One of my grandfathers was a carpenter who, during the depression, invested what little money he had in a friend who promptly disappeared with the money. For several years my Mom’s family was homeless and lived for different periods of time with different relatives who took them in. My other grandfather worked three days a week in one of the steel mills that lined the Allegheny River just outside Pittsburgh, PA.
My Mom was the Valedictorian of her high school class who, along with all the academic classes, also took all the secretarial classes because her family had no money to send her to college and it was those classes which would help her find a job when she graduated. My Dad graduated from a neighboring high school. After he graduated he enlisted in the Air Force and served during the Korean War. When he was discharged, he and my Mom returned to Pittsburgh and to the communities in which they had grown up. It is here where the trajectory of the story changes.
Upon returning to Pittsburgh, now with three children in tow, my Dad found a job in a local bank and, with the help of the GI Bill, enrolled in college. Six years later when he graduated, it was my Mom’s turn. For 11 or 12 years of my growing up, one of my parents was in college. As the oldest son, I was the first one, on my side of the family, to have the opportunity and privilege to go directly for high school to college. And, from there to a good job. And from there to graduate school. And, from there to another good job. All the way to here. All because of the GI Bill. And my Dad getting his degree and a better job. And, then my Mom getting her degree and a job as a teacher. Which meant there was not only the hope and the expectation, but also money enough for me to go to college right out of high school.
I am reading the book Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. I have always been (and still am) proud of the hard work and dedication of my parents, but one of the things I learned in reading this book is that if my Dad had been black there would have been no GI Bill.
No college for him and no better job.
And, no college for my Mom and no teaching job for her.
And, for me???
I would probably not be where I am today.
And still today.