Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…
Our granddaughter is home this summer in Marshalltown, Iowa, between graduating from MSU and starting her graduate work at U of Chicago. She is working part-time as a receptionist for a social service agency. At least she was until the tornado hit.
The agency she works for is responsible for helping people make claims for loans and such to rebuild after the tornado. So now she is a social worker, working 50 hours per week, with lines in front of her counter sometimes twenty people deep. In Spanish, because Marshalltown has a lot of settled-out Mexican folks.
That’s not quite as tough as it sounds. She had Spanish in high school. She minored in it at university. But it’s definitely not her native tongue. There is a lot of pressure in trying to help people understand convoluted government forms and regulations in a language that is not your first.
But when you have to use a language every day, regularly, for real stuff, you learn in a different way. I’m not exactly sure how it came up, but yesterday she learned to say “bellbottoms” in Spanish. I can only assume that someone lost some 1970s clothes in the tornado and is making a claim for their replacement.
Of course, bellbottoms did not originate in the 70s. They started in the navy. When my older sister, Mary V, was dating the man who became her husband, her favorite song was one that I think doesn’t even exist anymore, so to speak… Bellbottom trousers, coat of navy blue, I love a sailor, and he loves me, too…
When she was dating Dick she lived in a rooming house for girls, most of whom were telephone operators, who went on strike. Mother didn’t want Mary V walking the picket line by herself, especially at night, because she remembered the quite real violence that was perpetrated upon her father and other coal miners when they struck, so she made me go to Evansville to walk the line with Mary V.
Mary V was slightly embarrassed, to have her little brother walking with her, as some sort of bodyguard, but she was remarkably good-natured about it, as she has always been about everything. If anything happened, it would have been more likely that she would be defending me. I was young, like 15, and looked it, and many people figured there was reason to strike if the telephone company had to hire kids like me. But I felt important, especially when the newspaper photogs took pix of us.
After I walked Mary V home at the end of her picket shift, I’d go to the Y and spend the night.
We didn’t have a car, so I rode the bus down to Evansville. You could stand along the highway and wave the bus down and the driver would figure up some discount for the fare since we didn’t ride all the way from Oakland City to Evansville. That’s how Mary V got back and forth to visit once in a while, on the weekend, on the bus. I’d walk over to the highway to meet her bus on Friday night and then walk her back on Sunday afternoon. Dick was stationed at Fort Campbell in KY and didn’t get free every weekend to come up to Evansville to see her, so those were weekends she would come home.
Can’t remember exactly how the strike ended, but I’m pretty sure the telephone company didn’t hire goons to beat up the strikers, the way the coal mine owners did. Or maybe they hit me on the head and that’s why I can’t remember…
It was my first experience with learning that if someone has his boot on your neck, he thinks he has a good reason for having it there, and that arrangement is working out nicely for him, even if it’s mighty uncomfortable for you, so he’s not going to take that boot off your neck just because you ask him politely. You’re going to have to bow your neck.
Hooray! Katie Kennedy’s What Goes Up is out in paper back.