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I was privileged to be raised by hard-working parents. They gave me the privilege of learning how to work hard alongside them. My first memory of that privilege was when I was five years old and my job, with my four-year-old sister, was to watch the baby (about 7 months so he could sit up by then) in the red wagon over by the fence away from the cows while my mother helped my two older sisters (ages 9 and 10) milk the two dozen dairy cows each evening in the summer.
By the time I was 7, I was privileged to learn how to help my sisters, instead of our mother, who had another baby to care for by then. This privilege extended to the entire year, also after school in the winter no matter how cold or snowy it was.
I was also privileged to help with my mother’s 100 laying hens, gathering the eggs every afternoon, and washing them all carefully so she could box them up for her customers. This privilege paid for my piano lessons.
By the time I was 14, my younger sister and I were given the privilege of being the hay haulers. We spent every July and August and Saturdays in September hauling alfalfa bales and straw bales into our sheds so that those dairy cows could eat all winter. Oh, and milking them twice a day, 365 days a year, was also our privilege.
Yes, we had a dad. He spent most of his time irrigating with canvas dams and a shovel, or planting seeds, or mowing hay, or putting out the hay for the animals during winter while we milked. Or any number of jobs that I kept trying to figure out how to do to give him a break. Like filling up the coal buckets so he could carry them into the stove, or finally getting strong enough to carry the bucket myself into the house.
Another privilege I had was working all summer in a resort town so I could earn college tuition, and then cleaning office buildings on campus all winter to pay for my dorm room. At least I didn’t have to milk cows anymore.
I came from privilege, too. My dad was orphaned by age eight and raised by relatives during the Great Depression, so he lived in the lap of luxury… He knew his greatest privilege was having my mom say “Yes” when he asked her to marry him. My mother milked dairy cows, too, as a child. But her privilege was real because her parents stayed alive, and married, and loved her and her sisters. That was my privilege too: loving parents who loved one another.
I know; this started as sarcasm. And yes, I am white. And yes, no cop has ever stopped me because of my skin color and harassed me. I guess what I’m saying: I grew up knowing that if I wanted anything at all in life, I was going to have to earn it through the sweat of my brow because no one in my family ever got anything any other way. It has stayed that way all of my life. I have a college degree (not earned until I was 40 because getting married and having five kids interrupted the first attempt.) But I paid for it with loans and did my homework in between laundry and meals. And I repaid all the loans. If I wanted something, I just figured out how to get it. I worked, I schemed, I sweated and I did it. It’s all I knew.
And I guess the sad thing is that some people in this country have never had the privilege of learning that.
See those big piles of hay? They were put there by me (purple dress) and the cute blondie on the far left. We were 16 & 17 in this photo.
The two big sisters on the right were both married and moved on by the time this picture was taken.
And those were only two of the stacks we made, we also filled up a hay shed, the upper part of our barn, and another stack in a different field. (We were in excellent physical shape…)
(The frowning girl by Grandpa is a cousin…my parents only had 8 kids.)