by Glenn Reed
(Swans - February 24, 2014) I have a confession: The greatest influence in my life was (gasp and sputter)....
There. I said it. Anyone who has read my political rants would be suitably shocked. Far-right Hannity wanna-bes would cackle and gloat.
Or would they be? Let me elaborate.
The person of whom I speak is my maternal grandfather. After my parents divorced when I was a child, I spent the key, formative time from ages four to seven years old living with my grandparents in a small, western Massachusetts town.
My grandfather, then, was close to retirement from his job as headmaster at a small private boys' school. He had been there for over thirty years since taking over the position in the midst of the Great Depression. A native New Englander, he'd attended Tufts University outside of Boston, taught for many years, and been an assistant headmaster at a school in Lake Placid, New York, before taking this job.
The private school was on the verge of closing when my grandfather took over. Such institutions took a beating like everyone else during the Depression years. My grandfather, quite literally, took to the road knocking on people's doors to recruit students for the school. I think that part of his resulting success, after years of struggle, was his sincere honesty and caring nature. So, when my mother, brother, and I arrived on the scene back in 1963, the school had been on very solid ground for decades and boasted a good reputation.
What are some things I remember about my grandfather? He constantly emphasized for us to say "please" and "thank you," to open doors for people, and not to begin eating at the dinner table until everyone was seated. He loved to feed the birds and I picture him in the back yard, crumbling up stale bread and scattering the crumbs around the numerous bird feeders. In fact, all animals seemed to sense his gentle nature, including the neighborhood dogs that would appear every afternoon for the dog biscuits he handed out. I remember my grandfather volunteering with various organizations including retirement homes, particularly in offering his skill at playing the piano. I sometimes helped by handing out sheets of music to his audience so they could sing along.
My grandfather taught my brother and me to treat others as equals and judge by actions rather than characteristics such as race or sex. As already mentioned, he believed in honesty at all times. He emphasized the value of education and working/studying hard but to also play by the rules. Always. He was a regular churchgoer and spoke of "the Golden Rule," but did not wear religion on his sleeve. His biggest "sin" was probably his craving for making bowls of popcorn slathered in butter and salt. That would prove to be a health issue later in his life, unfortunately.
Both of my grandparents were lifelong Republicans. Yes, they were even big Richard Nixon fans before his Watergate downfall (which my grandfather did not live to witness). However they quite clearly were what many now refer to as "old-fashioned" Republicans.
You see, back in those days the Republican Party actually had moderate and even liberal wings. And you didn't define the latter by today's standards. Even their "moderates" would be considered left-wing radicals by the Tea Party types of this 21st century. Hell, I even remember my grandfather admitting that he couldn't vote for Barry Goldwater because he felt he was a racist.
I've thought a lot about my grandfather in recent years. His values were ingrained in me, but my life's experience has shown them, for the most part, not to be beneficial in American society. It feels particularly ironic, his having been such a staunch "patriot" and such.
Not that I can be anyone else at this point. Nor can I can change or adapt and play the games that "get you ahead" in American society. I'm a die-hard progressive thanks, in large part, to my grandfather.
My maternal grandfather died from a massive coronary way back in the early summer of 1971. At that time, he'd been retired from his headmaster job for only five years. His replacement, lacking my grandfather's ethics, bankrupted his school within just four years, then moved on to a lucrative position at another private institution.
My grandparents were also in the midst of a four-year battle with Corporate America. They'd inherited a gas station franchise on a fairly valuable piece of property in upstate New York and were in court seeking a "settlement" with the oil giant, Texaco. The company, of course, fought them tooth and nail and subjected my grandfather to years of stress.
So much for fairness. So much for honesty.
In the end, too much salt and butter over the years clearly strained my grandfather's coronary system to the breaking point. But I truly feel that what killed him was a broken heart.
And another thing I could say with 100% certainty: my grandfather would not be a Republican if he were alive today.
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About the Author
Glenn Reed is a freelance writer who has worked in the non-profit world for nearly 30 years, both as paid staff and volunteer. He is also a lifelong activist for social, economic, and environmental justice. He currently resides in Fair Haven, Vermont. (back)