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4.4 out of 5 stars
Packinghouse Daughter: A Memoir
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book does all the things so many memoirs fail to do. The author attempts to understand her parents, especially her father, rather than condemn them. She is critical of herself as often as anyone else. And, as Carol Bly points out in her blurb, she presents both a "public and personal memoir." Thus, the story of the 1959 meatpackers strike in Albert Lea, Minnesota, takes center stage. It becomes the flashpoint for future examination of class, gender, and the divide between union and management. By using this event as the book's anchor, Register reveals as much about the life of this small town as she does about herself. The point, it seems, is that her home town could as easily be our home town. We know these people. They happen to be packinghouse workers, but they could be Maine lobstermen fighting for fishing rights or small-plot farmer in the Southwest struggling for water rights. Best of all, Register makes you understand the human concerns of people on both sides. Where so many books would have chosen to demonize the plant managers, Register makes you see their point of view. By eschewing political agenda and dismissing easy propaganda, *Packinghouse Daughter* goes straight to the heart of the most basic American struggle.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2001
Format: Paperback
I don't much like memoirs. But Packinghouse Daughter, by Cheri Register, is not a typical memoir. It is enchanting, disturbing, and provocative. It should be read by a wide range of readers, including academics and other middle-class professionals who pride themselves on "siding with the working class." It shatters some of our illusions and our tendency to romanticize our identification with working-class people even as it encourages us to hold fast to our principles. The book should also be read by the countless working-class parents who worked hard to give their children the life they knew they could never have. Speaking for those children, this book says eloquently: we honor you, our parents, for your commitments and principles and will try to carry those into our very different worlds. As a bonus, the book's author tells her story so well, with a disarming openness about her conflicted emotions and with such humor and earthy but deep insight, that it will be accessible even to those who don't read much.
Register tells a story of growing up in the 1950s as the daughter of a longtime employee of the Wilson meatpacking plant in Albert Lea, Minnesota, not far from the more famous (and, in her account, more favored) Hormel plant in Austin. Coming-of-age memoirs now flood the market with stories that cater to our need for a revised Horatio Alger myth. In countless stories--many of them moving, important stories for our time--children grow up suffering from unspeakable poverty, abusive or otherwise dysfunctional families, or racism, but somehow survive and overcome those conditions to become not wealthy business moguls but their equivalent in our politically correct age: writers or academics who speak out against poverty, violence, and racism. Despite some similarities, this memoir is different. Register acknowledges gratefully that her parents provided an emotionally and economically secure environment for her, while educating her about her place in a world with more complicated class divisions than we see in most popular memoirs. It is, in part, her more subtle account of those divisions that makes her story so compelling.
Make no mistake about it: this is a one-sided story. Register's father is a loyal union man, and she is loyal to the union line, too, especially in telling the story of a particularly divisive labor dispute in 1959. But even when she makes it clear where she believes justice and unfairness lie, she complicates the story in ways that enrich our understanding rather than feed our prejudices.
I grew up in rural Ohio only slightly later than Register, the son of a small-town midwestern merchant in a solidly middle-class family with undoubtedly less disposable income than Register's. My father, like many of Albert Lea's merchants, resented the unions that secured better wages for the workers in the nearby General Motors plant than he thought he could afford to pay his loyal, hard-working employees--some of whom earned more than he did. That experience has always made me suspicious of class-based analyses of rural and small-town life. But Register's subtle class analysis of life in mid-century Albert Lea rings true even to my suspicious ears.
It also rings true because Register does not rely on memory alone. She consulted contemporary sources and interviewed a wide range of informants-balancing her interview with the union president by her interview and sympathetic portrayal of the plant manager, for example. Register knows what memories--hers and her informants--are good for. They convey the sentiment of the times. In that sense her account is sentimental in the best sense of that word. Her language is so vivid and her memories so fine-tuned that we feel we are walking the streets of Albert Lea with her, encountering mid-century sights and sounds that conjure up our own memories. But she knows enough not to trust memories when they become nostalgic, and she walks that fine line with a fine sense of balance.
Register also manages to succeed where many memoirists try but fail: though cast as a memoir, this book feels like it is more about the times than it is about her. Packinghouse Daughter is an eloquent and fitting tribute to the working-class lives of The Greatest Generation.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I first found out about this book in an article in the Rochester newspaper about the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Since then, I have purchased several of their books. *Packinghouse Daughter* won the American Book Award and the Minnesota Book Award for autobiography, and it deserved both prizes heartily! This book is full of interesting people, class struggle, a young woman coming of age, and old-fashioned Midwestern life. If you hate those whiney memoirs about bad childhoods then this is the perfect antidote.
I would also recommend Steven R. Hoffbeck's *The Haymakers,* which won the Minnesota Book Award for history, and Peter Razor's *While the Locust Slept,* which deserves to win every award out there--both from the Historical Society. These books, like Register's, are good stories concerned with how ordinary people get by and sometimes make an important impact on our culture. These heartfelt books should be read by Americans everywhere and should be the standard for all publishers to meet.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book -- personal and warm -- is an extraordinary gift to kids of working-class parents. Cheri Register says things that I felt about my own dad and about my own home town, but that I was never able to say to him. She shows how what we do for a "living" is really central to shaping who we are in the bigger world. Thank you for this book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
Wilson's was a remarkable presence in a town that that has never gotten over the loss of the high-pay meatpacking firm. Ms. Register wrote a fine and noteworthy account of a company town in rural America. My grandfather worked there for many years chasing cattle up a four-story ramp to the 'kill.' My father worked in the freezers after WWII and my uncle spent many years as a meatcutter. I worked there one summer as did many of my friends and it defined the baseline economics of the union town and it defined what drugery and workplace injuries were all about before we even knew the term carpal tunnel. Beyond working there I witnessed the impact of the strike in 1959. As a nine-year old I used to walk down the railroad tracks to the plant entrance and watch the rocks being thrown, cars being vandalized and anger controlled only by the National Guard. One of my friend's fathers crossed the picket line to work. He like other 'scabs' were labelled and treated as such for decades to come.

