In a memoir written shortly before his death, Pulitzer Prize winner American Poet James Merrill looked back on parental influences in shaping his personality and values. “The miraculous gift of life we receive from our parents,” he said, “comes in a package almost impossible to unwrap; often it seems wiser not to try.”[1]  Yet to ignore such influences is to leave unexamined crucial elements in character formation and life perspectives. While impressions of parents are shaped by a variety of experiences, some real, some imagined, and all selective, they contain a core of culturally significant personal data that provide a context for this extended narrative. As Merrill states, it may be wiser not to explore the intricacies of parental influences, but even he was unable to resist the temptation to try. Neither can I resist. Indeed, I think that in order to understand the impact of one’s parents, it is necessary to explore the influences on their lives in the contexts of specific family and wider social milieus. While I wish that we had more detailed information about our ancestors, I believe there is sufficient data to weave a familial fabric that correlates with general historical evidence.                   


Bruce Douglas Ida Brackenridge 1930s


 Although Bruce, Ida, and I had distinct personalities and interacted with our parents in different ways, we inculcated the same foundational values. From early childhood through adolescence, our parents were the lodestars by which we charted our courses in life. Their bi-cultural values became lifetime operating principles from which we rarely diverted. In turn, we transmitted them to our own children. Offspring of immigrant parents, we lived in two inextricably intertwined worlds, one shaped by contemporary American societal values and customs and another steeped in Scottish culture and tradition.  

 Accordingly, we forged our identities by an often unconscious blending of parental and peer influences. We were thoroughly “Americanized” through the medium of public school education and  the influence of peer attitudes and behavior. Ardent movie fans, avid comic book readers, and animated sports enthusiasts; we listened to the same radio programs, sang the same popular songs, employed the same slang expressions, and followed the same fashion trends. Simultaneously, we lived in a world shaped by our parents who resolutely retained their ethnicity while accommodating to a new social environment. Our moral values, religious preferences, and family traditions mirrored the cultural milieu of their native land. While they acquired U.S. citizenship and adapted to their new homeland, they remained emotionally tied to the land of their birth. An Irish scribe of the ninth century succinctly described their status: They change their sky but not their souls who cross the ocean.  

As children and adolescents, we bore the unique cultural imprint of Youngstown, a city noted for its racial and ethnic diversity, steel making industries, political corruption, and mafia infiltration. To greater and lesser degrees each one of these environmental factors embedded character traits that we carried with us the rest of our lives. One had only to scratch beneath the veneer of our intellectual and cultural maturation to uncover our blue collar roots. Youngstown was in our DNA. As locals were fond of saying, “You can take us out of Youngstown, but you can’t take Youngstown out of us.”  

Our schools were composed of a diverse population that included Poles, Italians, Rumanians, Germans, Greeks, Swedes, Welsh, English, and Scots. Many of our peers were bi-lingual and served as interpreters for their parents who spoke little or no English. Our friendships transcended any ethnic or religious differences. We walked together to school, visited their homes, and sometimes tasted their native cuisine. Our friends had surnames such as LaMarco, DiFabio, Millanovich, Pocreva, Olensik, Bakalik or Hladden while others were Miller, Jones, Smith, Edwards, and Elson. At work or in play we were at ease with people of different ethnic backgrounds, even incorporating some of their native slang and scatological references into our vocabulary.  

On East Indianola Avenue our immediate neighborhood was a microcosm of the American melting-pot, mirroring the mix of nationalities that we encountered at school. We knew the names of all our neighbors and played with their children on a daily basis. Although we rarely entered by front doors or were entertained in parlors, we sat on porches during the summer and met in cellars during the winter. Occasionally adults treated us to cookies or sandwiches (usually mothers because fathers were at work) but they rarely interjected themselves into our play activities except when our behavior warranted intervention. Because many people used public transportation, they walked from their home to and from the bus stop. During the summer months they often stopped to chat with adults seated on the front porch or waved and said hello. When someone in the neighborhood died, people pitched in with contributions to buy flowers for the deceased’s family. Even today, when local obituaries include the name of a former Indianola resident, old neighbors appear at the funeral home to pay tribute to childhood friends. If it “takes a village” to raise a child, we were especially blessed in that regard.  

Blacks and Hispanics were also part of our social milieu but due to sub rosa residential segregation they played a limited role in our inter-cultural development. The local newspaper carried a weekly column entitled “Interesting News Notes for Local Colored Folks” that tacitly reinforced the view that Blacks were not part of the mainstream cultural environment. Nevertheless, we occasionally interacted with Blacks in school rooms, playing fields, and other public venues, in a few cases establishing friendly relationships. Because of segregated movie houses, restaurants, and other popular meeting places, we never became close enough to understand their lives as second-class citizens. Unfortunately, most white adults in Youngstown mirrored national sentiments regarding racial supremacy and passed those prejudices on to their children and grandchildren. Not until the 1970s, when race riots racked the city did Youngstown slowly emerge from its historical legacy of racial discrimination.   

Youngstown Steel Mills1919


Youngstown’s most visible icons were a procession of steel mills situated on the banks of the Mahoning River as it cut through the heart of the city. Operating 24-7, they were the heartbeat of Youngstown’s economy. During the day, the skies were filled with smoke and soot that turned the sun a somber gray; at night, fireworks from the open hearths and blast furnaces cast an eerie orange glow throughout the valley. When mills fell silent due to strikes or production cutbacks, the entire Mahoning Valley suffered. If people complained about the effluents that polluted the air and poisoned the rivers, our father had a pat response. “I’ve seen Youngstown when the smoke stacks were empty and the air was clean, but no one was eating. I’ll take the smoke if it puts food on our tables.”  

When shifts changed at 7 a.m. and 3 and 11 p.m. the streets filled with busses shunting workers to and from their homes. Dressed in work clothes and carrying their metal lunch boxes, they chattered about what did or did not happen in the mills that day. During our adolescence, steel mills operated at full capacity providing high school and college students with ample opportunities for part-time and summer employment. Bruce and I worked on the labor gang in the Youngstown Sheet and Tube where our father was mason foreman in the Coke Plant. Like many of our peers, we gained valuable experience about the dangers and drudgery of mill operations as well as the employee camaraderie that made such conditions bearable. In many respects, working in the steel mill had a bonding effect on people similar to that of military personnel; only the battle was not with enemy combatants but with daily demands of continuous steel production. At the same time, we were compensated with high wages that helped us support our families and finance our college educations.  

