People assume I’m not that bright; I don’t fault them too highly, as it’s a mistake I made most of my life. It’s a mistake I applied to my mother, too. I assumed the work she did- and the work I do- was on account of a ceiling, built only so high on pillars of intellect and education. I believed the roughness of our hands meant something about the rough state of our minds.
Neither of my parents tasted silver growing up, and we were clinging to the edges of the bottom rung of that middle class when I was young, even if they never let me know it. Dad worked up from a maintenance man to union steward and into union management, all without a lick of higher learning.
I blamed mom when dad left her for his secretary; it wasn’t fair, but neither, then, was my understanding of things. I suppose she lost that debate on account of things he’d tell me she would not. Maybe it all centered around that old maxim about familiarity and contempt- I had to live with her, but he just had to find a way to be personable on weekends.
I might have liked a personal revelation, some growth I could claim as my own, for my change of heart. But it came about in conversation. Now, people tend to assume everyone they don’t know ain’t smart; it’s a coping mechanism, I think, to excuse their social failings in lives too busy to give everyone their due (not to say I excuse it, just that it exists).
Mom came home from the mill, as angry as I’d seen her at anyone but my father. Union had negotiated a lemon of a contract, and her idiot coworkers were going to vote for it anyway. As we talked, I realized hers weren’t sour grapes, or watered down by unreasonable expectations; she simply understood what she was worth, and wasn’t going to settle for anything less than that. But it was more than economic arithmetic; her argument was passioned, and smart, with a worldly weight to it. She applied for a job with the school district.
In one afternoon my mother taught me what a life of looking down on the work I did, and being looked down on for it, could not. Work doesn’t define me or my limits. Neither do the fool assumptions of people who don’t know me, or take the time to try to.