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Dad pigs

This is my dad. He’s probably 11 or 12, which would make it right around 1955. He’s having fun in the family’s pig barn! And I think the pigs are having fun, too.

What’s kind of funny about this photo is that Dad indeed worked among pigs for a few years as a laborer at the Southern Experiment Station in Waseca. He cleaned barns, fed pigs, and did whatever else they needed him to do.

I came across the picture at the time I had been doing a lot of thinking about my roots, especially as it relates to education.

I sometimes feel a little out of place in my day-to-day world working at a university. While I don’t know the background of each of my colleagues, I do know that many of them are not first-generation college students.

I first read Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams a few years ago when I was working on my memoir. I decided to re-read it now, especially since I have had my Ph.D. in hand since May.

I’m what Limbo author Alfred Lubrano calls a “straddler.” They may feel that they don’t fit in with their families, and also don’t fit in at work. That doesn’t exactly apply to me because I feel I fit in with my family really well. But at work, people say certain things that make it clear they are pretty far removed from a parent who worked with pigs. There, I feel more like a straddler than I do when I’m with my family.

And it wasn’t as if I disliked where I grew up or how I grew up, or that it was shame that drove me to school. Nothing could be further from the truth! Rather, I had a lot of support from my family. I did well in school and their encouragement motivated me. I loved school, I loved learning, I loved doing something that I was good at. For me, going through bachelor’s and master’s and doctoral programs was 100 percent about me and what I wanted to do.

Dad and Mom may not have been “educated,” but the most important things they taught me you don’t learn in school:

* Work ethic. You work hard. You do the job you’re told to do, and you do it well. You work until the job is done. You don’t feel like working that day? Too bad.

* Encouragement. My parents weren’t “rah-rah” about me. They didn’t elevate me or make me think I was the best thing that ever walked the earth. But I always knew they had my back and believed in me. I could see their quiet pride when they went to a parent-teacher conference or saw my grades. I knew they would support me no matter what I wanted to do.

* Be kind to others, but also, stand up for yourself. Dad was outgoing and personable and liked talking to people, but he had little patience for people who thought they were better than others, especially those who thought their wealth was supposed to lift them to a “higher” level of society. I’m sure he suffered through a few put-downs in his life, but he never let that bother him.

Grandma Hager_youth

Dad’s mom, my Grandma Hager, about 18 or 19 years old. Note the wooden steps, the weathered siding, the chicken wire, the dirt. Her parents were farmers. While they did well enough to sustain the family, there weren’t a lot of extras and they lived simply. Those shoes, though!