As children, however, the mills loomed in the background as part of the world that involved our parents and other adults. In the 1930s and 1940s Youngstown had vacant fields in many neighborhoods where children could play. Situated behind our house, for example, was a large field encompassing several blocks that contained trees, bushes, and open spaces to play sports and other games like hide and seek and tag. Youngstown also boasted a magnificent 400 acre Mill Creek Park that offered a healthful alternative to the highly industrialized steel center. Within walking distance of our home, we went on hikes, visited nature museums, and waded in lakes that formed the backbone of the park. Adjacent to this nature venue was Idora Park, an amusement venue that we visited three or four times a year. Along with a convenient system of public libraries, Youngstown also offered free entrance to the Butler Art Gallery, located not far from the center of the downtown shopping district. Inexpensive and convenient bus service to all parts of the city made it possible for working class people to access all of these recreational and educational facilities on a regular basis.  

Beyond its national reputation as a steel center, Youngstown was noted for its corrupt civil authorities and resident gangsters whose activities earned the city such titles as “Crime Town U.S.A.” and “the most corrupt city in America” in leading newspapers and magazines. A recent writer referred to Youngstown as a city “where ordinary rules of right and wrong do not apply.” He expanded his description with these words: “It’s a city where a man accused of taking bribes can get elected to Congress and a man can get disbarred and thrown off the bench as a judge and still get elected mayor. It’s a city where gangsters could incorporate their own borough for the sole purpose of running a gambling den unchecked. It’s a city that expects is public officials to be on the take and politicians in general to be guilty of something.”  

During my high school days, the city experienced a rash of home and business burglaries that Youngstown Police were unable to solve. In some instances the police themselves were assisting the robbers by suggesting vulnerable locations and standing watch to see that no one interfered. Of course, they shared in the proceeds of the break in. Students related a joke they picked up from their parents. A woman called the police department in an agitated voice and said that she thought a burglar was in her basement. The desk sergeant offhandedly replied, “Lady, we’re busy right now, just get his badge number and we’ll take care of it later.”  

Located half-way between New York and Chicago, Youngstown was a haven for small-time mafia gangsters who had infiltrated the political system early in the twentieth century. By the 1920s they were firmly entrenched as a decisive force in Youngstown’s political and economic infrastructures. During the 1950s, the city was the target of 82 gang-related bombings, mostly designed as warnings to uncooperative businesses or rival organizations. They soon turned to attacks on individuals, with car bombings and ambushes that resulted in a steady stream of deaths and injuries. One of the most famous incidents involved a local numbers racketeer Vince DiNiro who was targeted on Market Street only a five minute walk from our Indianola Avenue home. After eating dinner at an uptown restaurant, he planned to drive home in his luxury automobile. When he stepped on the starter, the ensuing explosion rattled windows for miles around. Police found one of his shoes in the car and the other on the rooftop of a building three blocks away. A joke made the rounds that barbers would cut hair for $2 and start your car for $3. About the same time, the expression “a Youngstown tune-up” became a colloquial expression for a mobster car bombing.  

Over the years citizens organized various reform movements but they never had any sustained effect on Youngstown’s modus operandi. As a teenager I remember the excitement generated in 1948 when Youngstown elected a reform mayor, Charles P. Henderson, with a mandate to drive out organized crime. Henderson appointed a former FBI agent as chief of police and who fired renegade patrolmen and made strides in closing down illegal gambling operations. After six years of clean-up efforts, however, the populace tired of reform and failed to elect Henderson for a third term. Local mafia families, patiently waiting on the sidelines, took over where they had left off. Subsequent reform initiatives met with similar fates leaving Youngstown saddled with its reputation of corruption and mismanagement of public finances.  

Growing up in Youngstown in a residential neighborhood, we were only tangentially impacted by underworld crime. Most of the violence occurred in other parts of town or in outlying districts and our knowledge of such events was limited to accounts in the local newspapers. The  numbers racket or “the Bug” as residents termed it, was omnipresent. One could play the illegal lottery for as little as a nickel in almost every corner grocery store, bar, or restaurant in town. As steel workers poured out of the mills at the close of their shifts, hustlers stood ready at the gates to take bets. Beyond the Bug, racketeers controlled the placement and operation of jukeboxes, candy and soda dispensers, and any other type of coin operated machine in town. Hidden from our eyes, were the ubiquitous houses of prostitution and drug operations that also generated substantial revenues for local mobsters.  

Although our parents supported reform movements, like other residents, they tacitly accepted some aspects of the prevailing racketeering culture. Frequently our father sent us up to the corner store to fetch a package of cigarettes or to place a nickel or dime bet on the Bug. He always instructed us to play our house number, 338, and box it, meaning that any combination of the three numbers paid off. When he came home from work, he checked the newspaper for the winning number, the last three digits of the closing stock market average. A win (which was infrequent) resulted in a few extra pennies to buy candy or ice cream. On the few occasions when dad received a traffic ticket, his first impulse was to fix it rather than pay the fine. I remember mother taking tickets down to the courthouse and having them dismissed by Judge Franko who was consistently re-elected because of his kindly treatment of traffic offenders.  

Another dimension of cultural standards in Youngstown related to distinctions between personal and corporate honesty. Our parents frequently stressed the importance of personal integrity in all our activities. Dad often cited a line from Robert Burns to encapsulate this quality of life: “An honest man is the noblest work of God.” This meant adherence to the laws of the land and respect for those who were in authority. Our parents admonished us never to cheat at school, tell lies, or deceive others with half-truths. In their eyes, the sins of omission and commission were equally heinous. If a clerk gave us too much change, we returned it. If we had something to sell, we gave full disclosure of it value and condition. We respected other peoples’ property and never took anything that didn’t belong to us.  

At the same time, we observed that our father adopted a double standard when it came to his relationship to the Sheet & Tube. Like his peers, he occasionally carried out items like nails, tools, flashlights, and small electric components in his lunch box or his coat pockets at the end of a shift. We often saw such items on his work bench in the basement. When questioned about his contradictory behavior, he offered no explanations, except to say that everyone did it. Mother strongly disapproved of his thievery and worried that if apprehended he might lose both his job and his reputation. He downplayed her fears and assured her that he never took anything of great value.  

After dad died, Bruce and I were in the basement looking over the work bench to see if there were any personal items that we wanted to take. The light bulb over the work bench was burned out but dad had a drawer full of new bulbs handy for replacements. As we talked, Bruce attempted to screw the new bulb into the socket without success. Examining the bulb more closely, he discovered that it had reverse threads, a product of the Sheet & Tube designed so that it could not be used outside the mill. As we pondered why dad would bother to pilfer such useless bulbs, we soon found our answer. Another drawer contained sockets that he intended to install in the basement to accommodate the reverse thread bulbs!  

We never emulated this aspect of parental behavior, but it did influence our passive acceptance of Youngstown’s double standard. We saw many good, kind, and generous people who functioned in the same way as our parents and it was impossible to view them as criminals and lawbreakers. While not approving their behavior, we tended to dismiss it as inconsequential in the wider context of Youngstown’s gangster culture. Rather than being shocked or offended, we were amused at the ingenuity of mill workers who managed to remove items such as step ladders and toilets without being observed by plant police. Even today, as I use a Sheet & Tube shovel to do yard work, I experience twinges of nostalgia rather than guilt when I think about its origins.     

