Back in the 1950s in Eugene, Oregon my father managed to get a job teaching typing and music to kids in grade school and high school, and my mother ran a beauty shop. Did she imagine the pittance she and my father garnered would balloon into a fortune? It wasn’t happening. She woke at six and opened the beauty shop at seven. Through the day she bent over the heads of women gossiping. At 11:30 she ate leftovers standing up. Then she went back to turn off the dryer and comb a customer’s hair. She breathed fumes of dyes, steeped her hands in permanent wave solution. He who is aching in every limb, Simone Weil writes, bears the reality of the universe in his flesh like a thorn. Six days a week my mother endured this thorn. When my father came home from teaching, she stood in the kitchen shaping hamburger patties, peeling potatoes, shredding cabbage.
“I wish I didn’t have to be on my feet so much,” she said. The word class wasn’t in my vocabulary, but I knew that standing twelve hours a day making women look swanky was not work the rich did. Why hadn’t she chosen a high paying profession? And why hadn't my father chosen the upscale life of a banker? I understood then that your class status wasn't something you got to choose. My parents were just barely hanging on by their fingernails, clawing their way up to the bottom rung of the middle class.
And me? I was way way lucky. As a senior in high school I won a scholarship to first year of university. If I hadn't had that scholarship, I wouldn't be writing to you today.
Marilyn Krysl’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Best American Short Stories 2000 and O. Henry Prize Stories. Warscape With Lovers won the Cleveland State Poetry Prize 1997, and her collection of short fiction, Dinner with Osama, won Foreword Magazine’s 2008 Book of the Year Bronze Medal.