Lynne Cheney talks about her new book, Blue Skies, No Fences
HH: Special hour of the Hugh Hewitt Show. There’s a brand new book out there that I described to my friends as American Graffiti meets the Society of Cincinnatus. It is charming, it will captivate you. It’s entitled Blue Skies, No Fences: A Memoir Of Childhood And Family, and its author is Dr. Lynne Cheney, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and of course, the spouse of the Vice President of the United States. Mrs. Cheney, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you.
LC: Oh, Hugh, I’m so excited to be on your show again. It’s great.
HH: Well, this is a very charming book, and I’ve got a lot to talk to you about it, but I first want to know when you conceived doing it, and how long you’ve been working away. The genealogies at least must have taken some period of years.
LC: It has been years. I really started writing the story of Katurah Vaughan, my Mormon great-great grandmother, oh gosh, maybe seven or eight years ago. I hadn’t known this story growing up. My father fell away from the Mormon Church, and didn’t talk about his relatives much. And when I came across this story, and it was so, oh I don’t know, captivating, heroic, she was converted in Wales in 1848, made it across the ocean and across the country, lost her husband, lost her child, kept going, you know, just full of the optimism that she’d get to Utah, and that she would get to the new Zion. I wanted my children to know this story, my daughters in particular, and my grandchildren, too, and so I wrote it many years ago.
HH: It’s woven into a much broader narrative that I think takes us right up to the time that you and the Vice President are growing up in Casper. And I want to start, though, with your mother. About 93 years ago, your mother, Edna, is born in a barn by the side of the road as your grandfather had misjudged the amount of time it would take to get from Ragtown into town. What’s that…is that just a parable for all of America in this last century completed?
LC: You know, it was in the West. We were settled so late that events like that, I think, are probably much closer to the present than they might be in more settled parts of the country, parts of the country that had been settled longer. But you know, my mother in her adulthood needed a birth certificate at some point, and when she tried to get one and discovered there was no record of her ever having been born, because my grandparents saw no need having accomplished her birth on their own to report to the authorities, she was, well, she was embarrassed by the whole thing. You know, I look back on it as just something quite wonderful, that I was so close to that way of life.
HH: Ragtown as well, a very difficult, very hard-scrabble lot for your grandfather on your mother’s side. But probably much more common than we imagine in America two generations back.
LC: You know, since I found out about these Ragtown houses that my grandparents raised their children in for several years, what they are is tents, basically, with wooden sides. And it was how people lived in the oil patch in the early days of the Salt Creek oil field. And you know, it was a great living. People were quite anxious to do it. You could make twice as much as an oil field worker as you could as a cowboy. You made $2 dollars a day instead of $1 dollar. So my grandparents were quite grateful to be there, but it’s an amazing way to live, and I’ve discovered, as I’ve read more history and been aware of it, that it was not an uncommon way to live when people were trying to establish a new town, or to establish a new industry, as they were doing in the oil field.
HH: My guest is Lynne Cheney, author of Blue Skies, No Fences: A Memoir Of Childhood And Family. Let’s get to the class of 1959, Mrs. Cheney. It seems like a different America. You’re pre-Boom. I mean, you’re born in, what, 1941, and so it’s pre-Boom. And it’s just an America that’s gone, as far as I can tell.
LC: It is just a little pre-Boom. You know, we talk about the Baby Boomers as 1946, and I was born five years earlier, and it is a universe apart. Drugs were not available when I was growing up. I mean, if you’d maybe scrambled around in the very worst part of Casper, where there was some nightclubs, you know, you might have come up with something. But I don’t think so. We didn’t even know about such things. It was an era when the idea of premarital sex simply wasn’t on the agenda. There were no birth control pills.
HH: As your friend said, no sex, lots of kissing.
LC: No sex…yeah, how did she put it? No sex, lots of kissing, but there was something else in that phrase. I’ll think of it in a minute. But that was, you know, we had a great time. The no sex part was in a way a fence, as I write in my book, and my metaphor for the way we grew up with was no fences. But in another sense, it freed us from our sexuality. We go to go to college because those were the rules. We didn’t end up pregnant as so many women in both my family and my husband’s, and I suspect in many families, did going back many generations. They’d have to marry early.