Although Youngstown played a major role in shaping our perspectives on corporate life, it was secondary to the influence of Scotland on our core values and self- identities. Not until I went to Scotland as a graduate student did I realized how much ethnicity had influenced my character formation. Despite an American accent and “Yankee” idiosyncrasies, I was more familiar with Scottish folkways than most Scots whom I met at the University of Glasgow. I knew more Scottish sayings, could sing more Scottish songs, and was familiar with more Scottish traditions than many of my fellow students. At a deeper level, I shared prominent character traits that framed their national identity.                                      

           Unlike many immigrant cohorts, Scots experienced little discrimination in their adopted country. Fluency in English, a high level of education, exceptional professional skills, and close identification with mainstream American Protestantism facilitated their cultural adaptation. As one Scot expressed it, “Being Scottish carries no baggage. Telling people that you are Scottish…softens them up. Nobody has a negative thought about Scotland, which they certainly do about England or Ireland.”[2] Indeed, our parents never considered themselves to be foreigners. That designation they applied to non-English speaking immigrants (primarily Catholic) who tended to huddle together in tight-knit neighborhoods for mutual protection and social interaction. As a teenager, Bruce challenged dad when he referred to negative traits of “foreigners” by reminding him that he came over on a “cattle boat” and went through Ellis Island like every other emigrant. While acknowledging a modicum of truth to Bruce’s assertion, dad remained adamant that his Scottish heritage put him in a different class from those of non-English speaking countries.     

 While we observed the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln at school, at home we also did homage to the birthday of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet. We gave thanks, ate turkey, and watched football on Thanksgiving Day, but our most spirited outpouring of gratitude and celebration came on Hogmany when we ushered in the New Year in traditional Scottish fashion. We responded to the Fourth of July with patriotic fervor by flying flags, watching parades, and setting off fireworks. Yet the 11th of July was also an important event on our cultural calendar. On that date in 1690, the Protestant King William defeated James Stuart, the Catholic pretender to the throne of England and Scotland. In short, our credo was “America first but Scotland forever.”  

Our closest family friends were expatriate Scots who came seeking employment in the Mahoning Valley. Most had family roots in Lanarkshire and some had been family friends and acquaintances in Scotland. We viewed these Scottish couples and their children such as the Carnies, Dunns, McGregors, McCulleys, McLeans, and MacNaughtons as extended family. Not having any close relatives in this country, we regarded them as surrogate aunts, uncles, and cousins. We were frequent guests in their homes and they often visited our abode. While adults played cards, chatted about current events, or reminisced about “the old country,” children played games, read Scottish comic books and magazines, and salivated in anticipation of a serving of delicious scones, tasty biscuits, and  brisk cups of tea.  

Growing up in this Scottish sub-culture, we learned two definitions for the word “home.” One meant 338 E. Indianola Avenue in Youngstown, Ohio. But another definition referred to the homeland of our parents across the Atlantic Ocean. When Scots talked about “going home,” we instinctively knew they meant Scotland, not Youngstown. They spoke with pride about the beauty of the land, the accomplishments of its inhabitants, and the vibrancy of its culture. Their stories linked us vicariously to a country that we had never seen but had envisioned in our minds. If scholars ever located the original Garden of Eden, we were certain that it would be in Scotland, and that Adam and Eve originally spoke broad Scots not Aramaic or some cognate language as some as biblical scholars surmised. Indeed, the lilting Scottish accents that surrounded us at home and among family friends evoked feelings of comfort and kinship and gave us roots amidst our world of social diversity.  

Robert Burns Scottish Poet


In our household, the poetry of Robert Burns enjoyed the status of biblical authority. A tartan covered collection of Burns’ writings enjoyed a place of prominence in our living room that most families afforded to the family Bible. On many occasions we sat enthralled as our father read or recited his favorite passages from the Scottish bard such as “A Cottars Saturday Night,” “The Twa Dugs,” “A Man’s a Man for A’ That,” and “To a Mouse.”  Invariably he ended with one or both of these lines: “When Scotland forgets Burns, the world will forget Scotland,” and “An Honest Man’s the noblest work of God–Rabbie Burns was an honest man.”  In retrospect, I think dad identified with Burns as a commoner who despised the formalism, narrow-mindedness, and legalism that castigated sins of the lower classes such as drunkenness and sexual immorality but left untouched upper class evils of injustice and hypocrisy. Burns also provided an outlet for the strain of suppressed romanticism that characterizes Scots more than outsiders realize. In poetry Burns expressed what Scots people wanted to say about their country and themselves but lacked the verbal skills and temperament to do so.  

Dad attained “professional” status as a Burns authority when he substituted for a Burns’ Night speaker who canceled at the last moment. According to those who heard his initial presentation, John was an effective, interesting, and impassioned speaker whose love for Burns adequately compensated for any deficiencies in public speaking. To his surprise and pleasure, Burns groups in other cities invited him to speak at their annual celebrations. Although his talks had different titles, their themes were predictably the same. Burns was not a libertine or a non-believer, but rather a respectable, pietistic, and patriotic Scottish saint. Dad once asked me to critique a draft of a speech that he planned to deliver at an upcoming Burns Supper. Nothing seemed amiss until I encountered a sentence that concluded “not even the words of Jesus Christ himself in the Sermon on the Mount can match the eternal eloquence of the Scottish Bard, Robert Burns.” Tactfully I suggested that people might take offense at his comparison of Jesus and Burns. In defense he responded, “But what I say about Burns is true!” Eventually he agreed to soften his language, more to placate his ministerial son, than to admit having overestimated the eloquence of Burns’ poetry.  

Along with poetry and other Scottish literature, we absorbed Scottish culture through the medium of music. Our parents sang Scottish songs and lullabies when we were little. One I remember started, “Shu shaggie, o’r the glen, mammies pet and daddies hen.” Later they played Scottish records and tapes featuring such artists as Harry Lauder, Jimmy Shand, and Kenneth McKeller. We all remembered the lyrics of “A wee doch and doris,” “Keep right on to the end of the road,” “Roamin’ in the Glomin,” and “We’re no awa’ ta’ bide awa.” Music based on Burns’s poetry included, “My Love is like a Red, Red, Rose,” “Scots Wha Hae wi’ Wallace Bled,” and “Annie Laurie.” Dad learned how to play a melodeon, often accompanying me on the piano or performing solos. Others may have been more skillful musicians, but none played with more enthusiasm and sheer enjoyment.  

In particular, Lauder’s song, “Keep right on to the end of the road,” made a deep impression on me. Written following the death of his son who was killed in France during World War One, the song functioned as a lyrical counterpart to the traditional story of King Robert the Bruce who was inspired by the persistence of a spider spinning its web. Life is full of adversities and unexpected hardships, but they must be confronted positively and forcefully. Self-pity accomplishes nothing. Despite personal setbacks, you must be strong and persevere. “Be a Man!” was dad’s injunction when we (Bruce and I) encountered obstacles in life. His enjoinder echoed Lauder, “Though you may be weary and the road dark and dreary, you must keep on to the end of the road.”  

