Last May I mentioned that I was about to put the finishing touches on another article for the Washington Post Magazine (“Shezzed Clean,” May 7, 2009). Well, it finally dropped. “Family Finances” came out in the Financial Issue on July 19, 2007. “As brothers, they shared a birthday and Ivy League educations,” titillates the subtitle. “Then their bank accounts parted ways.”
I am pleased to report that my brother and I are still on good terms, which seems to be everybody’s first question. He happened to be in town this weekend and there was perhaps a wee bit more tension than normal (but that may have been because I took a couple sets off him in doubles). By and large, he handled playing the foil well, and I think I fulfilled my promise to him to make sure he didn’t come off like a rich jerk.
One of my goals with this piece was to write something that wasn’t based in the classroom, although of course this was still predicated on being (paid as) an educator. I wanted to write out of my teacher box just to progress as a writer, and as a plank for my nope-not-yet book proposal.
I was gratified by the response from the reading public in the form of over forty emails which showed that I had indeed connected with noneducators on this one just as much as colleagues. Following is a sample of the responses which I am, as ever, absurdly grateful to receive, assigned to categories and lightly excerpted.
I’m (underemployed, underpaid, an educator) and I can relate:
As a 27 year educator it was a pleasure to read your article (which I didn’t actually get to until Monday). My husband is in ministry and I coordinate a special education program in an elementary school. I have been in the same school for 26 of those years and find myself now working with the children of my my former students. I used to say, in our fields, we will never be “rich”. Like you and your wife we juggle bills each month and I sometimes wonder if I should take my Ph.D and go somewhere else. But, each year about this time the excitement comes again, looking forward to a new school year. My mind is spinning with new ideas, ways to make things just a little better for the children and for the teachers that I work with. Yes, I am grateful for the break in the summer especially with my own child at home, But, as long as that excitement is still there, I will stay where I am and thank God for the opportunity hoping that I really am making a difference in a child’s life, And, in reality, we really are “rich” in more ways than one. Your article inspires me - Thank you.
It’s a twin thing:
I wanted to let you know that I recently read your article “Family Finances” and found it refreshingly honest and effective, as well as relatable to me. I have a twin sister with whom I have shared most of my life experiences with. When it was time for college, we choose similar small liberal arts schools. We went to private high school in Kensington, Maryland - Academy of the Holy Cross - and had two other sets of girl twins in our class who both ending up going to school together. My sister and I however knew we would never go to school together - we were more then ready to start on our own lives! Anyway, we both graduated this past May. She is starting an Event Planning job in a few weeks, whereas I am headed off to graduate school in the fall for journalism. It is quite a strange feeling, as it’s the first time in our lives that we are going on different paths.
I especially enjoyed your article because it speaks to the unique - parallel, competitive - relationship that twins often have (especially ones of the same gender). I realized it’s the first writing I’ve read by a fellow twin, and I could relate with some much of what you said. Countless friends have told me that they wished they had a twin, which prompted me to write a non-fiction piece for a creative writing class that basically tried to explain to non-twins the difficultly of life as a twin. I was amazed as to how much interested the story was met with. People truly seem to be very interested in how twins live!
I liked your writing because:
Your writing is textured with thought and insight like how the best narratives in the NYTimes work. It lingers and hits home, makes the reader ask their own questions. I hear my daughters and their husbands on the cusp of these choices and, in that way, the essay is instructional.
The photos are vibrant. There are many moments--the planting of the maple tree--the runs along the river in Brooklyn (I was just in that exact area between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridge). You captured it. Understatement is something you do well--the imagery and symbolism is subtle. The piece is honest and does not become the least bit polemic--instead treads the middle, peering out into both directions. It honors both paths taken.
When you write like this, bring us these considerations, you enrich our community. At a time when most of the Post is now a whiz-through paper, your writing slowed things down.
I used to teach you (your brother/your sister) in Sunday (high/grade) school:
i read your essay in the ‘washington post’ magazine today. i knew you became a teacher and your twin brother became a laywer. i taked very briefly to your mom about 6 months ago at a séance regarding bernie madoff at beth el and was told all four of you were doing well and I was happy to hear that. I taught you and jimmy, you may recall, after bar mitzvah and before confirmation, and taught you on the weekend so you could wrestle in high school. I know some grads of your congressional school and my god daughter is in summer camp there (perhaps you have somnething to do with that). If you would like to chew over some of the old nails from beth el, I would most enjoy doing that with you. can you break away for lunch?
