Oh, man. I got this message from an old friend who saw my blog. Besides the fact that it’s a cool note, I was really jazzed that she connected to CK this way. I had no idea that I am indeed friends with a former member of Future Farmers of America. (Has the Capability to Understand America Better been under my nose this whole time?) Also, how often do I put people into the wrong category (in this case: Upper Middle Class) and miss out on a chance to know them better? Yikes!
Hey, Kerry! I was checking out your blog (and enjoyed it), and then when I was reading the description, I noticed you mentioned not knowing anyone who was in the Future Farmers of America, and I figured I needed to set the record straight. Then I realized that it goes a little deeper than that.
I grew up in a small town (less than 2,000 people), in conservative, libertarian New Hampshire. Our house was half-built, with insulation coming out of the walls, our only heat was a wood stove, we always had various broken-down vehicles in our yard, and the ones that we did drive were rusted, lacked mufflers, and usually at least one of the doors didn’t open so we would jump out the window, Dukes of Hazzard-style. We got food stamps (back when they were actually lick-and-stick stamps!) and WIC.
On the surface, I was very typical “white trash,” but I was actually an outcast, sort of a white-trash-wannabe: My mom is Jewish, and my parents were hippies who met on an organic vegetable growing commune. They were two of the 12 registered Democratic voters in town, and I was a school-loving geek from the get-go. Even in 3rd grade, I was one of the only kids in my class who could read, and the 8th graders used to come up to me on the playground when I was in 1st grade and say menacingly, “We hear that you like school…” I actually became vegetarian as a pre-teen because I was traumatized by the annual ordeal of listening to my neighbors slaughter their pigs, while listening to loud country music and drinking way too much beer.
As I moved up and out to schools in other, more affluent towns, I spent a lot of time trying to hide my background, then a little time in my early 20s trying to be proud of it, and then, it just became a non-issue. Even at Stanford, which I loved partly for its relative diversity, I felt really out of place at times. My frosh roommate, a golfer from San Diego, saw a picture of my house and laughed, “That’s not a house! It’s a cabin! Or a shack!” I remember someone else, upon learning that I had never been to Hawaii, telling me that everyone can afford to vacation there, “it’s just a matter of knowing how to budget.” But more so than that, I just felt like I didn’t deserve to be there, to talk to (gasp) professors, to meet people whose parents were doctors and lawyers and congresspeople and who had attended private schools and traveled the world.
I often forget about this now, because it just doesn’t come up. I’m an adult, and my identity is separate from that of my parents. But it’s funny, because of course as a doctor with degrees from Stanford, UCSD, and Harvard, living in a nice house in Seattle, with an NPR sticker on my Toyota, and mingling with interesting, progressive, professional people all of the time, on the surface I look just like all the other educated, liberal professionals out there. I don’t know that my background gives me any particular insight into middle America, “white trash,” small town/rural America, whatever… but just wanted to let you know that you do actually know one person in the FFA/white trash pool, it’s just that during college I was probably busy trying to hide it!