When I took piano lessons, my parents injected Scottish melodies into my practice routine. One evening I was playing the martial tune, “Scots Wha’ Hae Wi’ Wallace Bled,” while my father listened attentively as he shaved in the bathroom. Suddenly he appeared by my side, his face lathered with shaving cream, straight razor in hand, gesturing animatedly. My timing was technically correct, he informed me, but I was not playing the tune with sufficient emotion and feeling. With tears running down his cheeks, he related how as a boy he traveled with a group of fellow students by horse and cart to the Wallace Monument in Stirling, the site of the Battle of Bannockburn. On that sacred ground, he and his classmates sang this song. Hovering over the piano, he boomed out the lyrics, as I played again, this time “with sufficient emotion and feeling.”  

 Scottish music took on increased significance when Ida Mae joined the Heather Highlanders Pipe Band, a group organized by master piper Ian McCallum shortly after the end of World War II. Listening to Ida learn to play the chanter was manageable, but being subjected to the ear shattering cacophony of sounds emanating from the bagpipes within the confines of a small home was akin to torture. We were always relieved when spring came and Ida could practice outside. With determination and hard work, Ida became a skilled piper and a leader in the band. Our parents were proud that her musical talents showcased our Scottish heritage and generated interest in Scotland throughout the Mahoning Valley.                                                                                           

Our parents also inculcated an interest in things Scottish by relating stories about their upbringing in Motherwell and Bellshill including incidents relating to our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Both our mother and father were great story tellers who had the ability to paint verbal pictures that captured our imagination and brought to life people we knew only in faded black and white photographs. Often humorous, sometimes sad, but always colorful, their stories aroused our curiosity about their native land and created a desire one day go “home” to Scotland. I have incorporated many of their stories into the narrative that follows.  

Our daily diets were shaped by parental preferences for Scottish cuisine, a term which non-Scots refer to as an oxymoron. Porridge, scones, kippered herring, steak and kidney pies, sausage and eggs, fish and chips, barley stock soup, and a limited range of vegetables that included cabbage, rhoudebaga, and cauliflower frequently graced our tables. “Rare” meat was not an option on our family menus. It was stewed, fried or baked well done. On special occasions we had Scottish delicacies such as haggis, cloutie dumpling, empire biscuits, and trifle. Rarely did our mother venture into the arena of non-Scottish ethnic foods. Her most memorable effort was to make Italian spaghetti ala-Scotinni, a retrospective title given by Bruce. She placed a mixture of dry spaghetti, canned tomatoes, and other secret ingredients into a casserole dish, covered it with a cloth, and placed it on top of the coal furnace to bake slowly for hours on end. (Obviously this dish was available only in winter.) The finished product, a congealed glob of pasta topped with a hard crust, could be penetrated only with a sharp knife or a ball-peen hammer. We grew up wondering why Italians had such a craving for pasta and why they flocked to Italian restaurants.  

Beyond family ties we had ethnic links through various Scottish fraternal and sorority organizations that flourished in Youngstown during the 1930s and 1940s. As children, we waited patiently outside closed doors while lodge members performed “secret rites” available only to adults. Later in the evening we were avid spectators at public ceremonies where men dressed in the kilt and women decked out in long dresses and plaid sashes, marched and danced to the sprightly tunes of skilled pipers. We were also eager participants in the gala repasts of traditional Scottish food that followed and enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with family friends.  

At Christmas, Scottish lodges held parties for children where we played games, sang Christmas carols, and did some simple Scottish folk dances. I still remember the lyrics to my favorite:  “The Grand Old Duke of York, He had ten thousand men. He marched them up to the top of the hill and marched them down again.” Often times pipers played and young men and women entertained with Highland dances. I especially enjoyed watching the energetic Sword Dance where performers executed intricate steps by deftly moving between two cross swords laid out on the floor. The high point of the evening came when Santa Claus arrived to give us a small present, usually an inexpensive toy or a book. That Santa spoke with a Scottish accent caused us no concern. We were told that he was one of Santa’s helpers on loan from Scotland.  

During the summer months Scottish societies held picnics in local parks where children played games, went on hikes, and competed in races. One of the largest events was the annual Coatbridge-Airdrie Reunion held at the Slippery Rock Pavilion in Mill Creek Park. Following an afternoon of fun and games, we enjoyed a sumptuous picnic supper that featured both American and Scottish cuisine including hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, scones, meat pies, and shortbread. After dinner, adults pushed aside tables and benches and commenced an evening of colorful Scottish country dancing. Our father, who was an accomplished dancer, loved to show off his dexterity and finesse while our mother was more restrained in her participation. The resonating bagpipe music and hoots and hollers of the dancers attracted a crowd of bystanders who watched the ethnic display from the roadside.  

As a child, I had no idea why the event was called the Coatbridge-Airdrie Reunion. In college I learned that they were two contiguous industrial towns in the vicinity of Glasgow noted for their long histories of Protestant-Catholic strife. Many Scottish immigrants from Coatbridge, Airdrie, and surrounding areas had settled in the Mahoning Valley. Religious tensions that existed in the old country lost much of their significance in the United States as Scots banded together to celebrate common ethnic roots. Despite memories of religious strife, expatriate Scots of different religious persuasions enjoyed an evening together without rancor or conflict.  

Beyond these associations, broader cultural influences shaped our outlooks on life. Most deeply instilled in our psyches was an emphasis placed on work as the well spring of human dignity and self-esteem. Our parents were products of the Protestant work ethic derived from the theology of John Calvin and transmitted to Scotland by reformers such as John Knox and Andrew Melville. According to Calvin, Christians are called to glorify God “in the fidelity to the duties of one’s daily work.” In essence, the work ethic elevated every life task to a calling through which individuals served God and humanity. Every vocation was equally valuable in the eyes of God whether it be bricklayer, farmer, merchant, teacher, house wife, domestic servant, poet, or minister. Over the centuries this doctrine lost much of its theological content, but it persisted in a semi-secularized form that provided Scots with a foundational life purpose.[3]  

The work ethic generated a search for self-realization through deed and achievement rather than contemplation and reliance on personal feelings. In the long run, it is DOING, not BEING that produces a satisfying and fulfilling human existence. Many traditional Scottish sayings extol work as a means of confirming one’s self worth and purpose in life. They echoed the pithy wisdom of Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac who advised his readers: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Their Scottish counterparts included: “God made the back for burden;” “Dinnae jist sit there: dae something;” “The Devil finds work for idle hands;” and “If ye faa asleep durin the day, dinnae complain if ye wake up deid.” One of our father’s favorite expressions was, “It is better to burn out than to rust out.” On many occasions he reminded us that it was not who you were or who your ancestors had been, but what you accomplished in life that really mattered.  

