Thursday, November 26, 2015
The Industrial Revolution came to my hometown in 1963, just a couple years after I was born. The Revolution came in the form of a factory. A feeder factory for GM. General Motors (called "Governmental Motors" after Obama bailed out the company in 2009). The factory in Rushford made the switch that turned on the heat in all the General Motors cars from the model years 1964 until 1992. That factory meant jobs for my impoverished town. It meant jobs for the whole county, which, last I checked, was the poorest county in Minnesota.
My mom and dad were scraping out a living in the 1950's. They rented a farm and mom stayed home with my brother and sister. Dad worked in town during the day at the Tri County Oil Cooperative (a great socialist institution). In the evening dad came home and worked on the farm. My mom told me once those impoverished farm years were the best years of her life.
Working that hard must have been tough on dad so they moved to town. And when the factory opened, my mom was there on the first day on the assembly line. From there she spent the next 30 years or so putting GM switches together. If you owned a GM car in those decades, my mom might have made you warmer by making the heater switch. I still feel guilty for owning a couple of Japanese cars. GM paid the bills when I was a kid.
And thanks to the first Clinton and NAFTA, the factory was moved to Mexico in the early 90's. And just to show how greedy Multinationals have become, even Mexican labor got to be too expensive, so they moved the whole damned thing again to China where a young Chinese lady now works, doing the same thing my mom did. Except I doubt the work pays enough to feed a family.
Factory work for mom, meant they had to find daycare for me. And so mom and dad hired my grandmother "Olga" to watch me while mom sat on the assembly line. Grandma was a simple woman. She followed the old adages like Monday being washday, Tuesday bread day and so on. Grandpa and Grandma Klungtvedt ate out of their garden. They canned their food. Harvested walnuts. They spoke Norwegian in the home and I'm told I could speak a bit of it with them. They eeked out a living before retirement by renting a farm. Money was never in abundance and, in fact, it wasn't until they collected Social Security that they could buy their first home (Thank God for FDR!). They supplemented that money by watching me, although I never knew that.
There is a myth about poor people being happy with the simple things. That's bullshit. Poverty sucks, no matter how you slice it and my grandma and grandpa weren't overly happy people. I don't remember much laughter. I do remember summer days listening to the Minnesota Twins on the radio and playing endless games of dominoes with my grandma. Grandpa Klungtvedt was a World War 1 veteran. A private. He was in those god awful trenches with the Mustard gas and came back permanently emotionally wounded from that experience. I only heard him talk about the trenches once. About getting lost and how horrible it was to see the dead bodies. When President Johnson sent men into Vietnam, grandpa Klungtvedt railed against it. "Sending all those innocent kids to die", I remember him saying.
But mostly I was cared for by the women in my family. Mom. Grandma. And Ruth.
Ruth, my elder sister by 10 years, got stuck watching me a couple of summers. I'm sure it was no fun for a 16 year old to be stuck having a 6 year old tagging along for most everything. But she did it. I remember walking barefoot with her on the streets of our town. Going to the diners. When Ruth turned 18, she moved to far northern Minnesota and pretty much disappeared from my life. Older siblings often do that when they are corralled into doing childcare against their will.
Ruth died of cancer a couple years ago, and I was lucky enough to see her on the last good weekend she had alive. Breast cancer. My own theory about all these baby boomer women who die of breast cancer is that they are paying the price for the above ground nuclear bomb tests we had in the 1950's. All that milk that Ruth drank on the farm from a couple of dairy cows in the 50's contaminated with strontium and the like. Eating local and organic wasn't an expensive, nor a trendy thing to do back then: it was just called food. Sure, it was organic; but if you had a garden or a dairy cow, it also was radioactive as hell.
Ruth was born on Thanksgiving. November 23, 1950.
Grandma Klungtvedt died on Thanksgiving. November 22, 1990.
My wonderful mother died on Thanksgiving. November 25, 1999.
Thanksgiving is special to me because of the Thanksgiving connection with the women who shaped my attitude towards life: simplicity from my Grandmother; devotion to mind numbing work done for love of family from my Mother; and a love of the Beatles, organ music, and even a bit of curiosity about politics from watching my sister put a scrapbook together of JFK's assassination---from my sister: all have helped shape who I am.
And so on Thanksgiving, I celebrate the women who shaped me. A bittersweet day as they are gone. Two died on this day; one was born on this day. They are gone now. Gone, but not forgotten.