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In high school, Ken got lucky. He had become an "A's and B's" student and one of his English teachers, impressed by his intellectual curiosity and determination, took him under her wing.
"Mrs. Jones (not her real name) lent me a lot of her own books during the last couple of years of high school and she took the time to talk to me about them after school; George Eliot or Thomas Hardy or Hemingway -- those have been favorites all my life."
Mrs. Jones, along with a 12th grade government teacher, talked to Ken's mother about college scholarships. "Momma was thrilled, just beside herself. She almost couldn't believe it, really, but I'd told her since I started high school that I wanted to go to college."
Eventually, Ken went to a state university on a near-full scholarship and wound up with a Masters degree in journalism. He worked his way up through three newsrooms until he reached the editor's position he holds today. He's married with two children in college and is "thoroughly American middle class," he says, chuckling. "The lawn mower, the grill, the two cars, the works. My deepest satisfaction, along with my wife and children, is that Momma is still here and I've been able to make her life easier." Ken stared for a few moments into the pines in his large backyard. "I don't see how she raised us as well as she did, really; I don't know if I could do it.
"The thing is," Ken continues, "I was lucky. And that's all it is. Momma and my teachers looked after me; that's something that didn't happen to some other people I knew from my socioeconomic background -- heck, from my own neighborhood -- who had just as much potential as I did. They just weren't as lucky as I was. (chuckles) The fact is, a lot of people who've done well in life don't realize how much luck played a part in their success -- I mean the luck of being born into a family that could do things like pay for piano lessons, send you to college, get you out of trouble now and then. It's a lot easier for the well-to-do to think that "those people' stay poor because they're unworthy, as if poor people are all born dumb and lazy and what else can you expect from them? It's easier for successful people to think they got ahead because they deserved it, because they worked for it. Well, the fact is a lot of people deserve success and work hard for it and they never get it, simply because they hit that brick wall. They don't have access to the resources that most people take for granted. Not too many people think about that kind of thing; it's too uncomfortable for them, I guess.
We asked Ken several times to let us use his real name, but he insisted on privacy. "I tell you why," he explained. "It's because I still see poor folks being made fun of all the time -- if you're poor, you're "trailer trash' or you have those "bubba teeth' you see at convenience stores or whatever. And I've seen people like me who made it out of that background who are still looked at sideways because of it, no matter what they become. Also, I've seen people, I'm thinking of a couple of old friends in particular, who were brilliant, simply brilliant people, but because they were never taught how to act in higher social circles or how to dress for an interview or they kept their thick accent, they . . . well, they got screwed, there's no other way to put it. And for no reason other than they were seen as "white trash in disguise' as one of my not-so-distinguished colleagues at the newspaper once put it."
"Our life is complete here."
A few trailers up from Kim and Brad Haxwell in the Twin Lakes Mobile Home Park live David and Merry Kammerer with their five children, ages from 3 months to 7 years. Merry, 34, and David, 51, moved into the Twin Lakes Mobile Home Park about four years ago. At first, they rented out one of their trailer's three bedrooms to a young girl to help make ends meet. In 2000, the couple took over as the development's property managers, which brings home less than $25,000 a year.