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We are the sum of what we have been. Since youíre reading this, I assume that youíre curious:
I was born in a small, northern Massachusetts industrial city, one that made shoes before the industry fled decades before. I grew up in a small industrial New Hampshire city on the Connecticut River in the middle of cow country (my father worked in Vermont just when industry in that area was starting to die) and in a small farming town in Massachusetts, out beyond the suburbs of Boston. My family is old New England: my first ancestor came in 1628, and weíve been here ever since. I donít regard this so much as a badge of honor as an investment or legacy, a responsibility to live up to.
My father, with his 2 sisters, had been orphaned by tuberculosis when he was very young. Years after, he was taken in by an aunt and uncle, and they saw to it that he grew up right. During WWII, he island-hopped across the Pacific with the infantry, from Guadalcanal to the Philippines. (He and his cousins Fred and Roger came home at the same time and that occasioned a big family party. The extended family was very close in those days. Fred was with Patton when they first entered a concentration camp and it effected him deeply. He passed away just over a year ago. Roger is going strong well into his 80s. My fatherís been gone for a long time.) Dad looked skeletal when he was discharged, after 7 months in the hospital with malaria. That disease and various kinds of jungle rot nagged at him for the rest of his life. He went to technical school on the G.I. Bill for 2 years after the War and became a draftsman. My folks nearly starved when the G.I. Bill payments were delayed and delayed and delayed. Years later he got a bill from the government because they said he had been overpaid. He wrote back and told them about all of the delays. Then he told them where they could go with their bill and what they should do with it when they got there. He never heard another word about it. I come by my attitude towards bureaucracy and stupidity honestly.
My motherís father had immigrated from the far north of England when he was 9, in 1888. He was a finished carpenter by trade, but worked at whatever he could find during the lean, depression years, from industry to picking apples. He and his wife, who died before WWII, raised 7 children. Later on after he retired and his eyes started to go, he would live with us in the summer and with his eldest son in California in the winter. My mother worked in a grocery store to put herself through state teachers college before the war. Her first teaching job was in a one-room schoolhouse in rural New Hampshire. She rented a room in a farmhouse with no electricity or indoor plumbing. On the plus side, they had fresh eggs, meat, maple syrup and cream so thick you had to spoon it, not pour it. When the war came, she and my dad had to postpone their plans. When he went into the Army, she went to work to support the war. She worked as an inspector in some war production at M.I.T. and later in a war plant where she poured molten high explosive into artillery shells.
My parents married right after he was discharged and started a family. Unfor≠tun≠ately, the first child was stillborn, but they persisted and had 3. We didnít have much in the early days. My dad lost his job in Massachusetts but found one in Vermont. With no car, he hitchhiked 100 miles up there by the week, staying with his older sister, coming back on weekends, and did that for a year until my folks could get a small pre-war Cape Cod house on the G.I. Bill. Then, when I was 3 and my sister was 1, we moved up there. The house had 4 rooms and an unfinished and uninsulated attic. My parents slept up there. It got really cold in the winter where we lived; once or twice I walked to school at -40į. My parents got an electric blanket and one of them would run upstairs a half-hour before bedtime to turn it on. Later they would get into their bedclothes and dash upstairs and get into the warm bed. (It was a little better after my dad insulated the attic, but it went on until we moved back to Massachusetts when I was 10.) My sister had a bedroom, which she shared with another sister when she came along in a couple of years. I had a bedroom with a double bed, which I shared with my grandfather when he was with us. Dad built a sewing room for my mother in the cellar and she made many of our clothes.
Our family still had no car, and certainly no television, not until I was, perhaps, in second grade, but always enough food, friends, books and encouragement. We finally got a car, or rather a succession of cars, old junkers. The first was a 1941 Ford. Then, after the youngest was old enough to stay with a neighbor during the day, my mother returned to teaching and working as a waitress a few nights a week. Later we got a second junky car, a Nash, in which we kids could watch the road go by in the back seat through the holes in the floor. Then we got a nice one, a 1948 Pontiac. Even though it was maybe 8 years old when we got it, it ran great and we kept it for about 5 years. Then we got a second Rambler when the first died and my dad used it to commute by the week back to Massachusetts for a year after he got laid off and found a new job down there.
I had my first job when I was in the third grade, waxing the floor of a supermarket from about 2 to 7 on Sunday mornings, after my dad had started washing it a couple of hours earlier. (He always had some kind of a second job.) Before starting college, I delivered newspapers for 5 years and worked as a musician in bands in Portuguese and Italian immigrant communities, playing in all of their religious festivals for several years, and also for the Boston Fire Dept. Band, playing in parades and events all over the metropolitan area. I also worked summers in a local saw mill (where I lost part of my thumb to a large saw) and in a lumber yard. In college, I worked summers as a computer operator and the next summer as a self-taught computer programmer and later worked a couple of summers in factories.
I was lucky. My parents, a teacher and a draftsman, life-long Republicans, brought us kids up to be of good character. We understood right from wrong, fair from unfair, honest from dishonest. My two sisters and I were prepared by our parents for the day when we left the small New Hampshire and Massachusetts towns where we had lived. We were told we would meet people different from ourselves, with different skin colors, different eyes, different hair, different religions, and that these things were of no importance; those other people were really just like us. We were told how bad, and for us how unacceptable, it was to make unkind remarks about people who were different from ourselves. I was even told, when very young, what an evil man Joe McCarthy was, because he had ruined so many peopleís lives.
In college in the í60s, political awareness crept in, as it did with lots of people. I was no different from so many others in that environment. I read much that was completely new to me. Reading the Communist Manifesto was electric and I discovered socialism. Much about the way the world worked became so clear. I read and studied more and more of the works of Marxism and about the Russian Revolution, and got deeply immersed in radical politics. I met and learned as much as I could from the old-timers of the movement.
After I woke up, politically, I:
On revisiting this period, I asked myself why I did what I did. The answer is that I was groping ó I wanted to find a way to make a better, fairer world. What we had in the US looked a lot better in theory than it seemed to be in reality. But was I really a socialist? I said I was at the time. I was as confident and vehement about it as anyone else was. The future I saw for myself was in the movement. The other people involved seemed to be the best folks around, the straightest talking, the least hypocritical I had ever associated with.
In retrospect, however, Iím less sure how much of a socialist I was deep down. There were always, from the beginning, unanswered questions and doubts, things that were never explained to my satisfaction. When I put that period in the context of all that has happened since, I think that I stuck with socialism for as long I did less because I agreed with its precepts 100% than that it was the only thing I had found that seemed to provide an adequate explanation for the state of the world and how to fix it. In other words, it was the best compromise around. Am I rewriting my own history? Maybe, maybe not, but whatever the case, Iím doing it honestly, and Iíve always been my own worst critic.
What am I now? Iím an independent. I still have the same goals I always had, but I donít use the same labels. Iím not a liberal, although I agree with many things favored by people who call themselves liberal. Iím not a conservative, but I agree with some ďconservativeĒ ideas, as well. Iím not a libertarian, either. Much classification of ideas to the various parts of the political spectrum is really hogwash. Iíll delve into these topics in this blog as time goes by. Iíve been thinking of defining a new term for what I am Ė radical center, maybe Ė and Iíll get to describing what this really means later on, too. But for now, Iím just an independent.
Bruce A. Clark
Last Updated ó April 06, 2013