The Reading: Family Values
This chapter mostly focused on the author’s childhood. Every page is a recounting of things I can’t relate to. Vacation homes, country clubs, boats, skiing, “family projects,” photo albums of her childhood.
After the first couple of years – once Dad left, I suppose – I have a scattering of photos of my childhood. Four or five school photos, a few snapshots. We went camping a couple of times, but I only remember one thing that sounds like her definition of a “family vacation.”
Mom packed all three of us kids into a blue station wagon (we named it Ziegfried) and drove cross-country to see her family. I met both of my uncles, and my mother’s father. I spent my 5th birthday at Nana’s house (mom’s mom) in Vermont, which must mean we skipped a couple of months of school, because my birthday is in early May. Grandpa Sinclair died not too long after that, but Nana came to visit us occasionally, over the years. The next time I saw my two uncles was when I went to visit them in Boston, the year after I got out of the Army. (My dad’s sister visited once, too, on her way through town. I never saw her again, and many years later I learned she died – before I graduated high school, I think.)
I’m not sure what “family projects” looked like for the author. Back in the 70s, mom went through a phase of being interested in latch hook and macramé, and would sometimes let us help. And a few times a year we’d have a “field day” (a Navy term for “everyone spends the day scrubbing everything in sight”). Now and again, a jigsaw puzzle would sit out on the coffee table for days and we’d all do bits of it. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what the author meant…
She talks about scholarships, and college and “frugality” as a virtue. I liked school, and wanted to go to college, but didn’t know anything about how to find scholarships (there was no Google back then!). Frugality was imposed on us by welfare and mom’s unsteady work habits. “Money was for accumulating,” the author wrote – and we agree. But I think our definitions were different. I remember being so proud when I was able to open a bank account with $5 of “birthday money” in the third grade. Mom put the white bank passbook away for safe keeping. I have no idea what ever happened to that $5. My next bank account was opened when I got my first job.
But I did find, in this chapter, the first thing we seem to have in common. We both believed the American idea that you could better yourself through hard work. I just believed that it was a lot easier to do if you had rich, connected friends. Even so – it might be a bit of a crap shoot, but it was still possible for me.
I don’t know if I believed that because I thought it was true – or because I needed it to be.
The Study Question
What values and ambitions did you learn in your family? Think about education, work, lifestyle, money, expression of emotions, and so forth. Try making a list of ten Principles, values, and unspoken beliefs. Siblings and cousins can be good resources for thinking about this. Now consider what conclusions you drew about people who did not appear to follow your family’s belief system.
- Education matters.
- The people who have the “things” will always win.
- Home is where my sister is.
- Interesting people are everywhere. (I once spent an evening having a fascinating conversation with a guy in a toga named “Saint Clyde.” He basically babysat me for an evening while mom sang with a band at a bar. In retrospect, he was probably mentally ill – but he was really interesting.)
- Musketeers! No matter where we move to next, no matter who bullies or threatens, we kids are “one for all, all for one.”
- Being inconspicuous is safer.
- Anything less than “perfect” is unacceptable.
- Talking to a drunk person never goes well for you.
- You can do/be better than this, with hard work and good luck. But you’ll need both.
My sister and her husband bought a house shortly after their son was born. The new rule was: Christmas at their house because baby boy should wake up in the house where Santa knows he lives. Three decades later, she still lives in that house, even though it doesn’t wholly match her needs any more. She has no desire to move house, ever again. Baby boy is in his 30s and has two kids of his own – but we all still gather there for Christmas.
I joined the military – “my [green-uniformed] family is my home” – and moved around a bit, til I found my wonderful husband. We have lived in the same house for almost ten years, and I continually bemoan my lack of knowledge about basic household repairs. My brother recently settled in too; he has lived in the same house for half a decade, and worked at the same job for over a year now. We all live in the same small city.
I guess our greatest ambition was to create some form of stability, and to do it near one another.