Not The Things That Hide You

(My front-porch gnome)

I recently read an article (I don’t remember where) that mentioned that the phrase “working class” was falling out of favor. Apparently, some people find it offensive, though for the life of me, I can’t imagine why. I should think that all those other folks who aren’t included in the “working” class designation should be the ones offended since there seems to be an implication there that they don’t work. And, besides, I’d rather someone call me “working class” than “lower class” any day.

Yes, I’m one of those in the working class, and I suppose it’s fairly obvious that I’m not ashamed of that. With a blog name like Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl, it would be hard to pretend to be anything other than what I am. And, really, it’s those of us in the working class that keep the world humming along. I mean, how could we get along without our auto mechanics, our carpenters, our janitors? When I was a janitor, sometimes people would laugh when I told them that I took great pride in keeping all those toilets clean, but haven’t we all, at one time or another, been in a position to be deeply grateful for clean public toilets?

When I read about people fighting to keep affordable housing for the working class out of their neighborhood, I wince, realizing that they’re talking about me. It’s painful to know that someone finds the idea of having me as their neighbor offensive. What is it they’re afraid of?

Sure, I probably do bear out some of the stereotypes those folks might harbor about the working class. I like yard art—especially gnomes, flamingoes, and those little plastic birds with whirling wings. And I not only eat Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper, I LIKE them. Spam, too. And, yes, we do have a 28-year-old car in our yard, but it’s not up on concrete blocks. 🙂

(My other porch gnome–he keeps it swept for me.)

Really, I think it’s pretty likely that I have the same dreams for my children that wealthy folks have for theirs. And it’s also likely that if they could look beyond my image, they’d probably find that we have more in common than they’d imagine.

There’s no doubt, though, that there are differences. Four years ago, when Ariel was a high school senior, she was invited to Scholarship Day at UNC-Chapel Hill, which meant she was a finalist for a merit scholarship there. Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man went along with her, and they were both pretty wowed by the lavish treatment they received. It was high-falutin’ stuff for us country folks. Most memorable, though, to Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man was listening to the other parents at his table talk. They were having a lively conversation debating which place they preferred for their winter vacations—the Canadian Rockies or the French Alps. Now Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man can usually talk to anybody, but as someone for whom even a trip to Dollywood would strain the family budget, he found it a bit difficult to relate.

And even now, there are times when Ariel feels the divide between herself and her wealthy friends. It’s very hard for her friends who’ve never known privation to imagine how it feels, just as it’s hard for her to imagine how it feels to have your Daddy buy you a new Lexus SUV.

I guess the important thing for her (and us) to remember is to look beyond that Lexus, beyond the expensive clothes, beyond the talk of trips to Europe. The late Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood used to sing a song called“It’s You I Like” which I frequently sang to my children). It included the words “…it’s you I like…the way down deep inside you. Not the things that hide you…” I love that phrase “not the things that hide you.” Too often, we do judge someone by their outward image, by the things that hide the truth of who they are. And it goes both ways. It’s just as wrong for me to judge someone by their Lexus as it would be for them to judge me by the pink plastic flamingoes in my yard.

I am painfully aware of my prejudice against rich people. Just the other day, when I read about some celebrity hairdresser in New York City who charges five hundred bucks for a haircut, I felt my blood pressure rise in anger. Both for the greedy hairdresser and for the people who would pay that. And every Saturday, when I read our local newspaper’s “Home of the Week” feature (which really should be called “Mansion of the Week”), I find myself thinking the most uncharitable thoughts. Especially in 2008 when Progress Energy raised our electric bills by 10.2%, and soon afterward, our newspaper featured the huge summer manor (yes, it was just a summer home!) of a retired Progress Energy executive. Talk about bad timing.

Yes, sometimes I feel a resentment towards the rich that veers dangerously close to contempt. And that’s wrong. When I judge them by their luxury houses and cars (the things that hide them), I’m being just as narrow-minded as any other bigot. Judgment, so often, keeps us from seeing the good in people. It is a true poverty—a poverty of the spirit. And poverty of the spirit is the worst kind of poverty there is.

Sure, some of those rich folks have gotten rich on the backs of the poor. And, yeah, many of them have never struggled or known hardship. But I really don’t know their stories, any more than they know mine. The unfortunate truth is, though, we’ll probably never know each other’s stories. Because they don’t want me in their neighborhood.

But they’re welcome to mine. Sure, it’s not likely that they’ll drop by the doublewide to have a nice Tuna Helper supper. And it’s even less likely that they’d invite me to up to their mansion to have tea. But if they do, I might have a few suggestions for their yard. “Looks a little bare,” I’d say. “What you really need is a nice flamingo or two. And a couple of gnomes wouldn’t hurt…”

(My latest acquisition. I adore the little wrinkles behind his neck.)


