13 August 2009

M, Ph.D., & G S

Please excuse the trumpet blowing, but The Project is completed (excepting some minor fine tuning), an official "title" has been granted, and a newly-minted Ph.D. ventures into the job market.

And this newly-minted doctor of philosophy doesn't come from "the elite," the moneyed, the influential. I come from the working class--laborers, miners, and factory workers.

My great-grandmother was born and raised in a tiny community in the Smokey Mountains (a genuine hillbilly, as she called herself). She married and had three children--two boys and a girl. Her oldest son, my granddad, joined the Navy and moved to the Chicago area during the war. My great-grandma, aunt, and uncle followed. I expect Grandma B wasn't feeling up to living in that mountain community alone with two young kids.

In Chicago, my granddad met my grandma, the daughter of immigrants, who was born and raised in a North Dakota hamlet just a touch south from the Canadian border. Having lost everything (even though they had little to begin with), my grandma's family moved to Chicago during the Depression.

After marrying and having four children, my grandparents moved to the Southwest because one of their boys had asthma. My grandpa worked as a laborer and as a cop. Grandma worked as an aid in an asylum.

In the Southwest, my parents met, wed, had three children, and divorced. The three of us lived with mother, who worked in a series of jobs (waitress, factory worker, and--get this--she was one of the first female security guards at a Southwestern arena). She went onto Welfare because we couldn't make it on her wages (and because my father refused to pay child support, which was a miserable $100 a month in total. He refused "on principle." He didn't want that hundred bucks going to my mom). My mother's sense of shame at being on Welfare prompted her to go back to school and obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma. She joined the Army Reserves--my mum was a WAC--and went to boot camp in SC. However, she discovered that the diploma and the Reserves experience weren't enough to get her a good job, a decent wage. She enrolled in a community college and, thanks to government grants, she became an RN. In her low wage jobs, in her studies, and in her graveyard shifts at the hospital, my mom worked herself to the bone to support us.

Even with her determination and work ethic, I hate to think where my family would be right now without the safety net of Welfare and food stamps. My mother wouldn't be an RN, nor I a Ph.D., without government grants and student loans.

Before my mother, the highest level of education my family got was junior high--they had to quit school and go to work in the fields. And if my grandad hadn't joined the Navy, who knows how things would have turned out. He spent his post-Navy life working for Chrysler, and, when that fell apart for him, he moved to the Pacific Northwest and, with his sons--my uncles--worked for Hecla Mines. Sadly, that Pacific Northwest town where my family lived is now pretty much decimated. People began moving away when the bottom fell out of the silver market in the late 70s/early 80s, and that mine essentially shut down.

The point of this: I don't come from money, and I don't come from "the elite." I come from mountain folk, laborers, and miners. Any success I have comes from their hardiness and determination, and from a government that believes people shouldn't go starving or in rags because of circumstances beyond their control, and that it should help people embrace their God-given potential.

I wish my grandparents and my great-grandma were around to share in my success, but all of them died too young (my lovely, wonderful grandma only made it to 59). They lived hardscrabble lives that ended too early. I know, however, that if they were about, each of them would be sporting, in one of my grandpa's favorite phrases, a shit-eating grin. I know that without them, I wouldn't be where I am today. Underemployed, perhaps, but a Ph.D.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bravo!

mpandgs said...

Thank you very much.