My father, and my Grandmother Goldie, probably in the late 30sClass in class

I’m perhaps a bit overly sensitive to class issues in education. I spent some time talking to my father about class and was really surprised that now, he claims he never felt any pressure from it. He didn’t say that when I was growing up. He came to California in the second wave of “okie migration” in the forties. He told me that okies were horribly discriminated against and looked down upon.

His mother, Goldie, was a cook for a sorority at Oklahoma University in the 30s. Though my dad was a blue-collar eighth-grade dropout, I found out on this trip that a few of my cousins were not quite so poor. One of them was the director of the women’s studies program at Baylor University in the 40s or 50s. At the time, that would have meant “home economics” classes of course.

Dad always looked good in a suit, but that’s not the way I think of him. He was always in khakis with chambray work-shirts. He worked in the oilfields as a welder first, and later as a pumper, and as a maintenance person in charge of steam-injection wells. He took some correspondence school classes in math, and got his literature education from the public library. Mom said that when they first got married, she was scared to death because my dad would sometimes stay up all night reading. She thought she was doing something wrong.

Dad had great taste in literature.

Most of what he recommended to me growing up were canonical texts. Shakespeare, and all the major Russians were his favorites. But he didn’t learn any of this in class; he learned it by being a good reader.

He hated his own father, and refused to go to his funeral. Jess Ward was an alcoholic, a gambler, and a total mess. He would threaten his family with a gun, and my father was always put in the position of defending his mother and siblings against the onslaught. His little brother Wendell was more of a free-spirit, played 12-string guitar, and married a woman who was a spiritualist and medium. When I found this picture of Wendell, my father, and Jess in 1944, I was reminded of all those snapshots of Kerouac and Cassidy. The distance between these sons and their father seems almost palpable in this photograph, and the man standing in the middle is much closer to the father I know.

Wendell, my father, and Jess Ward