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There is a rather ugly word which describes most of the members of both sides of my family, in my parents’ generations.

The word is “bigot”. As you may imagine, they had equally lovely words to describe everybody else.

Upon the whole they were a sterling example of the truism that the only person who can be more arrogant and closed-minded than a rich WASP is a poor WASP.

Since, in the main, they were solidly working-class individuals holding down blue collar jobs they had, perforce to be on at least reasonable terms with people of other ethnic groups with whom they had to deal on a daily basis in the workplace. And, in the course of this they showed themselves to be quite facile in the traditional WASPish evasion of making innumerable individual exceptions to “the rule” rather than ever actually questioning the soundness of the rule’s underlying premise. i.e., That to be a WASP makes you inherently superior to anyone who isn’t.

Which is hardly to say that such people necessarily went so far as to deliberately make friends from different ethnic groups. Sometimes they did. But, then, my own parents didn’t have anything recognizable as friends from their own ethnic group, either. From years’ end to years’ end, I think the only people who ever came into our house were related to one side of the family or the other.

There were however some “family friends” from other ethinic groups that I remember my mother taking me to visit as a child, but upon reflection, I’m pretty sure that these were actually friends of Grandma’s.

Dad and the Maltese Foreman:

Dad always got on fairly well with Mr. Walenstein, his foreman at the brewery. It was only after Mr. Walenstein retired that the trouble started.

By that time, Ma was dead, and Dad was over 65 and was about #8 in seniority of the entire place. Dad also had also worked his way up to having the distinction and status of being the person responsible for running the newest of the company’s fillers (The machines which filled the beer cans.)

His new foreman was from Malta, or some such place, and was quite dark-skinned. This would not have gone over well with my father.

Curiously enough, Dad had heartily disliked Archie Bunker, and never watched All in the Family when it made its appearance about a decade later. “He talks nasty,” was Dad’s complaint. In fact, The fictional Mr. Bunker was no more ignorant and certainly no more intolerant than Dad was. He just was a lot more obviously “prole” about it. Somehow, with very little effort, once he was away from the brewery, Dad made a very credible impression as — at least — a member of the lower-middle classes. An accomplishment which Ma, with all her aspirations never quite managed, even though her own family’s background, ironically, would have been perfectly consistent with it.

Although I doubt that Dad ever had the nerve to go so far as to call his new foreman wonderful names to his face, the disrespect between them was clearly mutual. I don’t know just what passive-aggressive tricks Dad may have pulled, but that he did pull such tricks I have no doubt at all. I gather that the foreman was hardly a non-participant in the hostilities, either. Frequent requests as to just when Dad intended to retire were one of the foreman’s little contributions to the general atmosphere. Another was to make a point of setting the speed at which the filler operated just slightly higher than that at which Dad was comfortable with handling it, fussing about “productivity” as he did so. This put Dad at some disadvantage and I gather that when the foreman was out of sight, he would reset it.

This is not the sort of pitcher which can be taken to the well indefinitely.

Things came to a head the morning that Dad got to work to find someone else operating “his” filler (or to find the machine shut down entirely — this was back in 1965 and I’ve long since disremembered the details). Dad was told to go over and do some other, lower-status task.
He refused.

Eventually, acto Dad’s account, this escalated into a classic — and literal — exchange of; “You’re fired!”, “You can’t fire me I quit”, and Dad stomped off to the front office and filled out his retirement forms then and there.

If I’d been told this by Ma I wouldn’t have believed it for a minute. But this was Dad, and his accounts, although they tended to be as biased as one of Jean Harlow’s evening gowns, were usually at least in scale to the event and generally truthful.

If you ask me, Dad was a helluva lot luckier than he deserved. If the foreman had really wanted to get nasty, he might have made a great deal of trouble over the issue. But this was back in a labor-favoring era when (unionized) factory workers were granted some degree of respect and the foreman was sufficiently content to merely get Dad the hell out of his shop not to make a concerted effort to see to it that he lost his pension as well.

Dad was still in a high dudgeon when he got home.

“Are you sick?” I asked upon seeing him returning home at an unprecedented 8:30 in the morning.

“No! I’m retired!” He told me, grumpily.