HH: I want to talk about the rules of the 50’s that you refer to a little bit. Some of the heartbreaking examples of this, generally speaking good rules, but very hard on different people. You talk about Vicky and Bill, and obviously a car crash that kills Bill and three of his friends as he’s getting ready to go to the wedding of the pregnant Vicky. That’s a very heartrending story.
LC: Well, it is, and you know, it even was at the time. She had been my friend since childhood. He was her lifelong love, and they were going to get married their senior year when Bill was killed in this car wreck coming home from his bachelor party. And her family and his family tried to think of some way they could be married by proxy, of course, but you know, you can’t do that. And the school tended to look the other way when pregnancy happened and girls were in school, tried to ignore it, you know, so that maybe the girls could get through their senior year. But in Vicky’s case, it was such a high profile thing that someone complained, and she wasn’t allowed to receive her diploma with the rest of her classmates.
HH: That’s so jarring hearing that today, and one of those good rules that have been abandoned. One of the rules not so good that had been abandoned. Barbara Reilly is another story that stayed with you over the years. Explain that to people.
LC: Back to Vicky for a minute.
LC: When Vicky showed up at the high school to sit in the front row of the audience instead of on the stage with the rest of her classmates, her class applauded her. And they named her the most poised girl. You know, the kids understood that while the general underlying principle was a good one here, boy, in the application of this rule, it wasn’t good. It was something out of Nathaniel Hawthorne, maybe…
HH: And that happens to Barbara.
LC: Yes, it happened to another friend of mine who got pregnant very young. The thing is, though, that when kids got pregnant, when girls got pregnant when I was growing up, nobody had abortions, and nobody, as far as I know, now this might have happened and I didn’t know it, no one went off and had their baby, and had it adopted, and then returned home. Instead, what you did is you got married and you had your baby. And all these years later, when I talked to people like my friend, Barbara, and my friend, Vicky, they’re glad for that. You know, they love their children. Vicky has grandchildren now, Barbara has grandchildren. And oh, my, tough going at the time, but all these years later, they both have successful lives.
HH: There’s also a passage where you acknowledge that the rules of the 50’s were very, very difficult on the late bloomers and the gay kids, and these are some evolutions which have been very welcome, even as they’ve come with some astonishing distortions on how kids live.
LC: You know, when we were growing up, the idea of people being gay simply wasn’t something we ever thought about. And lo these many years later, we know that some of our classmates were, and it is interesting. It’s been this real evolution in our society. I think we’ve become more an evermore inclusive…and we’ve become more interested in the different ways that some kids are interested in dating early, some aren’t interested in dating until later in high school, and we no longer, I think, try to press everyone into a single mold, and that’s good.
HH: There is a glimpse in Blue Skies, No Fences of the beginning of the obsession with weight, which is, I think, a great burden on today’s kids, especially today’s girls, because of your experience with the navy blue bear. But you got over that in a hurry.
LC: Well, that story starts with my blue mutton coat, which was considered quite a fashionable item in the 50’s. Mutton is a fancy word for sheep, and mutton, which many, many girls wore in the 50’s, was a sheep, really, that was sheared so it looked like something more expensive, possibly. And mine was dyed navy blue. And one day, one of my friends told me that I looked like a blue bear in this coat.
HH: Always a way to keep a friend.
LC: Yes, and it started me on these, you know, when I think back on it, sort of hilarious diets. One was all eggs and grapefruit, and this required my going to my grandmother’s house every day and eating lunch, because neither item was served in the high school cafeteria. And another was a kind of version, a liquid diet version for the 50’s that, I don’t know, it involved condensed milk and some Wesson oil, and you shook it up a lot, and it tasted terrible.
HH: It seems like you were on speed for a while as well, right? The diet pills that you cleaned every drawer in the room, and the entire house? They were prescribing speed in the 50’s?
LC: The doctor gave me what I think must have been Dexadrine, and you know, I don’t think he even thought about it. It did sort of…I was already an ambitious kid, and it put me into overdrive, so everyone realizes it wasn’t a good idea. But the solution to all of this was my other grandmother came to town, my tall, beautiful, Mormon grandmother Anna, and she took one look at what was going on, and said, “You’re not fat, you’re young and you’re lovely.” And that was sort of the end of it, a good thing she came.
