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In 1953 I would have been five. Gas was something like, 19.9 cents a gallon. It smelled good wafting in the window while the attendant washed the windows. The attendant I remember was giving a lecture into our Plymouth.

My mom, a recent war bride from England sat beside my father. My little sister and I still experienced the world as a series of lessons and sensory input .

The attendant’s lecture involved niggers. He seemed to disregard any value in niggers–and he managed to work the word into every sentence. My mother and father sat quiet in this monologue. My sister and I watched each other, and considered this new word, no doubt trying to understand it from context.

As we pulled away from the gas station my mother leaned back over the seat and spoke to my sister and me. She used her serious voice–that’s why I remember it–it was close to a scolding. She said, “That man is what is called white trash. We don’t use words like that in our house.”

She turned around and announced to the general audience within our car, “I better not catch anyone in our house using that word.” We lived on a dirt road across the tracks. We had a roof patched in colors that reflected good bargain hunting. We had asbestos siding and three valuable coon dogs in the back yard. No one ever used that word.

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Characterizations: , moving, right on!, well written


  1. David Rock says:

    This was a very powerful story. Extremely startling at the beginning, but well crafted as it made it’s very poignant points. Very emotionally engaging and well crafted.

  2. Susan says:

    A stark lesson learned from very principled parents. Satisfying on so many levels. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Deborah Abel says:

    Knock-out writing in that last paragraph!

  4. rosie says:

    As usual your stories have strong and direct impact. Delighted to be reading your work.

  5. That’s a great moment of parenting. I love it that you say your house was a result of bargain-hunting, and suggest that your coon dogs were the pride of the family. I am curious about how your war bride mum knew the term “white trash.” She must have learnt it after she arrived.

    Was the message that it was okay to call someone “white trash”?

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