'MILLDUST AND ROSES' Growing up in Mingo
A college professor writes about his boyhood in an Ohio Valley mill town.
By JON BAKER
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
"Milldust and Roses," by Larry Smith (Ridgeway Press, $12)
"Milldust and Roses" is a poetic, but bittersweet, account of growing up in an eastern Ohio steel mill town. No, it's not about the Mahoning Valley, but it's about a town that would seem familiar to Valley residents.
Larry Smith grew up in Mingo Junction, Ohio, a mill town on the Ohio River about three miles south of Steubenville. Life in Mingo Junction revolved around the steel mills that lined the river.
The town's residents, like the residents of many Mahoning Valley communities, were a varied ethnic mix from eastern and southern Europe.
"Long I lived in that green river valley along the burnt edge of the mills and railroad, knew the lights through unwashed panes at every hour, the sounds of trains clashing and sirens punctuating the industrial roar, and at night the trucks shifting down through our lives, headlights moving a pale scrim across the ceiling cracks," Smith writes.
Smith was born in Mingo Junction in 1943, one of four children of a millworker father and stay-at-home mother. He lived all of his early life there, except for two years on a farm in western Pennsylvania.
Early life: The first -- and most interesting -- section of the book deals with his life until his graduation from high school in 1961. Though Smith is only 59, he writes about a world that is almost gone now, a world where small towns were still vibrant and alive.
He recalls attending bingo night with his mother at the local movie theater in hopes of winning the $200 grand prize.
"Usually there were no grand winners, but always we each had won," he writes. "We had shared the common experience of America -- in the film and in each other."
Summertime meant a trip to a local creek with his father and brother to wash the family car, a DeSoto. "My brother drove with his elbow out the window, Dad smiling at his side, finding a station on the radio. I rolled my T-shirt sleeves up like theirs, but when I'd look around, they'd come undone."
Not all the memories are pleasant. Smith devotes a segment to his grandmother, who would often wander off, and the family would have to go out in search of her. He recalls a friend who contracted polio and the fear he felt when his father was hospitalized with a burst appendix.
Education: The second section tells of his college days at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, and at Kent State University; of his marriage to his sweetheart back in Mingo Junction; and of his long career as a professor at Firelands College of Bowling Green University.
The third section -- much of it written in verse -- centers on Smith's coming to grips with his diagnosis of prostate cancer in 1998.
"I live with a different fear now," he writes, "that I might get well enough to die again some other way. It makes no sense and yet it does."
Smith includes many family pictures in his book. The front cover features a shot by James Jeffrey Higgins, a Hubbard resident known for his photos of industrial landscapes.
Smith directs the Firelands Writing Center at Firelands College and Bottom Dog Press, an independent small press. He has written several other books and co-produced two video docudramas.