About Barbara

A Working Class Matriarch in the Upper Middle Class

Anecdotal citation for Working Class:

Nana in her Victorian Rocking Chair @ the 1940's

Starting from my maternal great-grandmother, my family moved from poor to working class to, in my parents' generation and mine, standing with one foot in the working class and one foot in the middle. My great-grandmother was the daughter of immigrants in a poor neighborhood in New York City, trained to be a midwife by another poor woman.

My grandmother brought the family out of the tenements into a working class area, and my parents were the generation who straddled. My father was a mostly self-taught accountant(1 year of college) but worked his way to be Chief Accountant for a major oil company- putting us in the middle class, and my mother was a switchboard operator. My parents' separation when I was 16 put me straight back in the working class.

Anecdotal citation for Matriarch:

A conversation with an angry male therapist (imagine spittle shooting out the sides of his mouth as he talked.)

PSYCH: You got a lot of strong women in your family.

ME: Yeah. (thinking, nodding) yeah, there's a lot of strong women in my family.

PSYCH: I mean you got a lotta really strong women in your family.

ME: Yeah, there are really strong women in my family.

PSYCH: Dammit, woman, you're a matriarch.

My relationship with that therapist didn't last very long. However, I'm grateful to him for that one thing. I had never thought about the strong women in my family and what it meant.

Anecdotal citation for Middle Class:

That status changed permanently when my husband got his first full time teaching post at a rural college while he was just short of his doctorate. The realization came to me at a luncheon for new faculty wives when I used the expression "His eyes are too big for his belly" about a toddler who had one big cookie in his mouth and big cookies in both his hands. And the young woman next to me said "Please! It's 'tummy'".

A brief tour through my life:

Like most people financially insecure, my parents rented. We lived in a neighborhood in Queens, NYC filled with six-story apartment buildings. We moved there when I was three. I went to public elementary school (K-8). I learned about Hunter College High School in the 7th grade. A public college prep school for girls in Manhattan run under the auspices of Hunter College and the NY Board of Higher Education, it accepted young women residents of NYC who passed the entrance exam. I went to and graduated from Hunter High.

My mother, sister, and I left my father when I was 16, It wasn't just not amicable, we fled secretly. In the 1950s, "nice women" didn't leave their husbands, so life for my mother was not pleasant. And, yes, we were back in the working class.

Both my sister and I were able to go to college - both of us Hunter College - because the tuition was free. My sister had only one year to finish when we left, so she was able to complete her degree full time. And then she got married, so she wasn't able to contribute financially. I went to college full time for one year. Realizing that my mother and I were really suffering, I went to see the Dean of Students about switching to Evening Session.

They didn't want me to do it, but the only financial assistance at the time was a deal where if you signed an agreement to teach school for 7 years, you could get a support stipend. But I knew myself. I was very good one on one (still am), but not good having to lead a group - which is the part of teaching I can't do. I insisted I had to go to evening session and get a job.

It took me 7 years (1957-1964) to get my degree, but I did it. I did it because the tuition was free, and all I had to pay was $24 registration fee per semester. In the beginning, they even loaned students their books. But by the 60s the information age had started and buying new books to loan every year was too expensive. So about half the time, I had to purchase my textbooks.

The jobs I had while I was going to school were all clerical, with annual salaries ranging from $2500-3500/per year. (You understand, from the years, that this was way before the women's movement.) Employers offered group health insurance and depending on the employer, the employee paid all or part of it. There was no pension available at any of my employers. I worked for small companies rather than large corporations.

My first job after I graduated was as a youth vocational employment counselor with the NY State Employment Division, funded by the Youth Employment Act of (I think) 1965. My salary was a whopping $5600/year. My next job, when we moved down to Maryland for my husband's job, was guidance counselor for a rural school that went from grades 1-12. My salary, again, was about $5600/year.

When we moved from Maryland to New Jersey, I tripled my income by becoming an administrative assistant at a brokerage. I didn't begin to earn a salary anywhere near commensurate with my education until I got my master's degree in computer science and began to work for corporations ( a real love/hate proposition. I loved the salary, hated the smarminess, self-satisfaction and, especially, the group think.)

I had this one job interview where I was asked to define myself in a word or phrase. I answered "problem-solver" because this is basically how I learned - the result of a Socratic education. When my interviewer took me to see the Head Honcho (Imagine here Chris Farley's act as the Motivator Guy - if you don't know what I'm talking about, look up on YouTube for Saturday Night Live: Chris Farley.)

"I understaannd that youuur a prob-lem sol-ver," he orated. "Well, we don't haave any problems heere, we only have opportunities."

Man, did they have opportunities.

Then in 1991, for the first time in my life, I lost my job. It wasn't just me, they fired the entire department, moved operations to corporate headquarters (far away) with a plan to hire back just 25 people. The experience was ugly. "We're going to save X million dollars getting rid of you people." One time they said, "We can't wait to get rid of you. But, you know, we can't fire you until you finish your projects." So, one by one, as we finished our projects, we disappeared. I was part of the last group of six. The office was like a morgue. Then one day, a woman manager who had been hired for the new corporate office came down the stairs, singing. We all stood in wonder. As she emerged on the first floor and saw us there with our mouths open, she sang in operatic recitatif, "I'm not going to Chicago." She had quit.

Around 1995 I read a book review for a novel written by a woman, a professor of literature at Oxford University. She had written three novels. For the first two, reviewers loved the way she wrote, but they didn't like her stories which were about upper middle class life among intellectuals. In the third novel, the one in the review I was reading, she returned to her roots, the working class, and was getting rave reviews for both her style and her story. It hit home with me.

A working class matriarch in the upper middle class:

After reading the book review and thinking about it, I returned to my true roots (had I ever really left?) - the working class. I think it explains very well why I will vote for Bernie Sanders. (July 2020 - sigh - not to be.)

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