– – – –
HH: Mrs. Cheney, there’s a lot in this book that is not going to square up with the branding that’s occurred on the Cheney’s over the past six years. One paragraph in particular struck me on Page 262 about…I’ve got the page proofs, so I’m not sure if it’s going to be that way in the real book. “I liked Dick’s family, which in many ways resembled mine. They lived in a tract house on the east edge of town. We were in one on the west. His mother didn’t work whereas mine did, but she had before and intended to again as soon as Susie, the Vice President’s sister, a toddler, got a little older. Our fathers were both governmental employees, mine being a GS-12 for the Bureau of Reclamation, his a GS-12 for the Soil Conservation Service. But there were a major difference in how they thought of their job. My father was discontented, while Dick’s father, no doubt, remembering how his parents lost most of their life savings in the Depression, took great satisfaction in having a job that came with the security of the Civil Service.” There is throughout this memoir a deep appreciation for what government did, and only government could do in the West of your youth.
LC: Indeed, and sometimes, government did the wrong things. I mean, one of the things I remember just being startled to completely understand was the gold standard that the government had introduced. And one of Dick’s great-grandfathers went broke when he couldn’t borrow money.
HH: Right, right.
LC: And they had to sell the farm off the courthouse steps. It was the year that William Jennings Bryant stood up at the Democratic National Convention and electrified the audience with his speech saying you shall not crucify mankind upon this cross of gold. I never really understood before that this particular policy had caused misery for so many.
HH: Including in your own family tree. You also write a few chapters earlier about your own father. He went to work week after week, year after year, to a job he did not love, and thereby made our middle class life possible. This is not, I know, an unusual gift for a parent to give. Still, I wish I had been more aware. I wish I had thanked them.” That’s probably a common regret of the kids born in the post-War era, don’t you think?
LC: Well, I don’t know. Is it a common regret for adults that you don’t realize until time has passed, too much time has passed, what your parents did for you. And so it’s not until too much time has passed, and maybe they’re no longer around, that feeling of gratitude wells up, and you wish so much that you could thank them.
HH: Do you think your father had a hard life? His first wife dies not long after giving birth to your brother, Leon, his job isn’t great, he falls this enormous distance and smashes up his body, there are some amazing pictures in here. Did he think of himself as having a hard life?
LC: No, but he was discontent. There’s no question about that. No, he never felt sorry for himself. I don’t remember that. But you know, he was always looking for a way out of where he was. He got together with my grandpa and they went out on the prairies, and took Geiger counters and hoped to discover uranium. Or he would come up with schemes that he hoped would enable him to have a different kind of life, a different job. And nothing ever worked out. He was restless, and that was so different from Dick’s father, who indeed, his own father had gone bankrupt, and his grandfather had gone bankrupt, and he just thought having a government job was terrific.
HH: Now Lynne Cheney, one of the things that struck me, and it struck my wife as well reading through this, is the litany of woes that your American family goes through. You mentioned the Depression wiping out the bank that your great grandfather depended upon, all of his bank stock, you Uncle Bub’s father burns himself to death. Uncle Bub’s mom loses the farm to fraud, she’s gored by a bull and dies. Your Uncle Cork’s mom gets pregnant and tries to self-administer and abortion and dies. Sam Cheney survives the Civil War and the march on Atlanta only to finally get his farm and then cut off his five fingers in a saw accident. But they all persevered. I think what this drives home is that it was awfully hard to get to Casper in one piece.
LC: (laughing) I think there’s that. What is does, when I read about these things, I just think oh my gosh, what grit, what optimism these people had, how tested they were, how easy my life is. It did occur to me that writing about the 40’s and 50’s, this is one of the most positive, buoyant eras in our national life. We’d come through the War, we’d come through the Depression, we had great confidence in the country and in ourselves, and that all of that confidence was built upon so much hardship, so many people who, as you say, persevered, kept going, driven on, I think, what was optimism. Over the next mountain, or over the next river, they really believed there would be a better life, if not for themselves, then for their children.
HH: I’ve got to ask you whatever happened to Uncle Wilbur, because it’s the scariest picture in the book on Page 31. He’s not someone you want to show kids around Halloween. Whatever happened to him?
LC: Uncle Wilbur? That’s a picture of him as a boy.
HH: Yeah, I know. That’s a real scary picture, Lynne Cheney.
HH: You don’t want to show that to too many people if they’re not ready for it.
LC: Oh, Uncle Wilbur is dead now, but he was an airline mechanic for Braniff.
