Monday, September 27, 2010

My People

My People are New England WASPs. I observe that there are similar groups in the North Central states and Pacific Northwest. My identification with them is less than it was, and I certainly have always had personal characteristics that separated me from them. Nonetheless, whether by genes or training, some of their values are mine to the bone. Even in excoriating them/us, I find I say that with some pride.
Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

We dislike ostentatious wealth. We say in church or in politics that we dislike materialism, but our examples are nearly always those of people flaunting money or bragging about it, not Volvos, prep schools, or summer "cottages" worth more than most houses. Even if we ourselves are poor clerks in bookstores, we don't resent them nearly so much. We turn our checks face down when we pay or put them in the plate. We may have an estimate how much our friends or neighbors might make, or how much they paid for things, but we don't ask and don't tell. Money should talk softly, especially if it carries a big stick.

Though the entire region no longer goes to church, we don't mind religion, and even like some of the trappings of it on our town greens and Christmas cards. But we do believe it should be quiet and modest. Even atheism should be quiet and modest. Agnosticism is much nicer, really. Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Unitarians - those are all nice. Quakers ceased being confrontative over a century ago, so those are good. Presbyterians and Methodists arrived a bit noisy, but we settled them right down. Lutherans were a pleasant surprise, arriving already quite subdued. Baptists, even in their quieter ABCUSA version, remain suspect, and Catholics, even though they still have lots of Latin, are right out. Perhaps the academic side of religion would suit you better, dear. Please don't take up any religious activities that would cause the scholars in other disciplines to cluck their tongues. And we admit, it's nice to have at least one theologian in the family we can all point to to show that we understand. People of color, including Greeks and Italians, though we speak of them and their religious practice with the warmest admiration, can have as much display and noise as they like because they...well, they are wonderful people in their own way, but...

We don't disapprove of patriotism per se, but we believe it should be quiet and modest. Or invisible. Entertainments should be quiet and modest, without noisy engines or blaring speakers. We like libraries, reading at home, that sort of thing. Crowds, especially noisy ones, make us uncomfortable. There are crowds at some sporting events, and even some noisy drunks. But those tend to be, well, ethnic people. It's not drunks that we disapprove of, but noisy or coarse ones. Our sports are quiet: tennis, hiking, skiing, golf, crew, sailing. Kayaking, though modern, is much like canoeing and thus fine. Waterskiing would seem to be too noisy and showy, Muffin, but somehow it makes the list, but never competitively. Soccer, lacrosse, or even hockey, though they can be violent, are approved of so long as the crowds are restricted to family members and classmates. But there is no objection to someone having too much to drink there, so long as it is unobtrusive. And the school colors should be subdued. We call this crimson, and this is Dartmouth's green. And Brown University, of course, has a school color that would not be saleable anywhere else in the country.

We also make allowances for young people to be noisy and/or drunk, if they are at school events and not bothering the neighbors.

One may hunt if one absolutely must, but only birds. Mammals are for the lower classes, though moose were still acceptable targets up until grandfather's day. In the matter of deer, only up until his boyhood. Shooting rabbits or squirrels is beneath contempt. If grandfather ever hunted those, no one talks about it now.

Art, even if it is transgressive and significant, should not be garish. Statues should be all one color. They can be nude - a certain percentage of them should be, in fact, because that is very classical Greek or Renaissance European - but the Italians did go a bit over the line, even with the fig leaves. The French - well, they're French, after all, and you should experience them in their own country.

If one must join the military, then the Navy is best, or perhaps the Air Force, but not in any of those jobs where one shoots at people, or is around any noise at all, actually. The Army, or heaven forfend, the Marines, are not quite...nice. Best to give the military a complete pass, dear, though it is still nice to have a few in the family tree.

Are we seeing a pattern here?

Let me assure you that we have not the slightest insight into how thoroughly this drives our religious practice and political opinions. Our objections to the Tea Party, and country music, and those trailers they call Winnebagos, and Pentecostals, and Wal-mart are based on solid logical premises. As intellectuals, we are entirely certain that our opinions are the result of rational processes and careful consideration. And trust me, we can go on at length to prove this is so, citing many famous writers.

10 comments:

Ymar said...

It is easy for people at the top or those that are going to the top, to want to keep the status quo as it is.

Don't rock the boat.

Chaos breeds competition and competition upsets the natural balance of things. It might make the rich and powerful, not so rich and powerful. Which would be a shame and a crime against all kinds of stuff.

David said...

"Statues should be all one color"...would be quite a shock to any of these WASPs transported to ancient Greece...

terri said...

This amused me! Though I made sure to laugh quietly and modestly, so as not to upset the WASP's nest!

:-)

Retriever said...

Sounds familiar...I could always relate to the character of Bilbo in the Hobbit, who is considered rash and flighty, because my WASP relatives have always told me to be more sedate...my spouse still does...

Anna said...

You have described them to a tee. Although I believe in Maine it is even worse because then you have that whole "from Maine/from away" dynamic going on. Like you are not "from Maine" unless both sides of the family were there for generations, you were born there, and grew up there. Anyone else, nope.

So according to them I am not really from Maine, and I am half middle eastern to boot, so you can imagine how great I fit in here...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Anna, in NH we pretend that you're just fine, but we don't mean it, and it makes people crazy trying to figure out what's wrong with them.

Bram said...

My wife and I were raised WASP Congregationalist in different central MA towns. We are stand-offish, mind-your-own business, ice-cold Yankees.

We live in NJ now, where people often kiss for a greeting. Those who know us don't even bother trying any more.

Cloyd said...

Well, to each one's own. I know the type and appreciate a few such folks from a distance. I'm glad to be from a different tradition, comfortable with our own but warmer and more open to new experiences and people with other traits. And not quite so obsessed about money.

Best that we are all different in our own ways, there's room in America for many kinds.

Whitehall said...

An interesting historical questions is how and why did the Puritans mutate into Yankees?

The best answer I've read is money. Business was so good that the secular rewards overshadowed the religous fervor while building on it.

I was raised Midwestern Lutheran and yes, we were raised to be quiet and modest too. Of course, the external view called that "dour."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Whitehall, my sidebar series on Wyrd and Providence treats on that at some length.