Friday, August 23, 2013

Who In The Hell Am I, Anyway? -- Part I

There are some people who are kind enough to read this blog.  Some of you know me personally.  Some of you don't.  You may be wondering who I think I am, anyway, spouting off all of these opinions at y'all.

I am not really anybody.  I am just a wife and a mom.  I happen to know how to type, and I have a computer that's connected to the internet.  These things have allowed me to be set loose upon you innocent people.

I thought I'd tell you a little bit about myself, though, not to be all self-absorbed, but so that you will understand the soil from which all of these sometimes outlandish, or, at least, outlandishly stated, opinions of mine have sprung.

I am 50 years old, the oldest of three girls.  My parents were Catholic, working-class people.  They got married in Redwood City, CA, when they were 23 years old.  My mother worked as a bookkeeper and teller at Bank of America before I was born.  I was born when she was 29 years old; and before she had me, she gave birth to a still-born baby boy and suffered at least one miscarriage.  My father also worked for Bank of America.  He actually met my mother when they bowled in the company league.  She said that she winked at him and he asked her out for a drink.  It was Ash Wednesday, though, so she declined.  He said this impressed him, so he asked her out for dinner soon thereafter.  They got married about a year later, I think.  After working for BofA for 16 years, my father went into business for himself as a general contractor.  He had one partner in the company, and never desired to grow it.  He enjoyed doing the work himself, and didn't want to manage a bunch of people.  He did, of course, hire sub-contractors for such things as plumbing and electrical work.  He knew all the best sub-contractors in town, and his customers always loved him.  His work ethic was second-to-none, and that's what he attempted to instill in his kids.  He always told us that working was important, no matter what kind of job it was, as long as it was an honest job.  And he told us that we should work hard and do our best at whatever tasks happened to be our responsibility.

My parents were Democrats, because, as they told me, the Democrats "are the party of the working man."  My mother remained a Democrat all her life, although, at times, they annoyed the hell out of her.  When she got especially annoyed, I would ask her why she didn't switch her political affiliation.  She would say, "I was in the party first, before x, y, or z annoying person." (I am using her inspiration to remain a Republican, even though, currently, they are annoying the hell out of me.)  My father became a non-partisan later in life, because, frankly, he couldn't abide by either the Democrats or the Republicans, anymore.  My parents, though, were big JFK people.  They loved JFK and the Kennedy family -- John's siblings, anyway.  Eunice was always a favorite.  They told me that President Kennedy uplifted and unified the nation at a difficult time.  They were heartbroken when he was assassinated.

Even though they were Democrats, my parents did come to feel overwhelmed by certain of the oppressive tax rates -- particularly the property tax rates that were happening in California -- during the 1970's.  They were scared that they would have to sell their house if something wasn't done.  This would have been an especially big deal, since my father had built our house with a garage that enabled him to run his business.  So, not only would they have had to move the family home, they would have had to find and rent another place to house his business.  And, believe me, they weren't rolling in any kind of cash.  We were always pretty poor.  The most money my parents generally ever had when I as growing up was somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three thousand dollars, at the outside.  As a result of feeling such fear over their ever-escalating property taxes, they did vote for the infamous Proposition 13.  And it did provide them much-needed relief.

There was a flip side to the whole Proposition 13 thing, though.  Because we were fairly cash-poor, my mother had always taken advantage of various programs which were provided courtesy of the lovely liberal Democrat ideology of the times.  We had wonderful swimming lessons at the beautifully maintained public high school pool.  There were regular trips to the well-provisioned and aesthetically pleasing public library.  The nearby public school had a wide variety of enriching summer programs.  Local public parks were cared for painstakingly, and provided many hours of fun.  When the fall-out from Proposition 13 hit, these things, which had made my childhood so much richer than it otherwise would have been, were either cut completely or reduced to a mere shadow of their former selves.  Many jobs were also lost.  And the morale of the remaining employees was, often, not what it had been.  I remember sunny, smiling, happy people running all of these programs.  The ones that remained after the cuts were not exactly depressed, but their attitudes had certainly taken a hit.  The whole situation was demoralizing for them.

My educational background is not unusual for a Catholic person of my age group.  I went to kindergarten at the local public school, and then went to a Catholic school through the eighth grade.  In those days, Catholic schools typically did not offer kindergarten.  Why did my parents send my sisters and I to Catholic school?  It was just what Catholic people of their generation did, for the most part.  They sent their kids to Catholic school.  Of course, the tuition was not nearly as prohibitive for working-class people in those days.  When it came time for high school, they found they just couldn't afford the price of a Catholic school, so my sisters and I went to public high school.