HH: Okay, so…
LC: It was his life, and he lived in Minnesota, which to me, we visited him there a few times, which to me, was the East. And I was so glad the first time I was in Minnesota to think of myself as having entered that mysterious land called the East. Now of course, it was the Midwest, but in the West, we thought of anything farther east than Nebraska as the East, that place where all sorts of things went on. I was introduced to the East by What’s My Line, the television show in the 50’s, where oh my gosh, I saw men wearing what I now know is called a black tie. You know then, I just couldn’t understand why they dressed that way. But it was an insight into a part of the country that was quite foreign to us. And so when I got to Minnesota and was in the East, I thought I had really arrived.
HH: Now I do have an affection for your Aunt Maxine, Page 46 here. Maxine ran on a very fast motor. Once, when my mother was six, she came here to take care of me. In the blink of an eye, scrubbed the kitchen floor, ran the Bissell sweeper around the house, dusted everything in sight. She’d presided a Church rummage sale in the morning, hooked three rugs in the afternoon. She would eventually work her way to the pinnacle of Masonic sisterhood of Eastern Star in Casper, while at the same time, knitting blankets for the needy, crocheting potholders for every occasion, providing daily advice to her younger sisters on how they ought to live, and archetype of sorts, again, one that may be fading from the country.
LC: I’m not sure it’s fading. One of the things that has happened since I wrote this book is I hear from people who lived in far different parts of the country, Palo Alto, California was one, Bethesda, Maryland, Long Island, New York, and they’ll say oh my gosh, you know, that was my aunt, or oh my gosh, I remember doing that. So I think that while I was especially lucky to grow up in the Rocky Mountains, that the culture in which I lived was one that was fairly widely distributed. And so maybe there were plenty of Aunt Maxine’s, though I don’t know, Aunt Maxine did live on cigarettes and Coca-Cola, and I think we learned not to do that.
HH: Now Casper as well, unique because it had a defined edge, and I think that’s a pretty significant observation for people who were growing up in contained communities where they feel secure, because it ends, and then you know you’re not…you’re out in the wilderness at one point.
LC: Well, I do have a friend, my college roommate who grew up in a suburb of Washington. And the first time I took her home, when we were in college together in Colorado, she was just stunned at how there was the town, and then there wasn’t the town. Because of you grew up in a suburb of Washington, things just ran right into each other. And you know, you might be in Silver Spring one moment, and in Bethesda the next. And it was hard to know which was where.
– – – –
HH: Mrs. Cheney, I’ve got to get to the baton twirling at some point, so we might…
LC: Oh, I love the baton twirling.
HH: So we might as well dive in. Explain to people your commitment to baton twirling.
LC: Well, it was substantial. Baton twirling was something my mother decided I should do to keep busy. She went to work in the police department, which was as perfect perch for monitoring my activities throughout my teenage years. But she decided I should take baton twirling lessons so I would be busy while she was at the county courthouse. And you know, one thing led to another, and my gosh, I was the state champion. And then one thing led to another, you know, and I was going to the national contests, always with my mother’s good PR services. Now my mother had grown up in the oil fields of Wyoming. She had no idea of the larger world. She had no experience of it. But she, by gosh, knew that I was going to be able to do things. She wasn’t sure what, but baton twirling might be one. So my picture was always in the paper, my name was on the radio, and it was quite a confidence-inspiring thing. You’d go to the grocery store, you’d go to the Bluebird Grocery Store, and people would know what you’d done, and they’d read about you that morning when they were reading about John Foster Dulles. So…
HH: That was an interesting observation in Blue Skies, No Fences, is that the newspaper culture of the 40’s and 50’s would sort of mix up the very hyper-local stories about the people in the community with these national and international events. I think that’s pretty much gone from the newspaper culture now. You might get a local that goes to a few neighborhoods that celebrates the local and the young. But I don’t think that exists much anymore.
LC: I think that small town newspapers, though as you say, there aren’t as many of those as there used to be, small town newspapers are certainly better at it than large metropolitan dailies. My grandchildren have been in the paper a few times. We try not to have them in the paper, actually, but it’s thrilling for a little kid maybe to see in the McLean Register, to see a picture of the school fair. And we grew up and that was just standard fair. This newspaper followed athletics, and particularly, the football teams with intensity.
LC: They would report on junior varsity inter-mural games, and run pictures. So it’s a very ego-gratifying way to grow up, I think.
