I was a blue-collar daughter in a white-collar world. Maybe it helped me understand both.
|Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
By Marilyn Mackenzie
One of the benefits of reading and reviewing others at Writing.com is that in writing comments about the works of others, new works of our own may be formed and developed. Often, I’ve written a comment in a review or forum, which has made me sit back and think, "Wow, those were profound thoughts. Perhaps they should be expanded." Sometimes, commenting triggers memories once buried.
Recently, I made an innocent comment to another writer that my dad was a blue-collar worker, but we lived in a white-collar neighborhood. Being a part of those two worlds allowed me to see each one, to experience some of each world. But as I sat down to expand on those thoughts, I realized that, in essence, I never belonged to either world.
Then I realized that I’ve never "belonged" or been a part of many of the places I’ve found myself over the span of my 50-year life. I’ve always been just a bit different.
In my own immediate family, I’m the eldest child. But I’ve never had all the qualities usually attributed to firstborns. I was so shy as a child that I’d risk getting a bad grade rather than speak out in class. None of my siblings had that problem.
Only my brother can claim the rights to being more of a black sheep than I am. He’s an alcoholic and is slowly killing himself because of the liver and kidney problems he has that were caused by his drinking.
I’m the only sibling who has been divorced – twice. I’m the one who has taken risks by working in commission sales or by working for myself. That also means I’m the only one who won’t have a wonderful pension from having worked for the same employer for years.
I’m the one who became a lay speaker in the church, and the one who coordinated vacation Bible school, women’s Bible studies, children’s choir. I’m the one who chose home schooling for my son.
Thinking beyond family matters, though, I’ve always been different than those around me. For one thing, I really did begin writing as a child, sitting in our backyard cherry tree. I was the only one in the neighborhood who could climb that tree without a boost. It was a great place to go to be alone.
As I mentioned, my dad was a blue-collar worker, and we lived in a white-collar neighborhood. It didn’t start out that way. When we moved into a big farmhouse, there were real farms all around us. The smell of chickens, goats, horses, cows and crops and their accompanying fertilizers were something I remember quite well.
Then one day, we realized that the farmer across the road from us had allowed his cabbage crop to wither and die in the field. There’s a smell I’ll probably never forget! Imagine the aroma of an entire field of rotten cabbage.
Soon after that, his farm was sold to a developer who chopped it into small lots for cookie-cutter houses. People were moving in droves to the suburbs, and I got to see it happen right before my eyes. Our neighborhood turned from one with just farmers and a few factory workers and craftsmen, to one with hundreds of homes whose occupants boasted of a father who wore a shirt and tie to work. Suddenly, those of us who had lived there first were the oddity.
I started playing the violin in second grade, certainly not the "typical" choice of instrument for anyone interested in studying music. From then on, I was a neighborhood oddity for sure, carrying my violin back and forth from home to school.
At age 10, I started wearing glasses – bifocals. Since my nose was small and had hardly any bridge, the sidepieces had to hook around my ears so the glasses would stay put. How attractive those glasses were. Not.
My eyesight continued to worsen, though, and I became an experiment for my eye doctor. It had been discovered that wearing contacts could help stop the progression of deteriorating eyesight. So, I started wearing contact lenses at the age of 12 – the first in my school.
For a short time, wearing contacts put me in the position of being very popular with the rich kids. Most of them were trying to talk their parents into contacts, and they wanted to know all about them. I hated those contacts. My eyes were so sensitive, that I could only wear them for 4-6 hours at a time, even after many months. If I wore them longer than that, I’d spend the next day with cold compresses on my eyes.
I vowed that I’d stop wearing those stupid contacts when I was 16. That’s when they said that I could safely stop wearing them. But by then, I’d developed teen vanity. Rather than stop wearing contacts, I got a pair of blue ones to make my eyes even bluer. When soft lenses came into being, I rejoiced. They didn’t hurt my eyes at all.
When I was in high school, we moved from the suburbs back to the city. I graduated from the same high school my parents had attended. In my new school, I was one of only 15% who planned on attending college. In the suburbs, 85% took college preparatory classes. In my new school, I was an oddity once more. Although I gave up playing the violin, I did join the choir. Our choir director was the same one my mother had when she was in school. Needless to say, our concerts often resulted in a lot of hoots from our peers. The songs we sang were often the same songs my mother had sung in school.
Although I could have graduated after my junior year, I chose to continue in my senior year. Most of my neighborhood friends couldn’t understand that decision. They also didn’t understand my choice of classes in my senior year. Poetry? Yes, they thought that was rather an odd class to choose.
After only 3 weeks in college, I called my dad and asked him to come and rescue me. Attending lectures with 200 other students was a big shock to me. Having a professor decide that he was changing the books we’d use was a surprise, especially since we were told to have the book he had previously selected for our first class. An even bigger surprise came when the bookstore considered that the books we’d purchased were used and only worth half their purchase price for resale.
Other factors were a part of my decision to leave college. Freshmen were placed in dormitories off campus and had to walk about 2 miles to everything on campus. Freshmen also did not make their own schedules back then, nor select their own classes.
My first classes were all at 8 a.m. That meant that if I wanted to eat breakfast, I had to be up by 6 a.m. if I wanted to walk with friends to the cafeteria. Unfortunately, I was the only one on my floor who had a senior for a roommate. She was also a resident hall manager. Back in my college days, dormitories were separated by gender and the doors were locked at 10 p.m. Residents were allowed to stay out later than 10 p.m., but they had to knock on the door and show student ID to gain entry.
