Marguerite, 60, mother of 5, grandmother of 7, is a student at The Literacy Project in Greenfield. After leaving school in the 4th grade, working and raising a family, she returned four years ago to complete her GED and plans to attend college.
I’ve been here four years trying to get my GED. I walked in because I wanted to get my GED. You’re going to think this is crazy, but my grandkids keep me calling me retarded and stupid, and I decided that I was going to show them up. To prove them wrong. Because we have this challenge in our house. So, since I’ve been going to classes, they haven’t said it very much. I have proved them wrong. So I’m happy for that.
My mother graduated from high school. And my father went to college. Then WWII came along, and he got in the Navy. And if I would have been smarter, I definitely would have joined the Army, and made a career out of it. But I didn’t think I was smart, and I didn’t sign up.
[I went through] fourth grade. I was in a one-room school house, three classes, third, fourth, and fifth, and we had Mrs. Cross. And I don’t mean the cross on the steeple either. When you got a school teacher in the third grade telling you she’s going to throw you out the window without it even being open, you don’t listen to what she says, you’re just worrying is she going to do it. You’re living in fear and that was as good as that. You know, if they thought a child was stupid, or they just didn’t like the looks of the child, they would verbally say it right out. So, it was like bringing the child down, which I disagree with.
My mother said me and my sister definitely both had to be pulled out, ‘cause of the abuse. You got a teacher that sends a history book at you that’s that thick. It happened. Well, I got hit upside the head. The school bus driver told my mother. She said, “No, that can’t happen.” Between a lot of moving around, and the fact that the teachers were so abusive back in them days, that it was kind of like a relief not to be the victim of that kind of abuse.
Plus, we could go to work. We were living in New Hampshire at that time. It was easy to get field work and stuff at that age. And you know, you might as well. The kids worked picking apples, picking peaches or something. And you’d work from sunrise ‘til sundown. I could pass for a boy you know. I could get a job. [They’d say,] “Go pick those dropped apples for $0.25 a basket,” and I’d say sure. It was easy. As long as you worked hard, you got paid.
[Then] I did some babysitting, cleaned some houses, you know. I’ve held a few factory jobs. The first job I ever got was working in the paper mill. I worked in a paper mill wrapping toilet paper, back in Putney, Vermont. Then I got a job in a woolen mill. I was there a couple of months. I was 19, and then we moved to Maine. There I went down both sides of the street, and if one didn’t hire you, the next one would. I worked in a textile mill. I worked in a shoe shop. This was in 1965. Now there ain’t factories at all.
I moved to Massachusetts in 1984. [I worked as a CNA] for over 20 years. I’m a certified nurse’s aid for the state of Massachusetts for 20 years. I passed the state exam, and I got my license back then. I’m a certified home health aide too. I liked working in a nursing home. You do everything except the paper work. If you can clean a child, if you can clean a baby, you can clean an adult. It was hard work. I can lift, you know. You go home, and your back’s telling you. I liked it because I thought I could help. And that was good. The pay was good when it was there. The highest I made for home care was $7.10. That was in first part of the ‘90s. But on the weekends, you get $10.00.
The two best paying jobs is a doctor and undertaker because there is always somebody sick and somebody dying. Where it comes to health and nursing home and hospital, it is always going to be there. Them will be there. Some other jobs like factory jobs, they’ve pretty well petered out. There are some, yes. But they’re pretty well petered out.
Everybody’s worried about money. But to me money isn’t everything. Never had much, and I don’t crave much. My family is the most important thing. As long as I have my family, what the heck, you know?
I have five [kids]. Three are college graduates. But now, the two that didn’t graduate [from high school], they’ve got real good upstanding jobs. One’s a master carpenter, my son. And my daughter Theresa, she was a manager for four and a half years at [a store]. And she does a real good job. They went right up until the last semester of high school. And they said the heck with this. They were out in the work force, getting paid. You know what I mean?
All my kids are very proud that I went back to school. And I show them, if at my age, to go back to school, there’s no reason why you guys can’t go back to school, even with a family. It was exciting to go back to school. I was glad to go back. Plus, I felt it was my turn to get a good education. My kids got one, now it’s my turn to get a good education. And I don’t have anything to bog down the learning, like working and all that stuff.
Math has been my most difficult subject. It stopped me in everything along the road that I wanted to do – yard work, or measure something, like put tile on the floor, and you just can’t do it so. I’ve still got some ways to go in math. And writing was a big handicap. I don’t like to write. I’m better now. I’m so much better now.
Once you’re in school, you have to start thinking like a student. You have to broaden your mind, not just keep your mind on one track. [You can’t say,] “I’m gonna hurry up. I’m gonna get out of here. I’m gonna get my GED and then I’m gonna fall back in the same rut.” You got to do something more. Even if it is just to benefit yourself mentally. You have to think like a student.
I’ve got a curious mind. As my teacher Joe [Panzica] would say, I got a mind that’s as wide as the world. You know what I mean? And it’s hard to narrow it down to one subject. I’d like to learn about lots of things. I’m usually picking, as Joe would say, picking the hardest subjects to learn. And the fact is, where is the stop? Is there a stop?
I would research in a lot of different subjects. I did the sharks. I did the opium report. I’m just finishing up on the mental issues and mental health for the hospital. Then Joe wants me to do a report on Sigmund Freud. I love history. I’m not so bad in science either. We did that scientific project, and my favorite was Galileo. And I did one on Plato. They were very – let’s put it this way, in a mild way – abstract. Unusual, very unusual. I like analyzing stuff.
Going to school is building dreams. I’m going to go to college. That is a most definite. I’d like to study more psychology, do research on history. I could do a lot of things, but I don’t know what is right for me.
And you have to have to have a goal. If you want be a nurse, if you want to be an aide, and you feel you can help, then go for it. But you have to make it a reality.
If you want to teach you got to have someone who wants to learn, or what good is it to teach? And if you’re willing to learn something, there is always someone there to teach you.
[You have to be] open minded, open minded not only to suggestions but to make up your mind to what you really want to learn. I challenge the teachers for good reason. I’m the hardest one they’ll ever have to teach, and if they can teach me they can teach anyone.
"All my kids are very proud that I went back to school. And I show them, if at my age, to go back to school, there’s no reason why you guys can’t go back to school, even with a family."