Frances Stebbins, Correspondent
[This is a memory from the many decades the author has been privileged to write for daily and weekly newspapers circulating in Western Virginia.]
If my three children had gone to college – as the children of most of my friends did in the 1970s – I would not be able to live in the relative financial comfort I do today.
Late husband Charlie and I greatly regretted that our daughter and two sons were so unmotivated for education beyond high school. We both were graduates in journalism of a professional school in our commonwealth’s capital city. As a World War II Veteran, Charlie was 25 when he matriculated; he had held reporting jobs on daily and weekly newspapers on his Washington, D.C. high school diploma. I had no such on-the-job background but chose higher education for news writing so I could follow my dream of publishing novels.
When Julia, Frank and Harvey were children, we assumed they too would get a college degree.
It did not happen for several reasons. Now our culture is coming around full circle. Commitment to doing needed jobs and a willingness to undergo learning while actually employed appears to be making a comeback.
I am gratified that our three all were gainfully employed for their adult lives. None were physicians, lawyers, clergy or college professors, professions that clearly demand a lot of academic background. The eldest and youngest had brief ventures in vocational training, but they chose it, not because their parents decided.
Our daughter, after an unsuccessful early marriage, left her hometown for the “deep South” and got a ground-level banking job. Soon she’ll retire from a long and successful career comfortably off financially and married for nearly 40 years.
Our older son, who struggled academically from 1964 to 1977 and took American Government three times before his high school graduation, found his vocation in maintenance in a Roanoke heavy industry. He and his younger brother rendered years of valuable service with their suburban volunteer fire department.
The younger son’s life was, I now believe, shadowed by the autism spectrum, for he lacked close relationships until undiagnosed depression cut his life short at 54. But, after graduation from the Burton Center for vocational training, he held several jobs in the HVAC industry. He was commended for his reliability,
All our children were responsible financial managers, a trait their parents apparently passed on by example.
In a kind of Bible class my church has been holding in a Salem park, the subject of prophets was recently discussed; many books in the Old Testament are about men – women didn’t count for much in those days – warning the ancient Jewish people, who had turned away from God, of the Deity’s wrath to come. And indeed, their temple was destroyed for a time and many were exiled to the great city of Babylon.
People like Isaiah and Jeremiah warned the people and are known as prophets. A simple definition of a prophet is one who tells the future, but in biblical terms, a prophet points out how society is amiss.
I know that they are not easy to live with, especially for those who love them and do not necessarily agree with what they preach.
There was such a prophet in my own family in the person of one of my first cousins on the paternal side. When my single-parent mother’s death when I was 19 left me an orphan with no siblings, the late Sarah Patton Boyle of Charlottesville became my legal guardian.
At that time, the legal age was still 21, and I was two years short of attaining it. My mother, knowing she had a terminal heart condition, had arranged for the guardianship before her death; it pleased me, for Patty, as she was always known to the family, was 25 years my senior but a budding writer as the wife of a University of Virginia professor.
What no one realized in 1948 was that the beloved cousin had become a civil rights activist. Her advocacy of full rights for Black people is taken for granted today, but to a girl reared in a traditional Southern society with a proud Confederate heritage, it was incomprehensible that she should want to become a strong supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King and even spend a night in jail when involved in protests against segregation in the South.
She published an autobiographical book on her change of view about Black people, “The Desegregated Heart.” I managed to get through it finding it especially difficult when she criticized her mother, who as my beloved paternal aunt, also was appalled at what she saw as a daughter’s betrayal of her culture.
For me, as well as my husband, several difficult years followed because of our disagreement at Patty’s militance.
Ten years passed. There is a happy ending. Following a divorce from the professor – not related to her activism – and a move to Northern Virginia, Patty’s ardor cooled as the Civil Rights Movement grew in at least some acceptance.
In 1965, I underwent a religious conversion; a gradual but happy byproduct was an acceptance of my cousin’s ardor. We grew closer as she published other books and I made an annual visit to her in Arlington now with many rich memories. She died at 87 in 1994.
She was a prophet in her way. I wonder what Jeremiah’s family thought of him.