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Diane Kendig Now I Work in that Factory You Live In A few years ago, when I was asked to share my memories of how my working-class background had affected my writing, one editor was doubtful that my childhood could have been so happy as my essay suggested. She seemed to be operating with the underlying assumption that anyone from a working-class background would necessarily have her earliest days marked by feelings of unease, difference, and sadness. She went after one detail. "Did you and your siblings really dance on the counters while you did the dishes?" she asked doubtfully. When I told my siblings about her question, they hooted and said, "Well you should have told her about the butt-bumping competitions we held then, too." Whatever we weren't given materially as children, there was a great deal of joy and an egalitarian spirit in our home and community in the suburbs of 1950s Canton, Ohio, that left me a bit oblivious to class and gender issues. However, once I entered college, I was forced to confront those issues in ways that I hadn't before, and my siblings, all younger, did too. As a matter of fact, I am struck by realizing that most if not all of my uncomfortable memories of my working-class background involved the issue of going to college. Actually, thinking back, I can recall one time before college, in junior high, when the issue of being a working class kid came up at home, and it is an uncomfortable memory. My parents' dining room table was the heart of our house, big enough for all four of us kids to work at the same time on Valentine's Day boxes and science fair projects. It was where we argued everything from hairdos to inter-racial dating to Vietnam, first just the six of us and later, a larger circle of schoolmates who gathered there because our parents welcomed everyone. But this was 1962, supper time and, as during many meals that year, I was reporting on the antics of my favorite seventh grade teacher, my English teacher, the first male teacher I ever had and a dynamic, creative one who filled the blackboard with huge cartoons punning on our spelling words. (Two potatoes wearing crowns. One not. The caption: "Oh, he's just a _______." The word for the week was "commentator.") He had us write a composition every week. And he was the first person in the world (other than me) to believe that I would become a writer. "Mr. Dale talked today about how dumb baseball players are. He pretended to be a baseball player talking on TV, going 'Uh, duh/ It was really funny. He says they are so dumb because they don't go to college. He says if you hear football players on TV, they talk a lot smarter because football players go to college." And then a huge crack divided the supper table, a fault, my fault that left 130 the minnesota review me standing on the opposite side of my parents, neither of whom had gone to college. Normally, my father would have asked me what I thought ofMr. Dale's idea, but this time, he could not trust his usual Socratic method. It was clear that out of this awful silence, where he was gathering his anger to put it aside before he spoke, my father was going to pronounce a truth. "You tell Mr. Dale," he said, "that in ourhome, we do notjudge peopleby whether or not they have been to college." My father really did not expect me to carry the message to Mr. Dale, but I think now that I should have. "What is the source of our first suffering?" writes Gaston Bachelard, "That we hesitated to speak." Between then and 1968 when I entered college, it seemed like my whole generation of factory-workers' kids were being too suddenly groomed for college by the school and our parents. Looking back now, I see we were a generation that needed to be warehoused outside of the job market awhile, the Vietnam War notwithstanding for the males in my class...


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pp. 129-134
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