Trickster on NPR

Eileen Kane was featured on NPR's To the Best of Our Knowledge. Click here for the full programme.

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The Youngstown I wrote about in Trickster is the Youngstown of the 1920s-1960s. Do you have any memories of that period, or have you learned about that era from family stories or photo albums? If you'd like to share them, click on the "Contact Us" tab.  

Here's one of mine:

In sixth grade (aged 12) a group of us, classmates in Sister Clare's class, formed a "club", based on the canasta clubs that older women had in those days. We "had club" every two weeks, serving refreshments that we and our mothers made. When we went into different high schools, we brought new friends into the club. Later, a few of us moved away; one was Eileen Durkin, now Frederick, and one was me. Today, the group has been together for almost sixty years, which must be a record. When I last met them twenty years ago, they told me that they were closer than sisters: that they had experienced different fortunes in life, but had helped to bring up each others' children, celebrated the good times together, and encouraged each other through the bad. They are amazing women, and nothing that I know of in fiction can match their story. Who says there are no film roles today for older women? Here's one for a good film maker.

Eileen Durkin Frederick: the "Green Cathedral"

Eileen Durkin Frederick has sent me this, in response to Trickster:

"I could really relate to the Youngstown parts--there were words/sayings that I haven't heard for more than 50 years--"play the bug" (and my dad did!), "nibbynose" (my mother said that and I haven't heard it since), furnace ash--we had "Ash Wednesday" when my dad shoveled the ashes out of the bottom of the furnace and carried them out--I don't remember how they were disposed of/collected… I actually have very fond memories of my childhood in Youngstown--I knew vaguely about the gangsters in town but as long as they shot each other and not innocent bystanders, nobody I knew seemed to care much."

(Eileen K):  Under "Youngstown Today" I've mentioned the great natural resources, sports and entertainment facillities we had: more baseball fields for a city of our size than any other in the country; 3000 acres of natural park, a "Million Dollar Playground" Idora Park; and lakes galore. Not everyone could use these: Mel Watkins, writing about growing up in Youngstown (Dancing with Strangers, Simon and Schuster 1998) shows the restrictions and humiliations that black residents faced when they tried to use the  swimming pools and Idora Park facililties. But he made the best of what was available to him, became a local baseball star and went to college on a sports scholarhip.

Eileen Durkin Frederick made the best of what was available to the rest of us. While I was thinking up things to annoy my mother, as recounted in Trickster, or moping sullenly,  Eileen was having a glorious life, as she writes below:

I grew up on the near-south side of Youngstown, just two blocks from Volney Rogers playground in Mill Creek Park.  My childhood summers were filled with playground activities, both structured, e.g., tennis tournaments, jacks tournaments, washers (also called ringers) competitions, doll shows, craft projects (making lanyards was very popular with the kids), and unstructured, e.g., shinnying up the poles of the giant swing sets, jumping rope, hanging out with friends.  As I got a few years older, I was allowed to venture beyond Volney Rogers.  Many summer days, we (friends or siblings) would pack lunches and walk the trails past the Parapet Bridge, past the "tooth-ache" tree, (I doubt anyone else called it that, but we did, and held our breath until we got by it, lest we get a toothache), beyond the Rock Garden Wall (Fellows Garden wasn't even on the radar screen in those days) to the Lily Pond-or beyond.  If we were really ambitious, we'd get someone to drive us to Lake Newport where we would rent a rowboat, paddle around for hours, lounge in the boat, and soak up the sun.  I spent many January evenings ice-skating on Lake Glacier when I should have been studying for final exams-but who could resist the crisp air and the warming fire on the shore.   Incredibly, no one seemed to worry about us!  What a different world we live in now, a half century later.  I still try to get back to Youngstown a couple of times a year to visit an aunt (my last living relative there) and my cherished grade school, high school, and nursing school friends (some fit all of those categories) who have stayed.  As that great philosopher, Jon Bon Jovi says (sings) "Who Says You Can't Go Home".  When my sisters and I can arrange to go at the same time, we drive down memory lane, past our old house, our schools, and always, always through "The Green Cathedral"-Mill Creek Park.

Thanks, Eileen D.F. !



D. Jones

Here's a link to "631", a film made by a Youngstown-born filmmaker, D. Jones, who teaches at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. It shows the history of his family hone, now vacant, at 631 Ridge Avenue in Youngstown. Ridge Avenue is six streets north of the street I grew up on, and one street away from the home of Mel Watkins whose book, Dancing with Strangers, describes his own life on Woodland Avenue. Both "631" and Dancing with Strangers give astute insights into the lives of African Americans in Youngstown. Their accounts are a full generation apart: Watkins is my age, and we are both older than Jones's mother, who narrates the film. Jones's family was middle-class, and, at times, well to do, with luxurious possessions; Watkins, also African American, has described his family as far less financially secure.  Although my family is white, our income would have fallen between the two, yet we would have considered ourselves socially superior to people on Ridge or Woodland, simply because of race. Only my uncle Chicken Shit John negotiated the two worlds, mysteriously and easily; he formed a tricksterish "class" all his own.

This is the link to "631":