Saturday, September 22, 2012

Connie Schultz's Voice

Dear Mitt Romney,

Some days, I really want to talk to my parents, Chuck and Janey Schultz. So, I go into my office, shut the door and spend a little time with Dad’s hardhat and lunch pail, and Mom’s ID badge from her years working as a nurse’s aide. That’s as close as I’m going to get to my parents, because both of them wore their bodies out in their 60s so their children would have better lives.

Like your father, George, my dad was a hard worker. Also like your dad, my father once had to rely on government assistance.

I was a child at the time, the oldest of four. Dad was on the picket line with his fellow Utility Workers, Local 270, striking for better wages and benefits. I didn’t know until I was in my 30s that Mom had to apply for food stamps during that long, hot summer. Dad just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He was so ashamed. So, Mom went instead, and handed over the food stamps at the local Kroger’s until the strike ended.

I winced when my mother told me she was the one who had to pick up the food stamps each week, but she was quick with the reprimand. Shaking her head, she said, “Connie, sometimes, pride is all a man has left. It just about killed your father that he needed help.” How she loved him. Three days before she died, at age 62, she whispered from her hospital bed, “I still get butterflies when Dad walks into the room.”

In the years after that strike, my father and mother put all four of us kids through college, with the help of grants, scholarships and low-interest student loans. My parents thought they were four nobodies, but they died believing they’d raised four somebodies. We were their American dream come true.

My mother always told her girls, “Don’t marry him until you see how he treats the waitress.” She had only a high school degree, and yet she knew what you apparently don’t understand. How we treat the people we’re allowed to mistreat is the measure of who we are.

When I watched the video of your “47-percent” speech, I couldn’t help noticing the server passing back and forth in front of the camera lens, the glasses and cutlery clinking in the background. Even as you denigrated Americans like the wait staff in that room, they kept doing what they do, with the grace and skill that make it possible for people like you to pretend they don’t even exist.

Just know this: They were listening.

They’re always listening.

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for Creators Syndicate and an essayist for PARADE Magazine. She is the author of two books, “Life Happens” and “…and His Lovely Wife.” She is currently writing her first novel, about a working class family in Ohio.