But our parents modeled work as much by example as by word. They rose early, worked hard, and possessed remarkable stamina. Mother functioned as child nurturer, housekeeper, and financial manager. She prepared three meals a day and did all the grocery shopping. When various fruits and vegetables were in season, she canned them in large quantities so that we could consume them during the long Ohio winters. During World War Two, she worked for a time as laborer in the steel mill and later as an employee in a local winery and staff member in our high school cafeteria. In her “spare” time, she ironed and mended clothes while she listened to her favorite soap operas on the radio. Above all, she was always there when we needed help, encouragement, or discipline.  

Father worked as a bricklayer in the steel mill six and often seven days a week. Many jobs were hot, dirty, and dangerous, but he rarely complained about working conditions. When offered extra eight-hour shifts (doublers), he always accepted and never failed to make it to work the next morning. When working day shift, he frequently took on extra bricklaying jobs after leaving the plant. On those occasions, he deferred dinner until 9 or 10 P.M. In the summer, he used most of his two-week vacation laying brick on outside jobs or doing major maintenance and repair projects around the house.  

Even when disabled by injury, he resisted idleness. While moving a heavy steel bar with the help of a crane, the cable slipped and the bar fell on the top of his foot. With his foot in a cast and forced to maneuver on crutches, he was unable to work for about six weeks The injury did not stop him from driving the car (which was a standard shift) or from tackling a major remodeling project, building two rooms and a study area in our unfinished attic. He needed help getting materials upstairs, but once they were in place he did all the framing, sheet rocking, and painting while on crutches. He devised a wooden prop to hold fiberboard ceiling sections in place so that he could apply the nails while he rested his injured leg on a chair. By the time he went back to work, the upstairs was basically finished.  

Work had a qualitative dimension as well as a quantitative aspect. Our efforts had to be accompanied by a commitment to complete tasks promptly, efficiently, and, most importantly, to the best of our abilities. “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well,” and “Never leave a job half done,” “Good better, best, never let them rest, until your good is better and your better is your best,” were common household expressions. Boredom, fatigue, or minor aches and pains were not acceptable excuses to abandon or do substandard work. Even routine household duties required our best effort. If we scrubbed the floor, we did it thoroughly.  If we dusted furniture, we did it evenly. If we mowed the grass, trimmed the bushes, or weeded the garden, we did it carefully. To be deemed lazy or careless was a severe blow to our egos. We did not receive pay for doing household chores nor did we expect compensation. Our reward came in approbation from our parents and self-respect derived from a job well done.  

While working with my father on small bricklaying jobs, I observed his meticulous planning and his pride in the finished products. One particular job stands out in my mind. He had agreed to build a cement block garage for a man who advised that he would have the footer (foundation) in place and a box of mortar ready for our arrival. Father took one look at the footer and said that it was not adequate to support the garage. Confident of his handiwork, the man asserted that he would take responsibility for the footer and would not hold my father accountable if the garage had any flaws. With a batch of mortar already mixed and blocks lined up ready to be laid, he was anxious to get started. Unwilling to work under such conditions, dad walked off the job, leaving a mixer full of cement and a disappointed client. By the time we arrived home, the man had called to say that he was willing to start over on father’s terms. We returned the following evening, tore out the footer, laid a new one, and built a sturdy two-car garage.  

Another premise of the work ethic was that significant achievements could not be obtained without discipline and sacrifice. By definition, an easy task lacked merit. This assumption is emphasized in numerous Scottish sayings such as, “Nothin is got without pain but an ill name an lang nails;” and “If it didnae hurt it wiznae worth daein.” When we were tempted to quit in the midst of a difficult task, our parents encouraged us to keep going until we had overcome the obstacles and completed the assignment. When we occasionally failed to follow through, they did not punish us psychologically by dwelling on past shortcomings. The subject never came up in future conversations. They continued to encourage us to always do our best.  

John Calvin Reformer


The work ethic also fostered an impulse toward self-improvement. Echoing the dictum of John Calvin, “The tongue without the mind is displeasing to God,” our parents emphasized the importance of education in building awareness of the world in which we lived and of opening opportunities for a variety of vocations. Like many immigrant parents, they realized that education was an essential element in achieving success in life. From our earliest days we were encouraged to do well in school. After dinner, they sat down with us at the dining room table and went over our homework to ensure that it was done completely and accurately. If they were not satisfied, we had to do it over again. If one of us finished before the other, he/she had to sit quietly and read until the other was done. Beyond monitoring our homework, our parents regularly attended Parents-Teachers Association meetings and consulted with our teachers individually when we had academic problems. In grade school I brought home a report card that had A’s in deportment and in all subjects except arithmetic which was a C. My father came to school and sat in the back of the class so that he could better understand how to help me. It made a great impression on the class and the teacher who was delighted to have a visit from such a charming and supportive parent.  

While acknowledging the importance of self-improvement, our parents stressed the need to maintain a sense of balance and not think too highly of ourselves no matter how successful we were in life. This quality is expressed in the Scots sayings, “We are all Jock Tamson’s bairns [children],” “Yir nae better than ye should be,” and “O, wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!” Self praise or flaunting of wealth or status was anathema in the Scottish community. Our parents never boasted about their own abilities or accomplishments. It was other Scots who told us that our father was a highly regarded craftsman and that our mother was a respected leader in the Scottish lodges.  

An important corollary of the work ethic was its emphasis on individual responsibility. While acknowledging the existence of peer pressure and wider societal influences on our lives, our parents emphasized that ultimately we were responsible for our actions and decisions. To say that someone “made you do it” or “told you to do it” were not acceptable excuses for unwise actions or misbehavior. You always had the choice to walk away or do something different when tempted to do wrong. How many times we heard our parents say, “If someone told you to stick your head in the furnace, would you do so?” That always ended our protestations that someone else was responsible for what we had or had not done.    

Despite its positive values, the work ethic had some negative aspects that limited its efficacy for determining self-worth. When opportunities for work are unavailable or in short supply, people like our parents suffered from feelings of impotence and guilt for not fulfilling their vocations. This was especially true during the Depression of the 1930s when they were unable to work and had to rely on the help of family, friends, and local charities to survive. The work ethic also drives one to look outward rather than inward in order to attain a measure of self-esteem. Such qualities as inner peace and sensitivity to feelings are often given short shrift when deciding what is important in life. Moreover, in a society where people are living longer and retiring earlier, the practice of linking self-worth to vocational calling has a diminishing relevance. It also creates a problem for people whose jobs are perceived as lacking meaningful purpose or importance. When a person detests his/her job and can find no viable alternative, appeals to religious dimensions of work resonate of unreality.  

