There’s a little library at the gym. Americans are the kind of people who stick a little library everywhere. The park, the playground, a street corner, a coffee shop – it’s a disaster if a person feels like reading but no book is available. Love Americans.
Back to the point, though, I found a great little book at the gym’s little library today. It’s called Plain Folk and it’s a 1982 re-printing of letters supposedly written back in 1903-6 to a popular magazine by working class “plain folks.”
Most of the letters are clearly apocryphal. It truly beggars belief that a female factory worker who arrived from rural Lithuania a few years ago would be able to write an eloquent, beautifully organized narrative in perfect English.
But some letters ring true. The most interesting ones are written by wives of college professors in the rural Midwest.
Friends, it’s fascinating stuff. Much of what these women talk about sounds like it could have been written today. The first wife and her professor have 4 kids and they decided to homeschool. This means she can’t take a job and they struggle to make ends meet on one salary. But on the positive side, the kids spend tons of time playing outside instead of withering away in a classroom with the children of uneducated classes.
The professors suffer because they have to teach the same lower-level courses every year. Young professors all hope to leave the Midwest and go to the East Coast, where they believe the real life of the mind is. Most faculty members in the Midwest do no research and aren’t that bright because they have no time to read and no money to travel. What’s different from today is that people say this openly.
The letter-writer’s husband works two shifts. I’m not sure what that means and what the teaching load was in those times. But he’s still a great Dad, playing with kids, taking them for walks, and doing bedtime.
What made women’s lives shit in that era are two things: no running water and no ready-made clothes. The professor’s wife spends hours a day sewing when she’d much rather read. I felt great compassion for her at that point.
Such a great little book.