When do you get to tell your children all the stories about your youth? About growing up in Campbell. About buses filled with people of all nationalities heading off to work at Youngstown Sheet & amp; Tube.
About neighbors filling sacks with dirt and building a dam to create a swimming hole for summer. About the homemade ice rink or the chickens raised in backyard coops. About poverty that forgot to let its children know they were poor.
"We could go into anyone's home and have dinner. We could speak to the grandparents in any friend's home and understand them speaking in their own languages."
The memories all belong to Clare Chwalik Salata of Youngstown. And she will tell you the answer to my question. When do you share those memories? At family reunions.
In 1985, the Chwaliks had their first reunion, meeting every three years for another until that didn't seem often enough. Now they have reunions every two years. Clare's parents, Mary and James Chwalik, weren't alive to attend the first one, but they are always there in memory.
Immigrants from Poland, their marriage was arranged by parents. Though it ended in divorce, it lasted long enough to produce five children: Sophie, Walter, Chester, William and Clare. Now, more than 80 people generally show up for the well-planned reunions, which have been held as far afield as Florida, West Virginia and Washington state, drawing family from several states.
Home in Youngstown
Each one is different from the last. The most recent was themed "Coming Home," and provided the perfect opportunity for sharing Chwalik memories.
Two WRTA trolleys took participants to several sites in Campbell and Youngstown. They traveled to the gravesides of both Mary and James and of Clare's husband, Edmund. "The grandchildren placed roses on Mary's grave at Calvary Cemetery," she said.
The group went to Fairview and McCartney elementary schools -- at least to the sites where they had been.
"We [went] to the house where Mary and James brought up their family. We were all born in a bedroom in that house in Campbell," Clare said. "I was told my aunt Nestor gave us our first baths." The Chwaliks raised chickens, pigeons, ducks, one rooster and a "goat for milk" at that home.
Another house on the tour had belonged to Clare's brother Chester, who now lives in Fostoria, Ohio. They went to Campbell Memorial High where both Chester and William distinguished themselves as football players.
The trolleys chugged along to YSU, where Clare's husband was director of facilities. They also visited Youngstown's attractions: the Butler Institute of American Art, Powers and Stambaugh auditoriums, the Center of Industry and Labor, and the performance of "Idora Forever!" at Youngstown Playhouse.
Keeping to tradition
The reunions have their own history as well, with a customary banquet and picnic, which a reunion auction pays for, and a coveted trophy for the winner of a family golf tournament. "I took photos and I was surprised to see how serious everyone's expressions were," Clare said. But she is quick to point out, they have parallel activities for the kids. "We stress the children and the importance of it being fun for them," she said.
Clare thinks the reunion concept is wonderful. As Clare said, "It's much better than meeting for funerals."
A family reunion again
with preparation and packing
memories restored and imagined
picnics and games
prizes and cheers
A family reunion again
remembering those who will not return
and noting new arrivals
as a church congregation
slowing for prayer and praise
A family reunion, perhaps, my last
to touch and tell stories
to hear and hold babies
to say "thank you" and "good-bye"
a time to say "I love you."
-- Clare Salata