It is also extremely difficult to incorporate a theology of leisure into an ethic rooted in work where idleness is viewed as sinful. If work is at the heart of our calling, then time spent away from our central task diminishes rather than enhances our sense of self-worth. Instead of providing relaxation and rejuvenation, leisure can evoke a sense of guilt, unease, and frustration. Our parents wrestled with this problem throughout their lives and their angst rubbed off on us. Although they occasionally enjoyed extended vacations in later life, during most of their adulthood they were deeply absorbed in work.  

British biologist and philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) projected a theory of biological evolution referred to as Social Darwinism and popularized by the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Speaking to a group of American business, military, and social executives in New York in 1882, Spencer criticized Americans for having a pathological obsession about work. According to Spencer, Americans were endangering their mental and physical health through overwork. He challenged Americans to revise their ideal of life and urged them to cultivate a gospel of relaxation. “Life is not for learning, nor is life for working,” he concluded, “learning and working are for life.”[4] Another writer, James Patterson, a former advertising mogul who now writes best-selling mystery fiction, urged readers to think of life as a game in which we juggle five balls labeled Work, Family, Health, Friends and Integrity. “One day you understand Work is a rubber ball. You drop it and it bounces back. The other four balls are made of glass. Drop one of those, and it will be irrevocably marked, scuffed, nicked and maybe even shattered.”[5]  

The work ethic represented only one facet of our religious upbringing. We were greatly influenced by other aspects of Calvinistic theology derived from our parents’ upbringing. Both were products of a moderate Calvinism described by one Scottish minister in 1919 as “the dim and instinctive theism which is the working faith of perhaps the majority of the youth of this nation.”[6]  Our parents believed in a benevolent, loving, and forgiving Deity who surrounded our lives with providential care. At the same time, they acknowledged that God’s will was beyond human understanding and His dealings with humans were shrouded in mystery. They frequently prefaced their future plans with the caveat, “If I’m spared.” “If I’m spared, next year I will go to Scotland.” “If I’m spared, I’ll retire in five years,” etc. Though they never formally exegeted the phrase, it reflected a commonly held belief that overshadowing our freedom to choose was an abiding element of divine control over the affairs of humankind.  

As children, we attended South United Presbyterian Church where we studied the Bible in Sunday school and worshipped as a family at the morning service. Although Jesus featured prominently in Bible lessons and sermons, at home evangelical terminology such as being born again, washed in the blood of Jesus, or dying and going to Hell was not part of our religious vocabulary. Rather, our parents oft-repeated assurance, “What’s for ye will no go by ye,”[what is for you will not go by you] stilled anxiety and evoked confidence when we pondered difficult decisions or struggled to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. If God willed it, it would happen. Yet it was not fatalism. We had a positive role to play in shaping our destinies. In short, we prayed as though everything depended on God, and worked as though everything depended on us.  

Beyond their formal Presbyterian affiliation, our parents occasionally tested the waters of marginal religious practices when prompted by special needs and concerns. Periodically our father visited a nearby small Spiritualist congregation. The Spiritualist church service consisted of hymn singing and prayers for healing followed by responses to written questions placed in the offering plate and given to the group leader. Once during the Depression, dad asked where he could find his lost eye glasses, and was told to look for them between the back of the bedroom dresser and the wall. He did so and retrieved the eyeglasses. Although mother did not attend the spiritualist Church, as an alternative she consulted Scottish friends who made predictions about the future by reading lines in your hands and interpreting the formation of tea leaves in the bottom of a cup. She also had a superstitious streak that frequently surfaced:  Friday the 13th   was an unlucky day; don’t walk under ladders; don’t put anything on top of a Bible; don’t put your shoes on the table (that foreshadows a fight); and if a black cat crosses your path, throw salt over your right shoulder or you will have bad luck. Like Bruce and Ida, I soon outgrew these superstitions but I still hesitate to put shoes on the table and instinctively flinch when I see an object placed on top of a Bible. Some legacies of childhood never entirely go away.  

            Although religion was very personal, it was also very private. As one Scotsman expressed it, “Every person’s heart and mind has a place that is guarded by a sign that says, ‘No trespassing.’” We assumed the existence of God and acknowledged the reality of evil, but giving a public testimony of faith was foreign to our upbringing. Nor did we have family devotions with Bible study and oral prayer. Our corporate religious ritual consisted of a simple grace at dinner: “God bless all the food on the table and make us truly thankful forever and ever. Amen.” As young children, we said short prayers under the watchful eye of our mother or father before going to bed at night. But as we got older, that ritual ceased and they left us to our own devices regarding a personal devotional life. By the time we reached adolescence, Sunday school and church attendance also became a matter of personal choice. In their estimation, forcing us to worship God against our wills was counterproductive and led to religious hypocrisy.     

            Their tendency not to deal openly with personal feelings extended beyond religious beliefs.  “Never say to ‘on what you wouldn’t say to ‘ony (Never say to one what you wouldn’t say to anyone) expresses a Scottish reticence to articulate personal emotions. The image of dour Scots who are unable to express their emotions or to bestow praise other than “It’s no so bad,” abounds in popular literature. To some extent, our parents were influenced by this cultural trait, especially in terms of verbalizing doubts or fears and in discussing personal problems in the presence of their children. If they had disagreements, they handled them privately. But they did praise us for work well done and on occasion displayed deep emotions. We saw our father cry when he received word of the death of his mother in Scotland and other times when he became sentimental about Scotland or had difficulty saying goodbye when we were leaving home for a period of time. Mother’s emotions surfaced more frequently than our father’s, but perhaps that was due to the fact that we had much more daily contact with her than we did with him. As we grew older, both mother and dad were more forthcoming with their feelings and confided in us regarding issues relating to health and aging. Yet they always maintained an inner sanctuary of thoughts and feelings that they deemed appropriate only to themselves and respected the right of their children to do the same thing.  

This privacy extended to politics and the secret ballot. Although we had discussions at the dinner table on a variety of topics including politics, economics, religion, race, and other issues of the day, we never knew how our parents voted at the polls. They never displayed political signs on the lawn or put identifying stickers on the car. When we asked who they voted for in the presidential election, they responded, “If we told you, it would not be a secret ballot.” As we grew older, we found it easier to infer their political loyalties. I suspect they were registered Republicans but I’m confident that they voted for Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s. We were always left with the impression that it was best to vote on the basis of the integrity of the candidates rather than the party to which they belonged. To this day, I still regard my ballot as secret. If asked by a pollster how I voted, I hearken back to the words of our parents: “If we told you, it would not be a secret ballot.”  