My roommate’s shift at the door ended at 2 a.m. She made as much noise as she possibly could when she came into our room. I pretended to sleep, though. I had to get up at 6 a.m. A few minutes after she entered our room each night, her boyfriend would shimmy up the drainpipe and climb in the window to sleep with her. Boys weren’t allowed in the dorm rooms back then. I guess I could have solved my sleepless nights by squealing on my roommate. But I didn’t.
On nights when my roommate’s boyfriend didn’t show up, I was probably awakened anyway. Our resident hall managers woke up residents at least once a week in the middle of the night for a meeting or a fire drill or just to account for all residents. I’m sure they thought they were quite funny. I wonder if they ever realized that they were a part of my reason for leaving college. Probably not.
When I arrived back in Pittsburgh, I worked during the day and went to college at night. I was an oddity at night school too. Most of my fellow students were much older than I was.
When I moved from Pittsburgh to a small town in Michigan, I was hired because I "talked funny." I never thought people from Pittsburgh had accents. I didn’t speak like many Pittsburghers, though. My mom wouldn’t allow us to use some of the colloquialisms. We never said, "yoonz," for instance.
After moving to Houston, I had no trouble at all getting a good job. I was hired because I was a Yankee. My employer figured I’d work faster than those who were born and raised in the South, where things are not as harried. (Disclaimer: These were his thoughts and words, not mine.)
Because I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and Texas, I now sound like none of the inhabitants from those places. Some say, even after 24 years of living South of the Mason Dixon line, that I still sound like a Yankee. Others say I sound like a Yankee with a Southern drawl. My ears haven’t changed, though. I can always detect another Pittsburgher.
I’m different in other ways. When I worked in direct sales and home party plans, I quickly rose through the ranks to district manager, regional manager and regional director. Even though it was with a Christian company, many of my peers climbed the ladder by stepping on others. I chose a different route. I chose being honest with customers, and giving sales leads to the sales representatives in my district and region. Often, when I called a sales rep to give her a lead, I’d hear hesitation in her voice. (Yes, in the home party business, most sales reps were women.) The demonstrator usually thought there was a catch to my gift of a sales lead. There wasn’t, except that I enjoyed seeing others succeed.
I also chose to take risks in business. When the company offered us $100 per new manager and $50 per returning manager to conduct 2-3 day training events, the fine print also said that they would reimburse district and regional sales managers at the end of the year for up to 1% of their sales dollars. I conducted training without worrying that my training costs ended up being between $150 and $300 per manager. I knew at the end of the year, that I’d be reimbursed. And I always was.
Each level of management received commissions from the persons under them in their districts and regions. But they received even more compensation for their personal sales. Because of that, many of my peers spent most of their time selling rather than recruiting and managing. I chose another path, finding satisfaction in helping others develop. In the end, my earnings were probably not near the average for my level of management. But each year, I retained more people, giving me the edge by starting each selling season with more experienced professionals, and I remained in the top 10% of the sales teams throughout the U.S.
In retail, I was never a pushy sales person. I took the term "multiple selling" to heart, though, and offered my customers ideas for putting together reasonable wardrobes. They returned again and again, asking for me. I also learned to add to my paychecks by simply asking, never obnoxiously, if the customer might like to fill out a credit application.
In one retail job, I learned that I could get $5 for every bridal registry I initiated. Each time I saw a couple wandering through the housewares or linen departments, I asked if the bride was registered. I also discovered that our store had gift registries for baby showers, even for birthdays, and I suggested these registries to customers. Once a month, I’d get a check for an additional $50-100 because of my innocent suggestions.
As editorial assistant at our local newspaper, I became the one whom letter writers sought to edit their letters. Most people, myself included, are often much too verbose. Letters to the editor under 300 words were published, as were guest columns under 600 words. Many first attempts came in at 750-1000 words, and the writers were asked to revise them. Some couldn’t imagine being able to get their point across with fewer words. Some allowed the editor to revise for them, only to discover that the message wasn’t as strong, especially if it was a message not embraced by the editor. Local pastors and other Christians learned to ask me to edit their letters, knowing I’d retain the original message.
And now? Here? I’m the reviewer at Writing.com who is either loved or hated, it seems. My method of rating – with respect and kindness, and privately if the errors are so many that pointing them out publicly would be an embarrassment, bothers some people. That I’m an encourager troubles some people too.
That I find more good than bad in most things I read angers some. That I think there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of stories and poems here that deserve a 5 star rating does vex some who think that nothing here (or anywhere is my guess) is perfect enough to get a good rating.
My whole world is just as perfect as I choose to view it and perceive it. Yes, there are troubles, even wars brewing. But there are blessings and good things happening each day, each moment of time. Could my world be better? Absolutely. But it’s just fine. I think my day, my world, my life deserves a 5 star rating almost every day.
Okay, I admit it. I’m a bit different than most. If truth be known, though, I’m different than everyone. We are all special, aren’t we? And unique individuals?
Me? I’m still that confusion of a person today, the one with the blue-collar dad in a white-collar neighborhood. I don’t belong to a particular group of people, but tend to understand them all. Or at least I try.