This memoir collection centers on rules, work, and class divisions. The three pieces track a personal journey of learning the rules to ignore, the rules to break, and the rules to honor—all in the face of class rules that seem to hold firm.
The first piece centers on my family. My parents chose to ignore rules when they began their life of work. Like all children, I looked for rules to follow. I found the rules that mattered the most through the lives of my parents who owned small town newspapers in Alabama. My parents ignored the class rules that had taken hold even in Cullman, Alabama, as they worked. While there was never a hint from the two of them that success might be out of their reach, I remember gathering clues that friends had more money, more status; and therefore, more rules to follow.
The second writing honors the only teacher that brought discipline to my young life without rules. Once a week I pulled on a black leotard, pale pink tights, and black slippers to stand before Miss Anita in her weekly ballet class. After a four-year stretch of classes with the former Stuttgart, Germany, soloist, I automatically hold my arms in the slight curve of a ballerina decades later as I try to hold my balance in order to squat in a gym.
I am both a teacher and rule-breaker in the final piece of writing. But I am also a student. My teacher, Charles Marshall, a 15-year-old from Savannah, Georgia, helped me understand the reason he and my other students were dodging threats, police, and bullets on street corners. These young men were disciplined workers who tried to follow the severe rules of the drug trade, in hopes of a lifestyle that offered the comfort and luxury of the upper class.
Memories can be deceptive. As I was writing these pieces, I traveled back in time by visiting the key players in my stories. I pulled new information from my mother and siblings to understand the luxury of a childhood of freedom. I also shared my stories with Miss Anita, who did not recognize me but who could conjure my mother’s face. I then apologized to Charles for “not knowing how to reach him” in my middle school class.
I learned new information as I knitted my memories together. But I also took note of the emerging consistencies in my life: Work is important. Rules, if there are any, should center on fair and kind treatment to others. Children grow when they are creative. The grounding that work and creativity offer repair the damage that class rules can leave on the younger self because work and creativity offer the strength of self-reliance.