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Kytreana Patrick on growing up working class in the NEK and taking what 'mental vacations' you can get

A woman who appears white and is in a blue dress smiling at the camera.
Courtesy
Kytreana Patrick is from Newport and works at Olney’s General Store in Orleans. She says when you're born, "your destiny is almost set forth for you, depending on who raised you."

Most people think of money when they hear the word "class" and how much or little of it they've got. We don't like to talk about class here in Vermont, I guess because we don't like to talk about money. But it turns out if you ask people about class, they have a lot to say. And it also turns out that a conversation about class often acts as a backdoor into conversations about political and cultural divides.

This fall I drove around in the Northeast Kingdom and asked people what class they are. My last stop was Olney’s General Store in Orleans, right across the road from the Ethan Allen furniture mill. There were some people sitting out in the front of the store talking and vaping. And when I walked up and asked if I could ask an awkward and probably offensive question, Kytreana Patrick said, "absolutely, pull up a chair."

This story is the first installment of a five-part series called "What class are you?" Follow the series here.

Kytreana Patrick works at the general store. She was born and raised in Newport, Vermont, and here's some of what she had to say.

Erica: "If I asked you what class you are, what class are you?"

Kytreana: "I am working class."

Erica: "Okay, what does that mean?"

Kytreana: "It means that I basically was born into a family where we know that we're not rich, we know that we're probably never gonna get to the top, we're here to make sure that the rich people get what they want in life, that they are going to be able to get their McDonald's, we are specifically here for the purpose to keep it running."

"I basically was born into a family where we know that we're not rich, we know that we're probably never gonna get to the top, we're here to make sure that the rich people get what they want in life, that they are going to be able to get their McDonald's, we are specifically here for the purpose to keep it running."
Kytreana Patrick

Erica: "Who are rich people?"

Kytreana: "I mean, they can spend money without thought. I work here at the general store, you can tell when somebody comes in, and by how their stature is, how their demeanor is, by the amount of money that they're spending. They'll never know how hard it is to just pay your rent."

Erica: "What would you assume that they assume about you?"

Kytreana: "Well, I personally get food stamps. And I think they would think that that would mean that I don't work hard enough. They think we're lazy, that we could work harder."

Erica: "When you were growing up did you have a sense of your class?"

Kytreana: "I started to realize the difference as I was preteen because…'Oh, wait! Those people are wearing really fancy clothes!’ And I'm wearing stuff that's clearly from the dollar store. I can remember the kids that I thought were well-off. They also did really well academically. I could tell that their parents cared about how they were doing in school. And they also partook in extracurriculars, which I did not. But yeah, kids that had things going on. I mean, maybe some of them weren't rich, maybe some of them were a little bit above working class where their parents weren’t always at work and telling them to fix their own dinner. Maybe they had moms that were fixing their dinner every night and having them sit at the table and tell them about how their days went."

Erica: "Do you have friends who are not in your class?"

Kytreana: "No. I would love to. But a struggle in my own life is that I've never been able to acquire friends that are of a higher stature because of the disconnect. When you're born, your destiny is almost set forth for you, depending on who raised you."

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Erica: "What does it have to do with, or how does everything you're describing show up in politics?"

Kytreana: "Trump being president actually made the divide clear. He made it very clear. You're rich, you're poor. Let's make it so that way, from here on out, we're pointing out the problem. Because it was already a fact. It was already something we all knew. But I think he really wanted to divide us."

Erica: "Does he care about poor people?"

Kytreana: "No. I feel like Trump would like to just give us all some sort of lethal dosage of something, or put us on an island."

Erica: "Do you mean poor people or all people?"

Kytreana: "Anybody that isn't of higher stature."

Erica: "So why do so many working class people support him?"

Kytreana: "Well, they have the hope of becoming the rich white men too. Everybody hopes to be rich, have a hot wife and be in power of other people. And I think that maybe for a lot of them, they thought he's the example."

"I don't think anybody that's in a lower class would be offended at all. But people in a higher class would be like, ‘Why are you pointing out the fact that there's people lesser than me? I never point out that there's anyone lesser than me.’ But realistically, they’re flaunting the things that they have in a world where people don't have a lot, and that is pointing out who you are and where you come from."
Kytreana Patrick

Erica: "Is talking about class offensive?"

Kytreana: "I don't think anybody that's in a lower class would be offended at all. But people in a higher class would be like, ‘Why are you pointing out the fact that there's people lesser than me? I never point out that there's anyone lesser than me.’ But realistically, they’re flaunting the things that they have in a world where people don't have a lot, and that is pointing out who you are and where you come from."

Erica: "Most people who don't have much will not be offended by this question. But people who have a lot would be offended by this question?"

Kytreana: "Totally. They would be worried about the fact that they'd have to explain what they have and where it all goes. And maybe they have things they don't want people to know when they're of a higher stature. When you're lower stature, there isn't much that you have to hide.

"My father, he himself worked at Columbia Forest Product for 27 years, then they let him go. And then he worked at Price Chopper, and now he works at Shaw's as the dairy manager. He still continues to have a lot of health problems with his nerves in his arms and his hands and his legs. And his body is a clear depiction of what happens to a working class person.

"It kind of makes me upset, because he's probably going to die working. I mean, I'm sure he won't see a retirement. I'm sure he will never have an adequate amount of money saved up to be able to do anything more than drink every day.

"I mean, at the end of the day, even though poor people make less or working class make less than upper class, we're still going to want our pack of cigarettes, our bottle of booze, our six-pack of beer, you know, we're going to need those type of things. Because it's really hard to go through life without having something to make you feel a little better. And because we can’t afford to go on vacations, we take a mental vacation, you know?"

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Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
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