A Hillbilly Writes a Book
J.D. Vance and I have a lot in common, even though his tribe comes from Kentucky and mine from Pennsylvania and Michigan. His grandfather and clan worked in the Kentucky coal mines, my grandfather worked on a mine train shoveling coal into the firebox.
Our ancestors both wanted a better life, so his went to Ohio while mine came to California in the Depression.
J.D. knew he was not ready for college at 18 so joined the Marines. I was married at 18 but knew that was not all there was to life and went back to school and got a Master’s Degree at 58.
The culture followed us and family violence and substance abuse was prevalent in both sets of family and neighbors. No one on the lower economic scale escapes these dangers, and even though I did not learn about things until much later, my own tribe suffered from alcoholism, wife beating, drug use, jail time, and having to move far away to escape the inevitable downward spiral of despair.
J.D. Vance in his new book Hillbilly Elegy lists all the things that his family never taught him so that he could advance educationally and socially. On that list are how to dress for an interview, how to use the many eating utensils at a formal dinner, how to do laundry, how to balance a checkbook, and how to make out application forms for any college or job.
He picked up some of these in the service, but could not control the underlying quick temper that lead to violence until he was invested with a girlfriend and worked out that road rage was best not acted upon.
One of the new things that made me sit up and pay attention was his statement about social capital. My first reaction was- “What the **** is this?” I had never heard the term as applying to a person. I am sure I have come across it in all my book reading, but it never meant anything.
I was sure of one thing, I did not have any.
What is meant by having social capital was that a person builds up a network of friends or keeps contact with family who can help in getting ahead professionally or personally.
Since I was socially isolated from my Midwestern tribe in Michigan, I had no recourse to asking for favors from them. On the contrary it was I that traveled thousands of miles to visit them when I could.
Married life only gave me contact with my husband’s colleagues and since we moved often I had no chance of building any sort of social network at all.
After my divorce, I learned how to make out forms for welfare, and found how to raise a child on very little money without sinking into the drug or alcoholism of other “welfare mothers”.
When I finally had a good job at entry level salary it was barely enough to break even on living expenses in New York.
Now my social capital may be paying off, as the many years that I cared for a child and saw to his needs before mine results in his helping out whenever I need to move household, or transportation.
It is remarkable that I had not heard of this phenomena and had to read a book from a Kentucky hillbilly who made good to find out that hidden away in my own family history was some of that social capital, but it was not mine, but my younger brother’s.
His actions earned me some good will and a good family story fifty years later, but I held it to be just one of the little family tales that meant very little at the time.
How do you capitalize on this “social capital?” It is probably useful for job hunting and social climbing, and certainly in politics, but since I am long past any of these activities, it remains good for a topic in writing an essay. Thank you J.D.