Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sibling Assignment #109: An Early Trip to Condescension

Silver Valley Girl assigned me and InlandEmpireGirl to do the following:

"Write about one of your earliest trips to somewhere special, besides Spokane and Orofino, and why it was special, and what you remember about it."

You'll find Silver Valley Girl's account of sniffing glue with visiting our second cousins, the Coomers, in Boise, here, and InlandEmpireGirl's account of the universe of our extended family, here.

One summer..the summer of 1966.. my sisters lived with my mom during the week while she went to summer school at the Univ. of Idaho. Dad and I "batched" it in Kellogg. I had a paper route and played baseball and Dad was our baseball coach, and, of course, he worked his job at the Zinc Plant.

What I'm writing about that happened in Moscow may have happened during different visits. It doesn't really matter. The truth of what happened to me in Moscow some time is what matters, and I'm going to write as if it happened the week I spend with Mom and my sisters.

I don't exactly know why, but that summer something clicked inside me, and I didn't exactly like how the click felt.

While we were in Moscow that week, we visited the Miles family. Bill was a Kellogg native and was making quite a name for himself as the high school football coach in Moscow.

But Bill Miles didn't seem to be like my dad's other friends in Kellogg. I couldn't, and really still can't, put my finger on it, exactly, but he had an air about him. He acted slightly superior to my mom and us kids.

Maybe it was because he was a football coach and was highly successful
, but whatever it was I didn't like it.

Then I noticed that his kids also had this air of superiority. Even though I was only eleven or twelve years old, this air registered.

I didn't know quite what it was about.

That same week, we visited with David Wilde, a kid who used to live on the same block we did, but his family moved to Moscow.

We went to the swimming pool with David and I remember he had a skateboard and I remember thinking that he thought he was better than me. And my sisters.

He didn't say anything. Not directly. It was the way he talked and the way he carried himself. He thought he was better than us.

I thought more about this condescension I felt and it reminded me of one day several years earlier when our family still lived on Portland Street and Craig Lenhart was our next door neighbor.

His family took a trip to California. I think they might have gone to Disneyland.

Anyway, he brought back a pack of Beech Nut Fruit Stripe chewing gum (watch an ad for the gum, here).

Kellogg didn't have that gum yet. We wouldn't have it in our stores for months. Craig acted superior because he had something from California that I couldn't get in Kellogg.

I think that week in Moscow and being looked down at by the Miles kids and David Wilde was a pretty significant trip for me to a place I'm all too familiar with.

As I got older and as I paid more attention to places like Coeur d'Alene and Spokane it began to sink in that these places didn't have daily air pollution. Lewiston did, but it didn't have a gray river running through town.

Kellogg stunk. The air was bad. The river through town was dead and ugly.

I began to realize that people outside of Kellogg, when they heard I was from Kellogg, associated me with the pollution and, maybe even more so, with the poverty.

I didn't think much of it until I left Kellogg. I didn't think much of the tiny houses in Kellogg at the bottom of Portland Street or all through Sunnyside or up Wardner or the ones in Smelterville or up Moon Gulch or up Big Creek or Pine Creek or in Kingston and Enaville, some of them with the siding crumbling off, black tar paper exposed. Many didn't have yards.

Now I know.

These were signs of poverty.

I didn't think about it until I started to hear my hometown ridiculed as I moved out into the larger world.

Or until I began to realize that kids, like jocks or Boy Scouts or guys in DeMolay or at Boys State felt superior, looked down their noses at us Kellogg kids.

It was a very important trip for me to make that summer to Moscow and begin to feel that condescension. I think Bill Miles felt like he got out of Kellogg and, at some level, was better than my mom and dad who didn't. I think David Wilde had a similar attitude, even though he was only about ten years old.

This trip has gone on for my whole life. I am able to pretty much shake off anyone who demeans Kellogg or North Idaho now.

I know they don't know what they are talking about and I just remain proud and happy within myself that I came from a place with such solid, decent, loyal people and friends.

But, I have a lot of students who come from the less fortunate strata of our county and have daily conversations with students who know their homelessness or disabilities or poverty make them outcasts. They know they are look down on.

They know the feeling, better than I ever did, of being looked down on, regarded as inferior, laughed at.

My life long trip to teaching at a community college and working with many students who are down on their luck and having some sense of connection with these students began when I took little trips outside of Kellogg, whether for sports, FTA, DeMolay, or to be with my mom while at Moscow.

It began when I started to feel the sting of being regarded as inferior.

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