Ms. Register digs deeper into Albert Lea's labor past and unbeknownst to me identified an aunt as a striker at the local Woolworth's. The effort of the local union to interject itself into other businesses defined the patrons that businesses would have (another relative who refused to unionize his small retail business found himself boycotted) and the success or failure to follow.

I'm surprised this has not been picked up as a movie. Worth the read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Even if you are not from the midwest or know nothing about the meat packing business this book will give you much to think about. Cheri has a way of bringing you into her experiences.
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Format: Paperback
I checked this book out at the local library and it is now on my wishlist. Cheri Register has a writing style that is easy to read. Unlike many memoirs, she researched what she remembered, looking at written media and interviewing people who were involved in the labor and societal issues that she addresses in the book. There is so much information, that I found myself going back to re-read parts of the book.

The book is about growing up in Albert Lea, Minnesota in the 1950's. It is based on family experiences--how her family came to Minnesota, how they moved from being a farming family to blue collar jobs, how her family of introduction worked to acquire their first house, and the differing impacts that being in a "packing house" family had on members of her family.

The book addresses labor issues, unfair labor practices, the conditions that people worked in at the meat packing plant, and how the issues differed between packers in Albert Lea and nearby Austin, Minnesota--differences that occured in part because of the different philosophies of management. The book also provides a discussion on the need for unions and a bit of history on their development. Register includes information on how the media reported on the labor issues that led primarily to the strike of 1959. While the book may be titled "Packinghouse Daughter: A memoir" it is also includes some great historical information.
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on August 6, 2013
Format: Paperback
Cheri Register mixes MN labor history seamlessly with memoir in this accurate portrayal of the working class people of Albert Lea in the late 50's. This story illuminates the hard, dangerous, sometimes back breaking and disgusting work behind the meat industry. Cheri gives voice to people who physically work hard with their bodies every hour of every day, the kind of work that no one can fully understand until they experience it. The kind of work that takes a toll on the body as it ages. Yet she does not demonize the middle class management, but shares their side of the story. This is a well documented history of the MN meat packing industry and labor unions that defies a simplistic black and white view.
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on August 19, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
We read this for our book club, and it was only okay. The story about the strike didn't come until the middle of the book. Disappointing to have to wade through half a book before getting to what was advertised. Her writing style is just okay. There were several themes that could have been developed to make the book more interesting, but in the absence of that, you are left with "just okay".
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on September 4, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Great portrait of small town life and work in the 50's and 60's and the rise and fall of a crucial local industry.
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