23 Responses to “Not The Things That Hide You”

  1. CountryDew Says:

    It would be nice if we had a classless society but I fear the divide grows ever wider day by day and shows no signs fo abating. It is a shame that in a country as rich as ours, there is poverty. No one should have to go without and it is unChristian and most certainly uncharitable that this is allowed to happen. It is hard to be happy in who you are and what you have sometimes, but I have found that generally those are the happiest folks. Blessed be to you and yours.

  2. Martha Says:

    It’s sad, Beth, that people are labeled, which in turn places them into different classes. I grew up in a low income home, so I certainly understand everything you feel and everything you have written in this post. I cringe whenever I hear derogatory comments towards the ‘working’ class, or towards someone whose income hovers around, or is below, the poverty line. My family, and everyone I grew up with, fell into that category. There was nothing wrong with us, and the only thing that separated us from the other (higher) classes was the amount of (or lack of) money in my parents’ bank account.

    As far as “class” is concerned, it has nothing to do with material things. Class is a state of being; it has more to do with what type of human being you are than how big a house you live in, or how fancy a car you drive. And you’re not automatically a classy person just because you have more stuff. If you’re a rude, miserable, pompous jerk, no amount of money in the world will cure you of that. You’ll just be a rude, miserable, pompous jerk with more square footage 🙂

    Incidentally, I not only would love to be your neighbour, but I love gnomes in the garden, too. In fact, I’ve been scouting the stores in my area to try and find some interesting ones for my garden. Gnome-loving people rock! 🙂

  3. betsyfromtennessee Says:

    Hey Girlie, I want that gnome if it will keep my deck clean… Darn–what have I been missing????? ha

    My Daddy was a hard-worker —and we never had much money when I was growing up. I didn’t know the difference! I was a happy kid and that is what counts.

    BUT–I see a big change in our world since I was a child. I even see it in my young adult sons and my grandchildren. There is so much emphasis on ‘stuff’ these days –and it takes money to buy this stuff. Kids today can’t go outside and play kickball like we used to. They have to have a cellphone, internet connection, video games, etc. etc. etc. It’s all very, very sad…

    I never think much about ‘class’—but I do know that it takes all kinds of ‘us’ humans to make up the world/country. Some of us have more money than others. I personally love all kinds of people –and don’t really think much about their ‘status’ when it comes to how much money they make or what kind of home they live in.

    I don’t have have much in common with the rich simply because I’ve never been there. But–I don’t resent them. Somehow, they found a way to make more money than I did… Oh Well….

    Beth, you are one of the smartest people I know. You have a wonderful family and life –and there’s alot to be said about that. Sometimes, I think that people who have less money really are happier because they find ways (like hiking) of finding joy in life without the need of that Lexus or all of that money. We all know that money doesn’t buy us happiness.

    Well–I’ve rambled too much!!!! I just have one more thing to say… I love you, Beth, and I am proud to be your friend.

  4. Sharon Says:

    Yep, the rich suck sometimes, for sure. But some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known have had a ton of money and were just as down to earth and loving as anyone could possibly be. On the other hand….sometimes the rich suck, poor devils. And as you so honestly pointed out, so do we. Thanks for the reminder that we have to always look for the person inside, no matter what.

  5. june Says:

    Boy, did you say a mouthful…and said it well too!

  6. Jayne Says:

    My dad used to say that we all need to find our “slot in the drawer” and be happy there. He likened it to a card catalog at the library (remember those?) and said that if you tried to live a drawer too high, you’d be struggling constantly and would never be happy. So true. He grew up with nothing and struggled to give us more. I’ve always been very appreciative of what I was able to have. When friends at school were given brand new Camaros to drive, I was still thrilled with my 1970 Malibu as I didn’t care if it got dinked and it only took $9 to fill it up…lol! We all have to learn to be comfortable with what we have and let our inside beauty shine. Lots of people with money are very unhappy souls always struggling to keep up with their neighbors.

  7. chris Says:

    Thanks for taking on such thought provoking topics, and for doing it so well. You inspire great comments, I’ve not much to add. Money does not buy happiness, though it can solve some problems. Money is not the source of my, or others, wealth. I like yard art; I need me one of those sweeping gnomes.

  8. southernlady64 Says:

    We did not have much money when I was growing up either but we always had plenty of food on the table and my father worked very hard all his life. The one thing he instilled in me that I am so thankful for is his work ethic. Hopefully, I have instilled that in my children, too. I would rather be from the “working” class because I know what it means to work hard and enjoy the things I am able to buy with the money I made. If you work for it, you sure appreciate it a lot more than if it is handed to you! It also gives you such a sense of accomplishment in what you have done. I believe in doing the best job you can with any job, too. That is a matter of personal pride. I love your knomes and the pig is so cute. I’ll take you as a neighbor anytime! We could sit on your porch and look at your beautiful mountains and let that elf sweep under our feet.