Way to stick it to the man:
The score isn’t tied. You win. Hands down.
My father had career like your brother’s--always working, never home, and when he was home, not really there. Now in his twilight years, he once told me his only regret was that he’d missed his chance to watch us girls grow up.
You will never have to say that to your sons. And that is worth more than all the six figure salaries in the world.
Sir, you are the man:
I love the tone of the article and how evenly you present both sides of the financial equation for you and your brother.
My husband likes to describe the conundrum you’re talking about as quality of life versus standard of living, but what I like about your article is that it’s very clear that the issues aren’t that simple.
Contributing to the demise of organized religion:
Just want you to know that I’ll be late for church because I couldn’t stop reading your latest. I love it!
I knew someone in your family tree:
My husband and I were most interested in your article appearing in this week’s Post-- especially since he grew up in Pittsfield, MA. When I asked him if your name meant anything to him, he said your father’s store was right across the street from Besse-Clark’s where his Dad worked. In fact, he told me that your Dad had tried to hire his Dad, George Videll Sr., away from Besse-Clark’s. I hope you occasionally spend time in Pittsfield. We thoroughly enjoy visiting cousins there, usually in the summer or during the Fall when the leafers are in town. Not much traffic and gorgeous scenery. The changes in the city over the years since GE left are rather sad. North St. not what it was.
I also enjoyed reading about your brother’s place in Brooklyn, since I am originally from Jersey and am familiar with NYC. Pittsfield is not the only place that is changing.
You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine:
I have never written to a newspaper article’s author before today. I just wanted you to know I enjoyed reading every word you wrote about you and your brother’s lives. The fact that you were so open about your finances was wonderful. Many writers just couldn’t go there.
I am a 62-yr. old housewife in idyllic Warrenton, Va. who has a sister that lives only one mile from me. She was born a preemie, expelled from school, has dyslexia and ADD and has never married.
I have taken care of her all my life. She has followed me from Michigan to Virginia, Colorado, California and back to Virginia. She treats my three children and three grandchildren as if they were her own.
Of course, I have had a more successful financial life that she has. But, she is still my sister and we have a lifetime in common. She is caring, has empathy for animals and people. All the money in the world can’t purchase that!
You tell me yours and I’ll tell you my kids’ (and grandkids’):
thanks for that wonderful piece! my wife and i enjoyed it very much. i worked for VVKR Inc. (an A/E firm) in alexandria from 1972 thru 1990 and in DC from 1990 till i retired in 1996. my wife did her residency at GWU and worked in glen burnie until she retired in 1997. .. in 1973 we transferred our daughter to congressional when alexandria was going to send her from where we lived in the hamlet apts to the inner city. great school you are running there! we moved to springfield in ’74 and sent our 2 daughters to FC public schools. the older one attended mt. holyoke and the younger one boston U, after high school at lake braddock.
we arrived in america as immigrants in 1965 and lived and worked in new haven and bridgeport until our move to alexandria in 1972. my wife worked as an anesthesiologist and i worked as an architect. i was the project manager of the alexandria public safety center and city jail and helped design the twin aluminum towers in rosslyn (formerly occupied by USA today). i guess we didn’t do too badly. what can i say...america is a great country for immigrants...can’t complain.
we have 5-year-old twin grandsons, jake and bobby, from our older daughter. the younger one lives (and is presently jobless) in boston. she refuses to work in DC because of the commute. she worked at georgetown’s lombardi center for 5 years and worked at the boston medical center until last december when the BMU grants dried up and she was let go. she is pulling unemployment which should run out soon. but she’ll manage. she did a stint in moldova with the peace corps. she’s a big girl now. we’re not worried.
your story made me wonder if jake and bobby’s story will be the same as yours and jim in another 30 years. their dad, chris, was west point ’88 and duke MBA. he usually regularly the boys bath time like jim and works his blueberry at home too. he is sales VP of a memphis biotech company. renee is a stay-at-home mom who plays tennis regularly with other wives in their neighborhood.
thanks again for sharing the human condition in 21st century america. who is rich and who is poor? who is happy and who is not? i have no idea. but i think i believe this:
“There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.” - Henry David Thoreau
Poor bro, my butt:
Nice read, but do u truly “know broke”?
You live in a tony, mostly white enclave. You have only 2 kids, who likely attend good schools.
You r comparing urself to your bro. Wrong yardstick, Id argue. Ur still better off than most. Be grateful.
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