Friday, January 30, 2009

Trading Places

My mother, one of seven children of an Appalachian coal miner, a woman who wore steel toe boots to work, a woman who lives off of not very much money because she can't work and doesn't have a retirement account outside of social security, sent me food shopping today. She listed some very specific things.

Zesta saltines
Hillshire Farms turkey (not honey)
Peter Pan peanut butter with no sugar
Bounty paper towels (one sheet, with print)
Charmin ultra strong mega rolls
Diet Sierra Mist (if it's on sale)
Diet Sunkist (if it's on sale)

I'm wandering around Publix knowing that she likes very specific brands, knowing not to look for something cheaper or "healthier", not even for something new to try.

Here's what I heard in my head as I sought through the unfamiliar aisles:

Why won't she try another brand that's cheaper? How about natural peanut butter or I wonder if the local Whole Foods has one of those machines to make your own peanut butter from peanuts like our new coop has? Why not unbleached paper towels? I wonder of that thick Charmin really breaks down in the sewer?

These are all things I learned from middle and owning class lefty liberals. And it struck me that it used to be the other way around:

Poor people ate brown bread and the money classes else ate white bread.

Now the liberal left well-to-do grow their own food (or pay someone to do so), make their own Christmas wrapping paper, use canvas bags when they shop, and eat brown bread.

The poor and working class eat white bread.

My mother, I think, likes name brand products because anything less makes her think she's poor once again. She grew up wearing homemade clothes, eating food she helped grow, doing any shopping that they got to do with reusable bags, buying an unbranded product because it was cheaper.

She's quite fond of telling people about her specific tastes and I can't help but wonder how someone like her would be received at a liberal Quaker Meeting (I say liberal because that's the group of Quakers I'm most familiar with). I know what we'd like to think about how we'd receive someone like her.

But imagine you're at my mother's church, where the women wear pantyhose and perfume and on Easter wear fancy hats to services. The men carry National Rifle Association cards in their wallets. They serve Jell-o and Spam and corn dogs at their church potlucks.

How do you think you'd* be received and welcomed? How would you like to be received and welcomed?**

*"You" means any lefty liberal.

**Many thanks to Red Cedar Friends who reminded me a couple of weeks ago that we all want to be welcomed as whole human beings, wherever we go.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Little Boxes and Coincidence

Last night, a couple of friends and I went to an art opening and one of the pictures showed rows upon rows of big houses. This made me think of the song "Little Boxes" which I've heard a lot lately because I'm watching the TV show Weeds on DVD. So I said so.

One of my companions quoted Tom Lehrer and said Little Boxes was the "most sanctimonious song ever written."

I didn't say this, but what I wanted to say was, "It's almost the Quaker anthem."

The lyrics seem quaint until you hear that all the people who build houses out in the suburbs all come out "just the same." It is derisive and sanctimonious.

More than once I've been at a Quaker sing and someone suggests Little Boxes. Smiles spread through the room like The Wave at the Metrodome and we sing loudly and look around as if we were saying to each other, "What in the world are those people thinking, why would they choose to march in lock-step with each other in the suburbs." And unspoken, because we'd never say such a thing, "Idiots."

The irony is that a similar song could be written about us. It would talk about our non-profit jobs and our service work and our organic gardens and our MA or MS or PhD degrees.

And our sanctimony.

On another note, I gave a workshop this morning on Quakers and social class for fifteen willing adults. (And I think it went well. More on this later?) At the end, I handed out copies of an article I referenced before by Betsy Leondar-Wright.

This afternoon, my partner Liz was on Facebook and said, "Hey, Jeanne? That article you handed out, is it by someone named Betsy Leondar-Wright?"

Yeah, it is.

Turns out, Liz was really good friends with Betsy's sister growing up.

It's a teeny, tiny little world on Facebook!