  9. Cathy Says:

    Your thoughts are beautifully expressed. What gets me wondering, though is: who EXACTLY are the “working class?” You mentioned auto mechanics, carpenters, janitors. I’m a hospice nurse and main breadwinner in our family, and we live pretty much paycheck to paycheck. So what am I? I work. I don’t wear a white collar and I’m paid hourly. Upper class? I think not. Middle class? Well, what is that specifically? If it’s based on income, I know mechanics who make more than I do, so does that make me “lower” working class? How about people who work but make oodles of money? “Privileged working class?” So yeah, labels make things pretty difficult.

    I have to say I admire you for being non-judgmental toward those who surround themselves with the trappings of wealth. I must admit that, as I back my Kia out of the 7-Eleven parking lot and can’t see what’s coming because of the humongous Escalade parked next to me, my thoughts run towards “now what the f*** do you NEED that big monstrosity for?”

    Now let me head out to buy some of those rainbow-colored whirlygigs for the yard. Love ’em when the wind blows.

  10. Sweetflutterbys3 Says:

    I couldn’t have said it any better!

    I live in an area in the suburbs of Pittsburgh where most people are blue collar, but because of the Pittsburgh Bubble (people are born here, live here and die here and no one from outside ever moves in) and all of the help they get from relatives with houses, jobs and cars, people here don’t have to earn their riches, it’s handed to them. The SUV’s, McMansions, expensive clothes and weekly nail appts is more common than not.

    As a result, I feel like the odd one out. We make due with homemade meals, budgeted outings, and second hand clothes. And you know, after getting to know some of these “rich” people around here, I feel glad to be “poor”!

  11. Jeff Says:

    Maybe some day, I’ll get to sit on the porch of the Doublewide Ranch and we can talk about some of the topics you brought up in your post. Lots of ideas there well worth exploring. I grew up poor, also, but never knew it until many years later. My father always said that you should take pride in your work, no matter what it was. One of the lasting effects of this “recession” that we are enduring is that many people who thought they were wealthy are learning that they weren’t. They may have had a lot of rented toys, but they don’t have them any longer, now that they’ve been repossessed.

    And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tend to my pink plastic flamingos (after I re-read Secrets of the Gnomes)!

  12. eemilla Says:

    Class warfare does nothing but keep everyone separate, but it is much easier to write people off because of their things than it is to keep an open mind and let actions and words speak. Thanks for the reminder!

  13. Di Says:

    We are the working class…. but I gotta tell ya, I really do hate the excess, over-flowing sheds of old vehicles in and around the next door neighbor’s property seen across our backyard fence. I’d much rather he take on a new form or yard art! Flamingos would be a nice change.

    The Blue Ridge Gal

  14. C.Josephina Says:

    Oh sister, me too!
    My goal is to stay working class. I got my master’s degree with the intent of career and material success, but I never even got close to whiffing distance of that. Something kept nagging me along the way and I finally realized that it was that my true definition of success was not in a “career” or in material things. It wasn’t a choice. I just didn’t have it in me to be someone I’m not.
    I struggle with my knee jerk prejudice against rich people too. If they don’t have to sacrifice for what they have or, worse, if they are willing to trade time with their family to obtain their wealth, then how can they appreciate the beauty of life? Conspicuous consumption is just disgusting and insulting to me.
    My standards are high. I want time to grow deep roots with my child before he flies away. I want a small roof over our heads. I want healthy food for our bodies. (sorry, no hamburger helper here) I want the seasons. Nothing more and nothing less. When you’re working class, these are luxuries. I am willing to do without any amount of prestige or material wealthy for these. I feel rich.
    Yet, when my shabby son and I walk into preschool side by side the preppy mom and son who arrived in the Lexus, I feel bad that the rest of the world would choose her gold over my values and wonder if it would choose her son over mine. That’s when my mind goes to thinking all those nasty thoughts about how I and my son are much better people because we appreciate every thing we do have, we must have a much deeper bond because of our lifestyle, and my son will always be a much happier person because I have taught him my values which are obviously much better than hers. It bothers me greatly that I just can’t be confident in my life without putting down someone elses. Especially because I want my son to be able to make his choices based on who he is, not what others think. And I need to fully be that role model. It’s hard though. When you have a lot of people looking down on you and looking up to others who, on the surface, appear to be your opposite, ones sinks to rationalizing.
    And by the way, after I left the broken remains of my “career path” I worked for a year in a sanitation department in a commerical bakery and it was more satisfying that anything I had done before. I felt like a real person again. I would probably still be there if I had been able to adjust to 3rd shift. I’ll probably end up back there some day if it still exists then.
    Thanks for the post. Your honesty, thoughtfulness and humility make me cry. Not with sadness. It’s just these three qualities combined are so rare to see, so when they make an appearance, I cry. As if that endangered animal might still have a chance.

