I read an article earlier on a news website, speaking of how fewer and fewer Americans are self-identifying as middle class. When I was coming up here in these mountains, my mother's family were for the most part rural people, farmers really. My grandfather supplemented his income by driving a produce delivery truck at one time, and in his later years he was a custodian at a high school and at times a school bus driver. He and my grandmother sold milk, buttermilk, eggs, and butter to people who lived "in town", town being the two Bluefields, Virginia and West Virginia. They worked long, hard hours, growing almost all of their own food and supplementing their income through the sale of livestock, sheep and piglets. They raised cows, chickens, hogs, and sheep. They grew oats and feed corn, had fruit trees, made molasses from cane they grew, harvested honey and berries,
My father was born in Bluefield, WV, but the family moved to Richlands, Va., my hometown when he was very young, I want to say 7. His father worked for N&W RR. He was the third of eight children and they were not rich, perhaps middle class but not rich. My grandmother kept house, supervised the collective gardening by the children, and was a seamstress. My grandfather was away from home a great deal, and the looking after of their milk cow and chickens were her responsibility as well.
Both families were hard-working, and achieved much through their labors and ethics. I am not ashamed to be from either branch of the family tree. We did not know we were not well off, we did not know we were statistically poor, below average, dipping close to the poverty line at times. Daddy worked as long as he could, then was on Social Security Disability. After my baby brother started school, Mom entered the work force, and did not retire until she was 68. We had food, clothing, and there was a family vehicle.
For the most part, though I claim 5 brothers and a sister, there were three children on the household growing up. We managed to have a happy childhood, and the "things" we did not have really did not affect us adversely, in fact I now believe the effect on our adult selves was very beneficial. On the one hand, we know how to make-do when circumstances are not ideal, but we also have an appreciation of the blessings and opportunities we encounter.
I have also been reading a great deal online recently about the question, or issue, of privilege. Specifically, white privilege in present day America and the impact on the majority of Americans who do not come from a ethnic, cultural, social or economic background that benefits from white privilege. I am not sure that I was or am underprivileged, but I definitely do not feel I am or have been the recipient of white privilege.
I carry in my heart and soul a pride in who I am, and the people and place I am a product of. There has been adversity and hardship in my life, but I do believe two things :
- Adversity and hardship in some form or fashion is a part of being human, not a curse or judgement placed upon certain people.
- It is how we approach, contend with, and learn from our adversities and hardships that mark the difference between success and failure, not how many "things" we accumulate.