As the oldest, I was the first in my family to venture forth into the realm of public secondary education.  (Both of my parents had gone to Catholic high schools, even though their families were not well-off.  Things were different back in the day.)  I went with the dire warnings of my Catholic school teachers and classmates ringing in my ears.  I was told that I would receive a sub-par education and that I would not get any homework.  The part about not getting homework sounded okay to me, although that notion was quickly dispelled when I came home from the first day of high school with two and a half hours of homework.  I was also warned that I would be harmed by the black people at my public high school.  Admittedly, there had been race riots there, which occurred when the school began to be integrated, in the mid-1970's.  Although, as I heard the stories, plenty of white people bore plenty of responsibility for those riots.  I was sternly told, though, by people "in the know," that if I were to go into the bathroom, the black girls would shove my head into the toilet and flush it.  I was advised to never use the bathroom at school, by these people "in the know."  By lunch time on the first day of my high school career, I knew that was never going to work out for me, so I ventured forth into the restroom, my best friend fearing for my life.  As I entered the dreaded facility, there were quite a few black girls, probably around seven, hanging out and smoking.  They looked at me in what might be described as a "shocked" manner.  I smiled and said "hello" and proceeded to do my business.  Then I washed my hands and asked them how they were doing.  They answered that they were just fine, all the while staring at me in disbelief.  No one touched me, though.  No one was in the least bit threatening.  And I was able to pee, thenceforth, for the rest of my high school days, whenever I felt the need.  I actually managed to befriend -- in a casual, high-school type of way -- a few of those girls.

Another story from my integrated public high school experience?  My freshman class was the first to be taught P.E. in a co-ed manner -- meaning that boys and girls were in the same P.E. classes.  This was quite novel at the time, and the teachers tried their best to determine how to work it all out in a satisfactory manner.  So, twice a week, it was decided that all us kids would run -- either around the track or off-campus.  I have a very poor sense of direction, and I am also a pretty slow runner, thus leading to the following situation.  The instructor sent my class on a run through the neighborhood surrounding the school.  He told us to turn right here, turn left there, go around this and that, etc.  This neighborhood was totally unfamiliar to me, and he might as well have been speaking in French, for all the good his directions did me.  So, about halfway through the run, I found myself jogging along with a very tall black boy from what we used to call the "ghetto."  It was just him and me.  Nobody else was in sight.  I was a little intimidated.  Now, don't go thinking I was racist.  I was never racist.  He was just a very different kind of person, from a very different kind of background, than anyone I had ever hung out with before.  And there were all those dire warnings I had been given by my Catholic school peeps running through my head.  I chose to stick with the guy, though, because at least he seemed to know where he was going.  And he was friendly.  As we ran along, he gazed into the yards of the homes we passed.  These yards tended to be large and set on sloping hills, with lots of trees and shrubbery scattered throughout.  The boy said to me, "These yards would be great for growing weed."  "Oh, really?" I asked, a little bit taken aback.  Nobody had ever said anything like that to me before.  "Yeah," he said.  And he followed up with, "Do you smoke weed?"  "Nope," I answered.  "Oh," was his reply.  We ran the rest of the way in silence, arriving back at the school on time for our next class.  And what is the point of these stories?  They are examples of the ways in which my rather narrow worldview began to be shaped and changed a little bit.

Here is one more tale from my high school years, which kind of rounds things out.

My high school class was one of the first to experience "health education."  Part of "health education" -- and only part, for you conservative people who might be reading this -- was "sex education."  The school was required to present "both sides of the issue," regarding all things sexual. So, on one day, a lady from Planned Parenthood came to speak to us.  On another day, a Catholic "pro-life" lady came to speak to us.  Keep in mind now that I am watching this from my 15-year-old Catholic girl perspective.  But, I have always been rebel enough not to be too judgmental about differing points of view, so I was interested in all the things both ladies were going to say.  The Planned Parenthood lady was young and very pretty.  She was mild-mannered and soft-spoken.  She was intelligent.  She told us about all the different kinds of contraception and how to use them.  I found it all fascinating.  I didn't feel that she was encouraging us to go out and start having sex with each other.  I just felt like she believed that some kids were going to have sex, and that they should have all the information.  I, myself, being Catholic, wanted to wait until I was married to have sex.  I also didn't particularly believe in contraception.  But, I found her talk to be quite interesting.   The "pro-life" lady, on the other hand, caused me to have a stomach ache.  She was fairly old.  She was not smiling.  She was kind of grumpy towards the students.  She obviously had it in for the pretty, kind Planned Parenthood lady.  She did not speak in any sort of appealing manner.  She took many of the things I believed in and made them sound quite unattractive.  I was embarrassed.  And that's when I started to be aware of one of the problems that we are still struggling mightily with in our society -- how to communicate respectfully with people of different ideas about important social issues.  And I realized that it's the kids who get stuck in the middle of it all.  And it made me start to think about how I wanted to explain things to my own kids.  And it made me grateful for the way my parents explained things to me.  It also made me grateful that I had parents who knew how to speak to people of varying opinions in a constructive way.  They gave my sisters and I a good example in this area.

After receiving my public high school education, which was not at all sub-par, I went onto San Francisco State University.  I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology and a secondary level teaching credential.  At SF State, I continued to have experiences which influenced me to appreciate, learn from, befriend, and interact with people of varying ideas.  I came to believe that no permanent good would happen in our society if different groups just tried to force each other into their own ways of thinking.

I have written more than enough for right now.  I am surprised if you are still reading at this point.  I'll continue next time.  And next time I will talk about how my conservatism enters into the whole equation.  I will also speak about how my youthful idiocy caused me to not quite live up to my ideals in how to get along with others.





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