Class Reunion

By Don Rollins

Mid-August brought with it the family reunion back in far Southern Ohio. There was the Columbus contingent, all citified and proper grammar. There was the redneck crew, sporting missing teeth and a twang sharp enough to give Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty (look them up, whippersnappers) some serious PTSD. There was the in-law crowd, the ones who ghetto next to the food and liquor and brag about how much better their reunions are. And then there were the squatters — friends of my mother, sister, niece or some combination thereof. These are the folks who each August crash the big gala despite annual exclusions cast their way in the form of not a single invitation. Appalachian chutzpah, you might call it. Rudeness excused by a deferential culture that loathes hurting somebody else’s feelings … at least until the last of the offending gate-crashers have cleared out.

My Aunt Cindy (not her real name — she’d fry me like collard greens if I outed her) looms large in these August events. She’s a veritable force of nature when it comes to organizing reunions. She’s also a Goldwater Republican who hates the rabidly evangelical wing of her party and most Democrats with equal vitriol. The way she sees it, the one dumbs down her beloved political tribe while the other exists to raise taxes, socialize health care and kiss the derriere of America’s global enemies. (This despite her youngest’s recent born-again conversion and the fact that it was Roosevelt who set in motion the conditions for the financial success of the two very wealthy husbands she’s buried to date. My Aunt Cindy, according to her own self-deprecating humor, marries ’em old and buries ’em quick.)

As you might imagine, my family reunions are a chaotic frenzy, so even Cindy takes a break from the hubbub of the big August to-do. Says she just needs to catch her breath between the first wave at the food tables and coolers and the roll call of the deaths, births, marriages and just about any other life event you can imagine. I’ve seen a grown man cry when reporting the death of a pet iguana, so pedestrian does the “joys and sorrows” segment become. My great niece snorted a pint of milk through her nose in response to that one.

This year, go figure, Cindy’s time-out took the form of accompanying my nephew to a sheriff’s sale at the storage facility he runs nearby. You know, it’s where mostly poor folks in arrears watch as their meager possessions are sold off to the highest bidder. For reasons known only to God and the voyeuristic well-heeled, Cindy was dang near ecstatic to see things go down over at the U-Store-It.

And so she did. And upon her return, her report to the nearest gaggle of kin was, “Aw, there was nothing but trash in those units. Dirty bedspreads. Banged-up children’s toys. Old pictures. Just trash. No wonder they didn’t try to save that crap.”

Now, my Aunt Cindy is not an evil woman. This is not said in condescension, for she raised three great kids, led multiple Girl Scouts troops and welcomed various family members into her various homes for some five decades, making each and every one of us feel as though we were kings and queens. I love my Aunt Cindy. She is not evil; but she’s blinded by privilege.

Every minute of every day, somebody is hungry in this, the world’s richest nation. More people than we know are on the street through no fault of their own. Low- or no-income parents rely on school meals in order to help feed their kids. Meanwhile the Governor of the Great State of Minnesota cuts social programs and Blue Dog Democrats help torpedo a public health care option that would, in some instances, save the lives of America’s most vulnerable and marginalized. In the interest of giving others the benefit of the doubt, I can only deduce that, like Cindy, these people are not evil; but they’re blinded by privilege.

Hardly a newsflash here, but capitalism has its excesses. Excess capitalism has crippled economic creativity, spawned an obscene disparity of wealth and ignited wholesale, worldwide recessions and depressions. This we know. But truth be told, that knowledge isn’t worth a bucket of spit when confronted with the everyday, anecdotal, micro level plight of poor folks – folks whose bedding, toys and memories are abandoned and placed on the auction block. This is not the stuff of statistics or political blame games. It’s not as simple as a progressive versus conservative thing, either. This is a class-bound, real life example of macroeconomic public policy manifested in microeconomic public humiliation.

It was Sinclair Lewis who said that he loved America, but he didn’t like it. For progressives, that dichotomous way of being an American is our bread and butter. The progressive tradition, though at its best fiercely patriotic, has raised holy hell with this country. Our storied past has us constantly joining in the struggle for justice despite entrenched fear and loathing, but it usually took some event to get us off the schnide. It was one too many slave whippings. One too many glass ceilings. One too many wage cuts. One too many “defense of marriage” amendments. Who knows, maybe this time it’ll be one too many sheriff’s sales.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister. Email

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2009

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