  15. Benjamin Says:

    So well spoken, Mommy. I feel you, C. Josephina. It’s so hard to keep your feet planted on the ground when you’re looking for the right way to live. Thanks for being honest. Rich people aren’t my personal bugaboo–the “partying” type is–but that’s just more judgmentalism. Sometimes it just frustrates me that people act against and isolated from the one God that could help them and lift them up out of whatever problem has them really frustrated at Him. I just need to remember that Christ died for ALL, and He will call His workers to their work in His time–and what’s more, you don’t get anywhere trying to find the “righteous” ones, but rather by taking it on faith that your life will shine some light, and also being open to the light being shined in by those around you.

  16. wesleyjeanne Says:

    I’ve been thinking for a while of what to say here. After reading others’ comments, there seems to be nothing I can add, except to remind you of something you used to say to me: that some people can “see rightly” to the heart of a person, and others can’t. To me it’s sad for them when they can’t.

    You have a gift with words, my friend, and a tender heart.

  17. Sweet Virginia Breeze Says:

    A wonderful post. I agree with you completely. The working class made this country and they will be the ones who save it from the excesses of the rich. I have never wanted to be rich. Money and material things cannot make you happy. Happiness comes from inside – when you like yourself and take pride in what you have, when you take the time to connect with those you love, and when you stop and appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world we live in. We all come into this world with nothing and we will all leave with nothing.

  18. colleen Says:

    Those $500 haircuts are done on the backs of others when you think about resources being and measure it against the rest of the world. I don’t understand the aversion to “working class” either. I’m certainly not middle class.

  19. clairz Says:

    This is such a beautiful post! As with many of the things you write, Beth, I read it and felt overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings it brought about. I usually have to go away for a few days before commenting.

    Your blog has become very important to me. Thank you for your writing. You are a special person.

  20. Ariel Says:

    This post is really beautiful. It’s a topic that I’ve been pondering a lot in the past few years because of the place I’m at and the wealth I’m surrounded by every day. I realized that I too had anger and resentment towards those richer than me, and that I had too much pride in who I was, a sort of stick-it-to-the-man attitude about life. And like you said, that’s just as messed up as any rich person looking down their nose at me for being low-income.

    My contempt for the wealthy has turned to sympathy, and my pride in identity has turned to thankfulness for where I’ve been. Because only those who have been low can know the dizzying thrill of the heights, and only those who have been empty can know the satisfaction of being filled. Those who have been fed fiscally sometimes don’t know spiritual hunger, and that’s heart-breaking. Deep inside, all of our souls yearn for something supernatural to supersede this world, and being poor has made it easier for me to see that and to seek after God, not material possession. But some people will be sated by material possession alone.

    And being poor has made me infinitely grateful for the material things I do have. I will be tickled pink to have that 28-year-old car when it’s mine.

    Also, yay for gnomes and pink flamingoes!

  21. Julie H. Hardle Says:

    I enjoyed your post very much. I was raised in an upper middle class family where we wanted for nothing. My parent’s were hard workers and educated and secured employment in education and aerospace and thus were able to provide a good living for our family of six.

    My husband works a blue collar job, I work for a social service agency that provides mental health services for the poor. My life is very different from what I grew up with. I have found it rewarding and at times humbling. I know this sounds funny but I love massaging and holding my husbands hands, They reflect a working man who earns his living by the sweat of his brow. They are rough and scared but they are a testament to how hard he works for us. To me it has been a revelation as to how happy you can be without so many of the extras an upper middle class life can afford.

    There is a certain freedom in living with less. When the definition of abundance revolves around God’s blessings and not the excesses and extras peace is not fleeting.

    I also have a certain amount of sympathy for those whose wealth seems to rule the pace of their lives. Many on my side of the family fall in that category. They are so programmed they don’t seem to appreciate the small gifts that are afforded us daily.

    In a simple way I have lived with and I have lived without and I am grateful for both experiences. I feel quite happy with where I am now. It feels like we live very close to the earth. That helps me feel closer to God and my Savior.

  22. blueridgebluecollargirl Says:

    Thanks to everyone for your articulate, sensitive, and insightful comments. Sometimes I think your comments are even better than my posts. I am grateful that you take the time to read my lengthy posts and, even more, that you take the time to comment in such a thoughtful way. Y’all are amazing.

  23. clara Melvin Says:

    Hi Beth, I’m late making my blog rounds, and am just now reading this post. You said it so well. I grew up poor, but I didn’t know I was poor. We always had enough food and and a warm house and lots of love. My Daddy worked hard and instilled in me the same. I’m thankful for the things he taught me as they have brought me much joy in my life. I’m proud of where I came from and I know where I’m going. That’s all that counts. Thank you for such a wonderful post. I love what your children said. They are just as amazing as you! Thanks for being my friend!

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