The complete article appeared in the November 2001 edition of The Metro Monthly.
By John Severino
The Early Years – The house we lived in on West Federal Street had two rooms upstairs, two downstairs, and a cellar. No gas, no furnace, no electricity. We had water at the sink, but generally used pump water to save money.
We lived in the cellar of our home, where the cook stove was, and then upstairs there was a dining room and a living room where the principal occupant was a large leather couch. There was a pot-bellied stove upstairs for heat, but none in the two bedrooms, one for my parents and one for Grandpa.
When I started Tod Elementary School on Robinwood Avenue I hardly knew any English because Ma and Pa and Grandma always spoke Italian, so I learned the language thoroughly.
I can remember running home from school, down Robinwood Avenue and waiting at Federal for Ma to cross over and get me. There were horses and streetcars to watch out for, and occasionally a car or truck, usually with a chain drive, which clanked and rattled very fearfully.
I used to love to run down the long hill and look over my shoulder at the sun, and it always seemed to be running right along with me. Sometimes, at the corner of Robinwood and Federal, in the empty field, I’d pick daisies or mayflowers for my mother. We also used to go there to pick chamomile, an herb used for tea.
The garden was always a thorn in my adolescent side. I used to accompany Pa there. We had to walk down the path, cross the street to the nearest house where Pa’s cousin, Mr. Marsico lived. He had a pump there where we pumped out water and carried it back up to the garden.
I would put about one-half a can of water on each plant and pretty soon, Pa would spy me and would say ‘put more water,’ and then he’d grab the bucket and show me how – four tomato plants to the bucket – and he planted hundreds of them. I think he had a special variety of tomato, crossed with sponges, and he invented them to torment me.
Another thing we had was an outside oven. My Dad liked old-fashioned homemade bread – and so did we. We had very little store bread, and when we did get store bread, we thought it was cake. Besides, if you have six kids, you need at least three loaves of bread per meal the way we used to eat it with our beans and soup and greens.
The oven was made of stone and brick and needed lots of wood to heat it up. You could cook about two dozen loaves at once, besides pizza by the dozen. I have mixed many a batch of bread for my mother – about half a sack (a big 94-pound sack) in a great tub with just salt, water and yeast – no sugar or milk or shortening and 47 vitamins like they advertise now.
When the dough was formed into loaves, my mother would put the loaves into the oven with a long-handled wooden shovel. She would put the iron door in place, and, with a last look, check if the draft holes were just right. She would go away, and when she came back, the bread was baked – a huge basket full of large loaves, enough to last us kids about six or seven days.
When I was eight or nine years old, my father sold the house on Federal Street. The old Brier Hill Steel bought up the land, and it was upon this spot that the [Youngstown] Sheet & Tube Co. built its large office building.
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