HH: Let me ask you if…I interviewed Stephen Hayes, author of a biography of your husband, at length the last time I was in D.C. Did you like that biography?
LC: I thought it was very fair. I thought Stephen did a good job. I thought he didn’t do the easy thing, which is to sort of take all of the stereotypes that are out there and run with those. And you know yourself as a journalist that the easy thing is not to think. And Stephen was very thoughtful, and did a lot terrific research.
HH: But if I compare the one to the other, there’s a lot that he may have been in a hurry to get past to get to the political career and to the Yale years for the Vice President. But you two have the archetypal high school years, including the big breakup when the Vice President says he wants to play the field a little bit, or actually says it’s better for you both to do that.
LC: Well, you know, and it’s so funny. If you watch American Graffiti, I think that’s what Ron Howard says, play the field.
LC: It must have, you know, just been in the air. Our lives, however, one of the things that’s different when I look at American Graffiti and I think of our lives, is that you could be and do so many different things. You know, in American Graffiti, if you’re a car club guy, that’s it for you. You’re kind of a dead-ender. In Casper, you could be a car club guy and be student body president.
HH: You’re going to have to explain car club guy to most of my audience.
LC: Oh, I see. Car club guys were very interested in custom cars. And they got old Fords and Chevys and put Cadillac engines in them, and maybe took all the chrome off so they looked especially sleek, and they painted them jewel-like colors, orange and purple and green and brown, with fourteen coats of paint hand-rubbed in between. That was sort of the epitome of the car clubs.
HH: And was the Vice President a car club guy?
HH: No, he was a football guy.
LC: He was a football guy. He could’ve been a car club guy, but he worked. His social life was perhaps not as lively as it might have been if he hadn’t usually had a job. He also, I’ll have to say, I thought it was quite wonderful to drive between one drive-in in town, called The Brig, and another drive-in in town called The A&W, you know, where you could get Cokes and hamburgers, to drive between these two endlessly on a weekend night. And I will have to say, one of Dick’s failings was he didn’t see the point of that.
– – – –
HH: In the middle of this book, Lynne Cheney, is a pen portrait that I just want to glimpse for people. “Frances Farris had come to Wyoming as a child in 1907 when her father, a storekeeper in Missouri, was advised to go West for his health. As she described her early life in a brief autobiography, her family lived in a one-room shack in Riverton, then a town of many bars, several churches and no schoolhouse. She earned a B.A. at the University of Wyoming, an M.A. at the University of Iowa, and spent 41 years at Natrona County High School, where she led debate teams to 17 national championships. If you became one of her prized debaters, you were the equivalent of a valued athlete, practicing after school, spending weekends on the road, bound for Cheyenne, Wyoming and Fort Collins, Colorado and Spearfish, South Dakota to compete. The honors won by Miss Farris’ forensic champions were trumpeted on the front page of the Gusher, our student newspapers. In the top right-hand column, just below the newspaper’s oil derrick logo, you’d read NCHS debaters win first at Denver speech meet.” Extraordinary woman, and not alone in terms of the extraordinary women who basically populated the teaching ranks of the high schools of the 50’s.
LC: That’s true, and we were so lucky for that. In a way, though, it was because other paths were unavailable to them. You just didn’t have that many options if you wanted to, say, be a scholar of Latin. It was really hard to become a university professor, though the Latin teacher to whom I owe really my commitment to learning, she could have been a department chair anywhere in the United States. She was wonderful. Her name was Margaret Scheidler. Or Frances Farris, whom you were talking about, she could have been a CEO. But that wasn’t open, and how lucky for us that we had these women teaching us. I think in Wyoming, we had the added blessing that many of them had grown up close to the frontier. One teacher that I write about was Kathleen Hemry, who grew up in a sheep wagon, taught English at our high school. Kathleen never earned more than $7,000 dollars a year in her entire life. She lived a long time. She lived to be over a hundred. And by the time she died, she had given away more than a million dollars.
HH: That’s remarkable. You know, this is very much an ode to the mountain West, and to the women, of course, the men of the mountain West, and your family as well. I’ve never actually set foot in Wyoming, Lynne Cheney.
LC: Oh, Hugh.
HH: Do most people get the mountain West? Or is this part of the country that most folks just fly over and never really understand?
