Growing up in suburban and rural New Jersey, I had encountered the signs of it regularly.
In the spare room closet, a framed photographic portrait of John F. Kennedy, the likes of which my mother told me had been sold “everywhere” in Camelot’s wake. A copy of Arthur M. Schlesinger’s “A Thousand Days,” an elegiac tome of the era. My father’s blue cotton shirts with the Buick logo embroidered on the breast pocket, part of his uniform from when he worked as an auto body repairman at a dealership in Englewood, N.J. And the fixer-upper Cape Cod, which my parents had purchased with an FHA loan, and which my father labored over nights and weekends, filling holes in the walls because my mother insisted on a house for their daughters.
We were a blue-collar family, members of what I now call the upper working class. My parents were Democrats. When I registered to vote at 18, I declared myself a Democrat, at beginning of President Ronald Reagan’s second term.
When I was eight years old, my family moved to Vernon, N.J., a township in an exurban region that was mostly working class as well. Almost every child I knew was from up in a blue-collar family. Their dads often worked in union shops. The breadwinner across the street was a bricklayer. A father up the street worked at the now-defunct Ford plant in Mahwah. Another dad was a mail carrier. The moms stayed at home, cooking, doing thorough house cleanings hanging laundry out on clotheslines. They met afternoons at kitchen tables for coffee, while we, their offspring, played outside, in attics, basements, in the woods.
When my father shopped for groceries, he roamed the aisles for dented canned goods that were marked down. He studied the offerings in the meat department, selecting roasts, all beef, because he had learned from his father that a good working man provides his family with lean meat.