Products of Victorian morality, they had difficulty speaking explicitly about sexuality. Their only admonitions were to keep our private parts covered at all times in the presence of members of the opposite sex. We knew little about their dual function as reproductive and relief organs. Sexual humor and double entendres were not part of family conversations. Even among their peers, our parents were uneasy when the subject of sex was raised. One of my father’s co-workers in the mill told me, “Scotty [my dad] likes to hear jokes, but when someone starts telling a dirty [read sexual] story, he always walks away.” Lessons about “the birds and the bees” that we received during adolescence came not from our parents but from friends and older siblings. Bruce derived his formal sex education in the Navy largely through films depicting the dangers of venereal disease. At my father’s initiative, he conveyed these insights in modified form to me during an extended one-sided conversation. Later, at the request of our mother, Bruce’s wife, Mary Ann, counseled Ida regarding physical and psychological aspects of sex shortly before her upcoming marriage.  

            Despite reticence to talk about inmost thoughts and feelings, both parents were gregarious and outgoing in other ways. They had a keen sense of humor and enjoyed hearing and telling funny stories. They laughed loud and long at their favorite radio comedians such as Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Amos and Andy and enjoyed the comic section of the local newspaper. Our mother did most of her story telling at home, but our father was always the life of the party at social events, regaling people with Scottish sayings and witty remarks. He also liked to sing humorous songs whenever he had a receptive audience. Our favorite was “Paddy McGinty’s Goat,” a shaggy dog song with numerous stanzas, some traditional and some improvised.  

But more importantly, they were sufficiently secure to be able to laugh at themselves when they made mistakes or committed a social faux pax. They often regaled us with such stories that many parents never shared with their children. Perhaps it was that trait that made them more forgiving when we did the same types of things. These qualities belied caricatures of dour Scots who found little humor in life and no toleration for those who did. Either by genetics or osmosis Bruce, Ida, and I were expressive individuals noted for our quick wit and sense of humor.  

             Frugality, another highly exalted virtue in our household, had its roots in our parents’ Scottish upbringings. Their native thrift can be traced back to generations of Scots raised in poverty who were inordinately grateful for small things and careful with what they had. It has been said that poverty is the first fact in the history of Scotland. As one writer expressed it, “When times are hard the Scots are better prepared for them than most of us, for a life of hardship is never buried too deep in the Scottish memory.”[7] Our parents reinforced their oft repeated maxim, “Waste not, want not,” with apt behavior. Rarely did we discard food that was still edible or discard an item without extracting any part that might possibly have future use. When working with old lumber, our father always salvaged nails, meticulously straightening them for future use. At an early age we learned the difference between want and need. Food, shelter, and clothing fell under the second category bound together by a commonality of simplicity and affordability. Everything not related to work or medical expenses belonged to the first category. When their friends over spent on luxury items and lacked necessities, our parents would say, “They have a champagne stomach and a beer pocket book.”  

  But their frugality was exceeded only by their generosity. Even during hard times, our parents met our basic needs, often sacrificing their own creature comforts to do so. They did their best to supply our wants, when they had money available. When we asked for something they thought was too expensive or inappropriate, they gently explained why we could not have it. Instant gratification was not a way of life in our household. We learned to defer our wishes until the time came when they could be fulfilled. In the meantime, we did with what we had, knowing that our parents were not being mean but only living within their means.  

While outwardly hopeful and positive people, Scots had a side to their character that hung like a dark cloud over everyday life. According to an old Scots saying, “It’s good to dread the worst, for the best will be all the more welcome.” Even when things were going well, we were reminded that misfortune might well be around the corner. “For every summer morning, there is a winter nicht tae come.” Comment on beautiful weather and you are apt to get the response, “Aye, but we’ll pay for it later.” On numerous occasions at dinner our father would say, “Eat up, enjoy your food while we have it. You never know what tomorrow may bring.” This was said not to frighten us, but to remind us that life was full of uncertainties and we needed to be prepared to deal with them.  

In similar fashion, injunctions such as “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve,” and “Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed,” often dampened youthful exuberance and spontaneity. Although their advice was designed to spare us from emotional turmoil and distress, it made it difficult for us to develop a confident outlook on life. Fortunately, when we experienced set backs and convoluted personal relationships, they listened with sympathetic ears and did their best to offer comfort and advice.  

            In many ways, our parents were products of their time who shared prejudices regarding racial, religious, and gender issues commonly held by their white middle-class peers. They viewed Negroes (this was the polite term then in use), and to a lesser extent Hispanics, to be inferior members of society and accepted the de-facto segregation that existed in Youngstown. Their views were reinforced by their almost exclusive association with poor, uneducated, working class Blacks whom they met in the steel mills or mingled with while shopping downtown on East Federal Street. Although the Ku-Klux-Klan was active in the area during the 1920s and 1930s, our parents never joined the organization or condoned its fanatical racism. Indeed, we were taught never to use derogatory terms when referring to Negroes and to treat them with courtesy and respect in any social interactions that occurred.  

            Our father was highly regarded by African Americans in the Sheet & Tube as a supervisor who treated workers fairly regardless of their race or religion. Two of his most trusted Black laborers, Ashley and Bob, had keys to the labor shanty, access to tools and supplies, and the freedom to work on assigned tasks without constant supervision. Outside of the mill, dad did brick jobs for Black churches pro bono and collected used clothing and other items for needy people in their congregations. When he died, there was an outpouring of sympathy from his cohort of Black acquaintances who expressed their appreciation for his many kindnesses to them over the years.  

            By the time we reached college age, we began to question their stance on racial segregation and engaged in some interesting discussions in which Bruce was the most vocal and persuasive participant. Our parents gradually shifted ground on their position, acknowledging that blacks who had secured an education and attained social status deserved acknowledgement and respect. Nevertheless, they remained adamant that genetic differences existed between the races and precluded full acceptance into white society.  

            They also articulated a deeply engrained anti-Catholic bias that was rooted in their experience in Scotland as children, adolescents, and adults.  Growing up in an era when animosity between Protestant and Catholic in Scotland had both religious and economic overtones, they viewed Catholicism, especially the Papacy, as an unenlightened and potentially subversive religion They related stories of street fights in Scotland between Protestants and Catholics and talked about how American Catholics had an allegiance to their church that transcended their commitment to the United States. The priesthood told the people how to vote and ruled their lives with an iron fist. One of our mother’s favorite expressions for a priest was “Father Chewing Tobacco,” the origin of which I have no knowledge, except that it had a derogatory connotation. Their attitude is reflected in the joke about a Scotsman who said, “Two things I abhor: Religious intolerance and Roman Catholicism”            

In spite of these religious prejudices, our parents related well to Roman Catholics on a personal level as friends, neighbors, and fellow workers. They directed their anti-Catholicism more at the institution than at individual Catholics. We were taught to be respectful to all people whatever their religion or race. Because we mixed daily on a friendly basis with Roman Catholics at school, our parents’ anti-Catholicism had little relevance to our everyday lives until we reached adolescence. They did not want us to date Roman Catholics or anyone else whose families were affiliated with religious traditions outside of mainstream Protestantism. Nevertheless, when Bruce married a Roman Catholic, they embraced her as their daughter-in-law and her family as good friends.  

