Commentary: Hey, It’s Coming Down the Street

By Edward Noga

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Sometimes history repeats itself, and, just as we can learn from history, certain events repeating themselves often supply yet another lesson for our lives.

Growing up in the 1950s, summer meant a lot of things, including catching lightning bugs, walking to Borts Pool and enjoying an afternoon swim, having an evening ice cream at the Dairy Queen and sleeping outside with the neighborhood kids on some warm summer evenings.

In addition to these warm weather events, there also was the regular visit of the ice cream truck. The sound of the tinkling song coming through the loudspeaker atop the truck got louder and louder. Then you heard someone yell, “Hey! It’s coming down the street.”

The ice cream truck slowly made its way as kids pleaded and begged their parents for some spare change to buy a Push-Up or one of the other novelties sold from the side of the truck.

Not nearly as exciting, but a lot more regular, was the milkman dropping off dairy products in early morning and depositing them in the milk box just outside the back door of most homes. Those small silver boxes lined with some insulation were a part of each morning’s routine, no matter the weather.

Seasonally, an elderly gentleman pushed a large cart down our neighborhood streets and had the tools and equipment necessary to sharpen knives. Moms lined up with their cutlery to have them sharpened for their kitchen work.

As does each decade, the 1950s had its own personality marked by fewer cars, few freeways and fewer working moms. In many ways, the convenience of services brought to the home was just the way it was. We may step back now when we hear such stories and say, “Really?” But that’s the way it was.

I remember when the local library system started bookmobiles, something considered state-of-the-art. You could order a book and it would be dropped off at your school during the scheduled visits.

Recently, I had the great experience of learning about a proposal to create, equip and maintain a grocery truck that might be scheduled at various sites in our communities to serve those residents who have limited transportation and do not live near full-service grocery stores.

The Zoom meeting, sponsored by Action (Alliance for Congregational Transformation in Our Neighborhoods), had 20 community, religious and business leaders in attendance.

For sure, such endeavors are rare, complicated and in need of clear organization and publicity. In listening to the various participants, though, I felt an excitement that this could be done and that it has been done in communities as close as Canton.

Part of the discussion revolved around the various seasonal pop-up fruit and vegetable stands that dot our communities and provide local produce.There was also discussion about the various agencies, ride programs, public transportation and good neighbors who reach out to those in need of a ride for their grocery purchases.

The grocery store demographics are quite complicated in some areas. This certainly represents a change from when I was a youngster and smaller stores were in each neighborhood. Times do change.

What struck me most during the 90-minute meeting was the we-can-do-this attitude and the many expressions of cooperation to make this happen. In fact, mention was made that maybe some of our local grocery stores could become a partner.

As each person took the floor (actually got on screen), there was a notion that coordinating with other pop-ups, as we do with produce vendors, medical vans and some library systems, could provide multiple benefits to the entire community.

The theme of this column can give our childhood reaction to the ice cream vender a completely new meaning: “Hey, It’s just down the street!”

Whether it’s the 1950s or the 2020s, there are folks who lack the access to things they need. Thankfully, in every generation, there are those who step up to fill those gaps so that quality of life issues can be a part of the human experience.

We often hear comments that begin with “If we lived in a perfect world ….”  Well, we don’t live in a perfect world and every generation has had to deal with issues that remind us of our imperfections.

But every generation has had those folks who have stepped up so that more, and perhaps many, can inch toward that perfect world.

Every generation has had those think-out-of-the-box people who have said, and continue to say, “We can do this!”

Soon we might find ourselves saying, “Hey, it’s down the street.” Rest assured such visits will help to strengthen our neighborhoods and our connectedness to each other.

The sky is the limit!