An Essay

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The Front Door

What did it mean to be considered middle class in the 1950’s?

My father owned a shipyard in Larose, Louisiana. He built wooden boats used by oystermen and shrimpers tailored to their specific needs and steel-hulled boats to carry supplies and crews to offshore drilling wells. He built the house we lived in for 10 years a short distance from the shipyard on Ledet Lane in 1956. It had a formal living room decorated in fine wood paneling, a dark green, plush sofa, rough wood ceiling tiles painted a deep burgundy, and a large mahogany coffee table. It was kept in perfect order at all times. Every home I visited in that time seemed to have one of these unused rooms, some even had the furniture covered in plastic, presumably to keep its pristine condition. I imagine my father showing his blueprints to potential customers and signing contracts there. Our front door led into this room through a small foyer with a coat closet at the far end. The doorbell, when rung, was a chime that was so unfamiliar a sound that when it rang we all knew a stranger was at the door. My mother would take a moment to preen and ask us to be good. My brother and I waited behind the interior door listening with excitement and anticipation.

It was at this door that my mother greeted a World Book Encyclopedia salesman who sat with her in that special room and at the end of that week a whole new world would open up to all of us. Mom also agreed to buy (and I think this was the deal clincher for the salesman) a set of Children’s Bible Stories. My parents’ first language was French. My brother and I taught Mom the pronunciation of many English words while she read to us from the Bible stories she was so familiar with. Even at the end of their lives, Mom and dad would not have been considered educated or fluent in English.

Later on, Dad bought a Chrysler New Yorker, that he called a New York Chrysler but soon traded it for a Chevrolet Impala because he could not get used to the push button technology of the Chrysler. We all had plenty of clothes and food and good healthcare and primary education. We went to church on Sunday, (well, all but Dad) not to the Catholic Church in our town but to the First United Methodist Church of Golden Meadow.

My parents were considered wealthy by the abject poor and blue collar by the wealthy. I suppose that made us middle class. I wonder though, if today a family’s description contained everything we had then, would they be considered part of the middle class?

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Bessie Senette

Bessie Senette is the author of Cutting the Clouds: a Bayou Mystic’s Poems, Musings, and Imaginings – an autobiographical collection of poems and essays about the life and culture of her bayou upbringing and the spirituality that informs her traditional healing gifts. Her current work-in-progress is Louisiana Pines: Homeland Poems and Vignettes; a chapbook that poetically explores her beloved home state.

2 thoughts on “An Essay”

  1. My grandfather was a self-taught carpenter. He built part of this house. Some parts were taken from other homes in the area that were being rebuilt or remodeled and were reused here. Our ancestors were industrious souls. I saw a book title the other day about the struggles of the working class–the history that has been ignored by academics. I need to find that title and seek the book out. Loved this essay.

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