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The Revolt of the White Lower Middle Class

Hamill on Hamill

As much as anyone, I'm a son of the white working class. My parents were Catholics who immigrated from Protestant Belfast, in the North of Ireland, because they believed America was a place where a human being would be judged on his merits, not his religion. My father, a member of Sinn Fein, left in the wake of the bloody anti-Catholic rioting in the early '20s; my mother arrived the day the stock market crashed in 1929; it's been all uphill since. My father lost his leg playing semi-prosoccer in Brooklyn in 1931, and spent most of the Depression and the first seven years of his marriage as a $19-a-week clerk in a grocery chain. During World War Two he worked in a Bush Terminal war plant, and was an electrical wirer in a factory from 1946 until his retirement four years ago. There were seven children, of which I an the oldest, and my father never earned more than $85 a week in his life. The family never took welfare, although they were certainly entitled to it. Instead, my mother worked, first as a nurse's aide, emptying bedpans and other things in Brooklyn's Methodist Hospital, later as a cashier at the RKO Prospect. I quit high school after two years at the age of 16, to work as a sheetmetal worker in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Later, I joined the Navy, studied painting and design and became a writer; that's another story. My parents now live in Bay Ridge; two of my brothers live in California; one is in the Army, and just returned from Vietnam where he won a Bronze Star; one is a professional photographer; the other is a high school senior, and my sister is a budding journalist. In retirement, my father watches ballgames, reads fiction from Raymond Chandler to Dostoievski, and every once in a while gets a load on for old times' sake. My mother still works. It is a tough habit to break.


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