Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Shameful Heritage

The 1959 Gang - Photo Credit: Jerry Hoffman

I don’t know if it’s a trait peculiar to Minnesotans or if other folks around the country play the same mind game. It’s wrapped up in seemingly innocent innocuous questions upon first meeting someone new. Coy and clever they’re not, probing they are. More on that a bit later.

I have a theory that where we grew up and how says so much about who we’ve become later in life.

Probably more so than the schools attended, degree earned or current mailing address again.  I’ve put a scalpel to that question in past blogs such as ‘In the Company of Old Men’ and ‘The Final Tabulation. Even a trip back in time to ‘Something for Judy’ attempted to pry open the bones of past lives and my formative years.

There was a popular saying after World War One. “Once they’ve been to old Paris, they’ll never go back to the farm again.” Yet deep down I think they were still rural folks despite their exposure to the greater world around them.

Sharon is proud of her rural upbringing and farming heritage. For several years she attended the proverbial one-room school house and had to walk, winter and summer, down a gravel road to get there.

Sharon as a child with her parents

A younger Sharon in a corn field

At a recent luncheon of Cretin High School alumni, I also got the impression that it didn’t really matter if we were raised on the East Side, the West Side or middle-class communities in-between.

Cretin Scrapbook

We all attended Cretin in the late fifties. It wasn’t SPA or St. Thomas but it wasn’t just any old school either. I knew where I fit in back then but that doesn’t matter anymore. Cretin was a special place back then and that’s all that really mattered.

My mother with her parents on the farm

The same can be said of my Mother and her relatives. I always had the distinct impression that my relatives from outstate Minnesota (St. Martin, Melrose and Sterns County) embraced the fact that they were not from the cities. They were proud of their rural heritage and never hesitated to criticize ‘those city folks’ for their lack of understanding of one issue or another.

But not everyone feels the same way about social class and boundaries. Stepping outside of that cloak of unwritten social boundaries has always raised the eyebrows of some folks. Sharon’s mother experienced it in my blog ‘The Girl with Seven Suede Jackets.’ In my novel ‘Love in the A Shau’ the protagonist, Daniel, is confronted by his mother who warns him not to attempt moving outside of his social-economic upbringing. ‘They aren’t our kind of people’ she warns him. Daniel’s mother knows her place as did my mother even though it was a self-imposed boundary.

I’ve thought about a book I’ll probably never write. It would be entitled: ‘Growing up at Randolph and Hamline.”

Randolph & Hamline - Photo Credit: Jerry Hoffman

The Old Gang - Photo Credit: Jerry Hoffman

High School Dance - Photo Credit:  Jerry Hoffman

There are literally hundreds of stories out there of young people growing up in my neighborhood in the Fifties. It was solid middle class, religious, traditional and on the cusp of radical change as the loaming clouds of the Sixties formed just over the horizon. We all knew where we came from. It wasn’t Edina or Minnetonka but it wasn’t a poor part of town either.

Now about those seemingly off-the-cuff innocent questions meant to solidify social connections. ‘Where do you live’ is a fair question if you haven’t seen them in the neighborhood. ‘Where did you go to school’ is about as stealthy a question as a well-aimed sniper’s bullet. We all know what you’re getting at there! I think it is basic human nature in all its frailty that tempts us to compare where other folks grew up and where they went to school with our own upbringing. It is foolish and questionable and is never guaranteed to lead to a solid conclusion. But we do it anyway.

Rich people like to believe that pedigree says it all. Just as cash doesn’t equate to class so to being born to the ‘right people’ simply means one had options and opportunities not available to the rest of us. And that’s about it. I don’t think it is uniquely American to assume that those with financial resources are a level above the rest of us. They just think they are. And given their preponderance for divorce, alcoholism, drug-abuse, and infidelity, I’d hardly say those are role models for us to follow.

Cretin class of 1961 - 50th Class Reunion
All of which swings around one hundred and eighty degrees to my Cretin classmates of the class of 1961. Whether we were aware of our social-economic-intellectual ranking was back then I’ll never know. I’m guessing most of us knew it at one level or another. Yet there was that sharing experience of high school with all of its drama, trauma and a plethora of emotions lumped in-between. It was what it was; the good, the bad and the wonderful (of course, unrecognized at the time.)

Yet at this stage of the game it doesn’t matter anymore. Most of us are still around. Other classmates haven’t been so lucky. Most of us would admit to having had a good life and in the end, little else matters. ‘Been there, done that’ or ‘didn’t do that’ is no longer the competing sword of inquiry.

‘Nice to see you again’ is a more honest equation for our lives than anything else.

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