almost ALWAYS stopped and read every historical marker when we were on our driving vacations in the station wagon. ...Bet I can still regurgitate some of the odd bits of info we learned from those reads, too.

    ...and thanks to our moms, most of us have at least acceptable basic table manners. I fear a lot of kids today never even sit at tables during meals long enough to learn them... they probably know couch/TV manners (if there are such things) and that's about it.

    My folks were never dancers. Sounds like while it might have been an eye-rolling experience as a kid, you benefited in the long run. I still won't even give any type of dancing a try, much to my wife's disappointment. I watch guys my age on a dancing show and think, "I could do that...!" But I know better... old dog, new tricks :).

    Thanks for the memories, though! Great stuff!