Clary, that's last Xmas, but it's a common posture as we leave the house
Friends, this is about an utterance that has stayed in my mind for years. Twice or thrice when at T.C. Williams High School, Caroline brought home with elite boyfriends -- that would be 15 years ago now. Once she brought home a young ma n whom the cat had rejected long ago, but he was very obliging and would put things in high places I couldn't reach. It was sheerly a matter of chance with her. Nothing planned, nothing thought about especially. That's significant about our home life.
Well, of these elite young men one of them became part of our Christmas time. I remember him as a sensitive thin boy. In those days in the evenings the Admiral still would play the piano (a spinet sent us by my father by a moving van since he did not end up using it as he intended), sometimes sad songs, and I'd sit and listen.
Me next to piano, about 10 years ago, around Xmas
The young guy seemed to be moved by this. It seems his father was just then unemployed. They lived in an expensive town house in Old Town -- he told me this, not Caroline.
Well, we were decorating our tree. I had put our stereo on to play Christmas Revels to be festive. The tree itself was modest in size and not very even. It was cheaply bought. Our ornaments were some of them quite old and some there for nostalgic reasons. A sort of doll-angel that came from the packaging of a liquor bottle was placed on its top. She was pretty, a straw face that had faded and Yvette had refreshed it with black magic marker. We were cheerful decorating it.
He suddenly said, "you know you are rich poor people." His parents would not buy a tree unless it was a big expensive one; they would not decorate it with old things except they were heirlooms, bought somewhere,so with bona fides. Indeed (he didn't say this) they'd never live in a house like ours, with books across the walls. But we were happy that day and his parents were bitter. He thought his parents had become poor rich people for a time (he did say for a time; he couldn't believe it would carry on).
He thought we were happier than his parents -- I'd put it that he saw lower expectations. But he was wrong. We were not happier fundamentally, just less exercised intensely about our status insofar as tree decorating was concerned.
Maybe this was a silly set of phrases. But it stayed with me until the Admiral retired when then our income went way down. We had only small amount of savings by that time -- he was nerved to accept the offer of early retirement because he got a buyout: not to hide this as it's now 8 years ago and small $25,000. No golden handshake. Mitt might not include it in his tax returns. Trivial. But it gave us courage - of the Admiral. I took on 3 sections a term for the next two years and taught 2 sections each summer to make sure that Yvette finished her time at Sweet Briar. It helps that the next spring my mother-in-law died and my sister-in-law was honest. She's a vicar and her husband Mrs Vicar. When she sold my mother-in-law's house, they sent us half the proceeds: $57,000. That felt good and like a lot then. But I knew we had 30 years say to get through to death.
That's all changed now in the sense that we have a lot of money in the bank -- to us. I am not supposed to tell the amounts in public. This is a no no for US and most people. This shame controls our lives of course. But I must not break all taboos and money amounts is even more tabooed than sex. I'll put it this way: we are again rich poor people. We have an equivalent to return us to the way we were at the close of the 1990s. Can travel again, have rebought our membership at the Columbia Club at the Princeton building, will take a train to NYC; I'll buy myself a Prius3 in the Spring. We will do some modest house-fixing. We've bought our first subscription to Opera Lafayette this year and will begin to go to the National Symphony Orchestra again. We had stopped because I disliked sitting all the way upstairs. It was uncomfortable because we were to the side, one up from the highest where we still could hear. I would try to turn myself to see better and thus struggled against the thrust of the chair. We saw other people half-way through sneak down and sit in the orchestra, usually half empty. But to me this was demeaning, humiliating in my own eyes. I didn't doubt no one would say anything (meaning the ushers). No one would claim the seats. But I hated doing that. Now we'll buy for the front part of the auditorium and can behave with exemplary dignity.
The hidden injuries of class. The fear of loss of class status. I just wrote about that on my Ellen and Jim have a blog two, from another angle.