Liberty Bell, Philadelphia

Liberty Bell, Philadelphia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



The year was 2002. The month was December. You may ask yourself, “Why is this so important?”

I assume that you, like myself, count the days, hours and minutes until Christmas vacation arrives. And why was this vacation different from all other vacations? The reason this vacation was significant is that winter, my parents decided I should visit my relatives. However, instead of going to see my grandmother in Florida and getting to go to Cape Canaveral and Disney World, or visiting my Uncle Prescott, who would take me to midnight movies; my parents, with a little pressure from my grandmother, sent me to my cousin Lila’s sweet sixteen party in Philadelphia.

You see, my cousins Lila and Elizabeth live in that blueblood bastion called the Philadelphia Mainline. My East Coast family are so far off from anything I can relate to, the only thing we have in common is our last name. My cousins come from a family that is very upper-class, very preppy and polite and very, very well-behaved. If social climbing were an Olympic sport, they would win the gold medal. They don’t keep up with the Joneses, they leave them in the dust. And they would be really upset if this ever got out, so keep this under wraps, ok?

I bet my Mainline cousins have never had their mom raid their piggy bank for gas money, never had their credit cards maxed out, never had their cable TV turned off because the bill wasn’t paid and never had to bring their own snacks into a movie theater.

They don’t sit on the furniture, they use the correct forks. They live in a world of country clubs and seventy thousand-dollar home equity loan sweet sixteen parties at the botanical gardens; a world of trophy wives and plastic surgery beauty. They are “nice.” They are boring.

On the other hand, I come from a middle-class, decently spoiled, rude and obnoxious family. So, a culture clash was inevitable, even though my grandmother did her best to spiff up the (relatively) poor West-Coast cousins so they would fit in. Grandma took us to a kid’s designer clothing shop. Aunt Nadine wondered why my mom had neglected to send us properly attired. I assume Aunt Nadine has never had her credit card declined. A designer winter wardrobe for two California kids was not exactly one of our spending priorities.

The owner served us attentively, as the Mainliner relatives were good paying customers. They picked out matching suits and shoes for my brother and me. At Uncle Roland’s suggestion, grandma took us to Pierre’s Styling Salon and Uncle Roland put in a call to make sure Pierre took care of us himself. I think he did my dad too. Pierre had us put on the suit jackets to make sure our haircuts fit with the line of the collar. This wasn’t Supercuts.

With a look of disgust, Uncle Roland took my dad’s off-the-rack suit to get it pressed. According to my dad, his brother and sister-in-law didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of “350 of their closest friends.”

My brother’s shoes were too small, but the store owner said they fit fine since he didn’t have a bigger size and grandma wanted us to match. My brother cried all the way over to the party that the shoes hurt, and he promptly ditched them under the table once we got there.

It was hot and stuffy at the party, and the perfume and cigarette smoke gave me a headache, so I went outside without any jacket. I had never played in real snow before, so I had a blast. Some of my cousin’s classmates from her Ivy-feeder prep school (by the way, Cousin Lila was valedictorian and has been accepted to Harvard) told me I was crazy. Do you think I cared?

Later, my dad took us to see the Liberty Bell and we heard a gang shooting. That was pretty exciting. But, I am never going back. Would you?

About chaya1957

Claire is a fifty-something pseudo-intellectual San Diegan writing whatever magically appears on her keyboard because she is now old enough to do stuff like this.



  1. (copied this from old blog) chaya1957 says:
    June 8, 2013, at 1:03 am (Edit)
    I’ve gleaned from past forays among the uber-wealthy, that one of their unwritten rules is that you never allude to the reality of their wealth, or that others experience a different, though not necessarily inferior, lifestyle. It’s like using the steak fork to piddle with your salad and considered bad form and evidence of uncouth middle-class manners.

    One very sweet trophy wife informed me that they had decided to send their scion to the local public school located in their exclusive district, reasoning that they wanted their child not to be sheltered in a religious private school, but experience the “real world,” as they had. However, Rancho Santa Fe is the wealthiest community in the US; it is certainly not representative of the “real world.” The private religious school was far more diverse, as it attracted students from the surrounding middle-class and upper-middle-class communities, even considering the constraints of tuition and faith.

    Another lady unknowingly dissed a wonderful pre-school that my son loved, claiming it was located in a “bad,” neighborhood. This was a mixed business and residential neighborhood. The preschool was located in a church, and there were several churches, parks, a YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and eateries among other businesses nearby. The residential area was middle-class, although there was a growing lower-middle class Hispanic population. It could hardly be considered a ghetto, and one needn’t be concerned about visiting the area day or night.

    The only thing “bad,” about the location of the preschool is that a high school was directly across the street, and students frequently invaded our parking lot, occupying spaces intended for parents and staff use. We tried complaining to the principal of the local high school but learned our hands were tied unless the preschool/church was willing to spend thousands of dollars in city fees to place official signs limiting parking and informing scofflaws where they could pick up their towed vehicles. Our preschool was even forced to reschedule events if they conflicted with the high school so we could ensure adequate parking for our families. One time, while returning to my vehicle after picking up my son, I observed an adolescent couple engaged in torrid devotional activity inside a car parked nearby. Quickly, I distracted my young son, as we hadn’t gotten that far in our birds and bees curriculum, and my plans were to not visit that chapter for at least a few years.

    I really appreciated food-involved, female social events among the trust-baby set. Trophy wives are meticulous to obsession about maintaining the slim figures that have earned and maintained their status and lifestyle. They especially eschew the dessert tray with an attitude of near disgust. Great, more for me!

    A husband-wife couple (husband from Guatemala and wife from El Salvador) did the outside and inside maintenance for the exclusive school where my younger son was enrolled in kindergarten. I engaged in friendly conversation with both on occasion and arranged play dates for my son with their child of the same age. They informed me, while everyone there was very nice to them, none had communicated beyond expected social niceties, (although they pitched in for a lovely Christmas gift) and none invited any social interaction outside that environment. “Maria,” and I had an enjoyable conversation as we speculated we were the only ladies present that possessed real breasts. In her thick accent, she explained, “Thees ees fat (pinching her ample breasts.) They skeeeny.” We agreed that a size zero’s double dees were practically guaranteed to be silicon or saline.


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