Wednesday, September 19, 2012
The 47%-ers in My House
My mother is one of the 47%. She began her working life at the age of 14 after she graduated from 8th grade. That's how life was in the 1930s when you grew up one of the rural poor. Her first job was as a mother's helper for a rich woman who had postpartum depression--though they didn't call it that then. "Never leave the mother alone with the baby," she was told. But one night when my mother was off duty the woman tried to kill the baby even though the woman's husband was right there. Both the baby and my mother were packed up and sent off to the grandparents' house. The mother went to an asylum. There might have been another child-care job after that, and at some point she ran the roulette wheel at a casino across the river in East Dubuque, Illinois. Her parents were quite taken aback the night they stopped in for a bit of entertainment. There was a food-service job for a Catholic men's college. She remembers putting the cherry just-so in the center of the grapefruit halves for the priests' breakfasts. There was waitress work, too, her feet screaming for relief by the end of a busy night. During the war she worked as a file clerk for a big aircraft manufacturer. After that came the night club jobs. Fancy places in Baltimore with names like the Chanticleer and the Band Box where she worked as a hat check girl or taking souvenir Polaroid pictures. "You always had to ask first," she said. "In case the guy was out with another woman." She was the hostess in a restaurant after she returned to the midwest and met my dad there. She raised four kids on a budget that never had any wiggle room. She canned vegetables from the garden, made jams and pies from the fruit trees, sewed our clothes, and stretched every dollar to the breaking point. After my dad died she began a string of factory jobs and finally landed a union job that paid a decent wage. Her final job was as a custodian for the city of Baltimore where she was horrified at how much useable stuff got tossed in the trash. I've never thought of her as a victim--or as someone looking for a handout. Although she'll tell you it was a damn good thing there were food stamps after General Motors told her my dad's life insurance policy "wasn't any good." We fell into the safety net, but it wasn't long before she hoisted us back out.
This year my daughter will be a 47%-er, too, I suppose, since she quit her three jobs to start grad school.
As for me, I'm a taxpayer. I'll bet you my tax rate is twice as high as Mitt Romney's. But I guess we'll never know for sure.
photo credit: Carol Sigurdson Klein