We received mixed messages from our parents in regard to the status of Jews. On the one hand, we learned that Jesus was a Jew and that much of our holy scripture was written by Jews. They were God’s chosen people and figures like Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon received approbation for their faithfulness to Jehovah and the covenant tradition. On the other hand, we were told that the Jews called for the death of Jesus and demanded his crucifixion. We also heard talk about wealthy Jews who controlled the entertainment, banking, and other major economic industries and used their inordinate power and wealth to control political decisions. But because of their foundational role in Christianity and their white skin, they were afforded respect as valuable members of the civic community. If they faced residential segregation, we were not aware of such discrimination.  

Regarding gender roles, our parents modeled and modified what they had experienced growing up in Scotland. “Women’s place is in the home,” and “The man is the breadwinner” simplifies and summarizes their personal philosophies. Both possessed strength of character, however, to step outside traditional roles when circumstances warranted it. They made major decisions jointly with our mother having more influence than what appeared on the surface. Her insights carried considerable weight when dealing with childrearing, household improvements, and financial arrangements. Mother worked outside the home from time to time in order to earn extra income and to cultivate an identity outside that of housewife despite expressions of displeasure from our father. At the same time, he undertook the role of nanny in her absence in a kindly and thoughtful manner. The image of our father donning an apron and tackling the dinner dishes is still vivid in my memory. In an era when most men disdained housework, he scrubbed floors, washed dishes, and ran the sweeper. “Any honest work is noble,” he told us.  

Their perceptions of gender roles carried over into the way in which they raised their children. According to Scottish custom, the oldest son had certain privileges and responsibilities due to his gender and birth order. Bruce was considered to be the family standard bearer, the future “laird of the clan” who would eventually fill the role of surrogate parent. Even as a child he was expected to be the “man of the house” when our father was working on jobs in other cities. Conversely, he was given considerable freedom concerning work and social activities. As a teenager, he used income generated from part-time jobs to buy his own clothes and spend on entertainment. Our parents assumed his maturity and rarely questioned where he went or what he did. As an adult, his opinion carried considerable weight with our parents.  On numerous occasions, they sought Bruce’s advice regarding financial, parental, and vocational decisions.  

As second son and middle child, I had a decidedly different relationship with my parents. Five years younger than Bruce, our circle of friends had little overlap. When they did, I was a spectator rather than a participant. Although I had considerable freedom of movement, my parents monitored my activities much more closely than those of Bruce. Because Ida and I were so close in age, they expected me to include her in my neighborhood activities. As a result, I stayed close to home during my childhood and early adolescence and was “mothered” much more than Bruce at the same age. For whatever reason, I lacked the confidence and aggressiveness of Bruce and tended to be shy in the presence of adults and in unfamiliar social situations. Being identified as “little Bruce” and having all my accomplishments viewed in comparison with an outstanding older brother, likely had an impact on my emerging self-image.  

Ida Mae had a quite different experience from that of her two brothers. Given their Victorian outlook on sexual mores, our parents kept Ida on a much shorter leash than their two sons. As a child she was closely supervised and not allowed to wander from home unless accompanied by her brothers or other responsible persons. They also expected her to spend considerable time in the kitchen close to our mother where she could learn domestic skills that would be needed later in married life. As a result, Ida had many more conflicts with mother than either Bruce or I.  At the same time, as she moved into adolescence, Ida came to understand and appreciate mother in ways unknown to her sons. To her credit, Ida had an independent streak that rebelled against sexual stereotyping and enabled her to become her own person. Nevertheless, she was not driven to excel in high school (probably a way of establishing her independence from her two achieving brothers) and did not receive encouragement from our parents to seek a college education. Ida related that she had been offered a scholarship at the College of Wooster because of her bag pipe playing talents but turned it down when dad disapproved. Ida Mae must have inherited her mother’s genes because she mirrored so many of the same traits—a combination of caring and assertiveness that revealed the qualities of strength of character and sensitivity to the needs of others.  

Despite their cultural and educational limitations, our parents were intelligent, self-directed, honest, industrious, good hearted and above all, loving people. They had a wide circle of friends who held them in esteem and affection and they exhibited qualities of leadership in vocational, social, and civic contexts. While they were not afraid to speak their minds, they knew when to hold their tongues. They cast long shadows on our lives. Never did they intentionally do us any harm. Whatever their shortcomings as parents, they were not the result of willful neglect or carelessness. At heart, they were two good people who did their best to give their children opportunities for a better life. Through their words and actions they imbued us with a sense of love and support that sustained and nourished us throughout our lives.  

Bruce succinctly summed up our parental relationship when he wrote, “I don’t remember a lot of hugging and kissing, but I do remember being secure and loved. It just wasn’t something that we talked about, but we knew it nevertheless. Perhaps that is better than constant verbal reinforcement.” In a Valentine’s Day letter to mom and dad in 1962, Ida closed her comments with these words:  “Let me put my feelings into one thought. If once again God had said, ‘John and Azile Brackenridge are waiting for their child to be born, who wants to go?’ I’d be the first in line!”  Echoing my siblings, I am deeply grateful for my childhood home environment.  It saddens me when I read stories of individuals who were abused, ignored, badgered, or humiliated by their parents. Our home was a haven of acceptance where despite our shortcomings we were unconditionally loved. Even now, when visiting Youngstown, I find time to drive down Indianola Avenue for a glimpse of the old family homestead. On each occasion, I am engulfed in a flood of pleasant memories, warm feelings, and happy thoughts. In a world of constant change, they are permanently etched in my heart and mind. Bruce, Ida, and I were truly blessed.             

338 E Indianola Avenue















           1. James Merrill, A Different Person (New York, 1995).  

[2] Kenny MacAskill and Henry McLeish, Global Scots: Voices From Afar (Edinburgh, 2005): 201. Although dealing with contemporary immigrants, this is a very useful book in understanding Scottish character.  

[3] There are many interpretations of the so-called work ethic. One that I have found useful is Georgia Harkness, John Calvin: The Man and His Ethics (Nashville, 1958), Chapter IX.  

[4] Steven Shapin, “Man with a Plan,” The New Yorker, 13 August 2007: 75.  

[5]  Harry Hurt III, “Two Paths for the Aspiring Alpha Female,” The New York Times, 17 February 2008,-7.  

[6] Cited in T. C. Smoot, A Century of the Scottish People: 183-1950 (London, 1986):184.  

            [7]  Rathbone, Belinda. The Guynd: A Scottish Journal. (New York, 2007), 153-54.This is the story of an American woman who marries a Scot who is the laird or owner of a decaying estate in northeast Scotland. Her tale of how the estate is an integral part of her husband’s identity and how she labored with him to restore it, provides interesting insight into some basic aspects of Scottish character from an outsider’s perspective. It is any easy and enjoyable read but one with a sad and unresolved ending.

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