LC: Well, it is part of flyover America, I think, though because of its great beauty, we get lots of people who come out to see it in the summer, maybe to ski in the winter, particularly in Jackson, where Dick and I live now. The great natural beauty, the Tetons are without doubt, the most beautiful mountains in North America. They’re rivaled only by the Andes, perhaps, in South America. It’s just an amazing thing to see these mountains, to see the blue sky. You know, if you’ve ever been at a high elevation, in Jackson, we’re at 6,000 feet, in Casper, we were at five, it does something to the color of the sky, which is so dramatic. I remember walking out the front door when I was a child and just looking up, and there was that great blue sky. I didn’t know that skies were not always that way, because I so lucky to grow up under one that was.
HH: Your husband is famously imperturbable. Is that a characteristic that is common in the mountain west?
LC: You know, there are books that have been written about what it does to your psychology to grow up with great open spaces. And you know, I think it does make you a little calmer. It certainly, that’s how I feel when I’m out there. I think it makes you a little quieter, you know the kind of chatter that we sometimes numb ourselves with when we live in cities seems unnecessary out there and unimportant. So I think Dick is very much a man of the West, more than I in a way. He loves the fishing. That’s just the best day he could possibly have, is to float down a river, catch trout, which you always release now, which is a good thing. I’m not quite such an outdoors person as he, so I think that in a way, he’s more a Westerner than I.
HH: You spent a lot of time talking about the competitive spirit of Casper in the 50’s, which I think may be generalized beyond Casper, whether it’s jacks, and a wonderful essay on jacks on Page 94, or all the way through going to boys state or girls state, and how much that meant. Is it a good thing that’s been diminished, or am I wrong to assume that it’s been diminished?
LC: I think that we’re very into teaching our children how to cooperate, and that is a good thing. I sometimes blanch a little when I hear, you know, that you are going to get graded by how your whole four-person group does on this math challenge. The idea of competition is often derided now. You know, we’ll read fairly often about games that are now forbidden because they’re competitive, and we don’t want to have a winner, because that means there are people who lose. I think it’s a very good thing to encourage some competition. I wrote about the fact that we were competitive in the 50’s, because there’s this whole notion that somehow, that pre-Baby Boom generation wasn’t competitive, that we were other directed, that we only cared about what other people thought, rather than wanting to beat their brains out, which we did occasionally want to do when we were playing jacks or football.
HH: You also write a lot about the sort of genial tolerance of the West, and it goes both as to race and as to faith. You’ve got Mormon forbearers yourself, but you went to the Presbyterian Church, or actually were dropped off there every Sunday. Is that because of the isolation that everyone would get along out there? Or is that simply the product of not having many blacks in Casper?
LC: Well, when I think about it, I think it’s the product of maybe the hard-scrabble lives that most people had in their immediate ancestors, sometimes in their own lives. You know, when you’re trying very hard just to keep it together day by day, and when that’s a tough thing to do, you tend not to look down on other people who are also struggling, as African-Americans might have been, as Hispanic people might have been. You know, we were all just kind of in this together, and life was tough, and you had to get through it, and be hopeful, and you didn’t want to look down on other people who were also working hard to get through it and stay hopeful.
– – – –
HH: Mrs. Cheney, you’ve got Mormon forbearers, and their narrative is wrapped up in this book, and it’s fascinating. I wonder if that’s affected how you’ve been watching the coverage of the campaign, and Mitt Romney’s campaign in particular, some of the attacks on him because of his Mormon faith.
LC: Well, it really has. I’ve been shocked, really, at the fact that it seems to, there seems to be a place in our culture for gosh, saying that Mormonism is not a real religion…there was an article on Slate, I remember reading, I was just shocked…
HH: Jacob Weisberg, yup.
LC: …that this could be part of our discourse now. My goodness. The stories of my Mormon forbearers are so heroic that maybe it’s a kind of cultural illiteracy that’s led to this.
HH: I think you’re right about that. Now because we’ve only got a little bit of time, I want to read from Page 128. “My mother and her siblings were part of a breakthrough generation for the Lieber family, the first to grow up with a high school education as an expectation, the first to have white collar jobs, the first to spend adulthood in the middle class. She and her sisters came from a long line of women who were no doubt capable of many things, but whose days had been consumed by the hard work of farm life.” You know, your mother died young at 54, your father died young at 60.