Christmas is a time for family. It is a time for goodwill. And for me, this Christmas is a time for remembrance.
I remember Youngstown as it once was, when it made steel for the world. I remember the steel workers who walked the streets in the morning hours on their way to work. Most were good men, many were veterans, some were my neighbors, and a few were my uncles.
As a young boy, I had a front row seat to this way of life from my father’s porch banister. And from my father’s house I could hear the mournful whistles of freight trains as they moved through our Valley in the late evening hours. Those lonely cries rode the cool breezes to my bedroom window. I’d lie awake imagining the far away places to which they were traveling.
On Saturday mornings, I’d make my way down to the railroad tracks where the night trains ran. Through fields of amber I’d wander, down to where the cattails grew tall, and where the killdeer sang; down to the meadows when the West Side neighborhood where I lived bustled with steel plants that lined the Mahoning River.
Those days are not forgotten. And the places I’ve known from those times often return to me in the quiet night hours. To such places I’d journey, and from each destination I’d make my way home again. Always, I’d make my way home to my father’s house.
Many years have passed since those times. A way of life has come and gone. Recently, my father and mother have left that neighborhood where they’ve spent the past 52 years of their lives. Soon, their home will pass to new owners. Soon, that place where I listened to the lonely night trains as a child will be gone from me forever. And so, in a December’s dusk, I journey to my father’s house one last time.
Empty, yet full
The rooms are empty and cold now. Walls have been made bare. The collection of furniture and pictures acquired through a generation has been carefully boxed and taken away. But, in this vacuum, I can still hear the sounds and voices of my childhood echoing down stairways. I can still picture the life that filled this home.
Here is the kitchen where mother served our baked Christmas ham, garnished with cloves and pineapple. Here is the living room where our Christmas tree was carefully decorated each holiday season; a small cr ®che depicting the birth of Jesus lay underneath. Here is the dining room where I first held my newborn brother and sister; home from the hospital in time for our Christmas celebration. Here, in this place, is where my family shared the joy and laughter of our long ago Christmases. All of these memories I press into my mind as I walk through my father’s house; each memory preserved for unwrapping for some future moment. These years, born in the sacrifice and love of a father and mother, remain among the most treasured Christmas gifts I’ve ever known.
One by one the pages of life turn until we arrive at the end of a chapter and the beginning of another. This Christmas my family will gather again; but far from the West Side home that once nourished us. Brothers and sisters will arrive from distant horizons. We’ll share dinner together and laugh at past trespasses. And for a brief time all will be as it was before.
For a brief time, my father and mother will preside over the family they brought into this world, and they will find their happiness. Then all too quickly the holidays will pass, and each of us will return to our separate lives. Each will drift farther from the roots that gave us life.
But, in the quiet night hours of Christmas, when my children are asleep and a new snow gently falls, I’ll sit near the fireplace and unwrap those fond memories of my boyhood days when I returned home to my father’s house — when I wandered through fields of amber, where the cattails grew tall, and where the killdeer sang.
X David Bobovnyik, a lawyer, lives in Youngstown and shares his memories of city life from time to time, especially around the holidays.