Growing up in a super dysfunctional household, I had very little in the way of nurturing. Between working full time and regularly engaging in marital battles, my mom had little quality time with us kids. I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother and grandfather (who we affectionately called “Granny” and “Poppy”). Pop was a very mean man. I can remember times he would come home for supper and if Granny didn’t have the food on the table, he’d call her every expletive in the book (with “bitch” in first place). Many times Granny took to venting with me, telling me stories of how he’d been mean to her (especially the story of her catching him cheating).
He was also one of the most racist men I’ve ever known. I can remember him yelling at the TV and turning it off when Emmanuel Lewis came on television, grumbling about how the niggers were taking over the world. From what my mom has told me he also was probably in the Klu Klux Klan. There were so many dark sides to my Poppy, it would be easy to hate him.
But I don’t. While I saw all the ugliness, I also saw a side of him that made me love him. More than any person in my young life he nurtured me. He would often spend time with me one on one, offering me a father figure that was rarely present at home. I can remember many trips he and I took to White Castle to just hang out and talk. When I would complain about the way my parents treated me (a difference in how my parents treated me and my brother, of which Granny and Poppy both acknowledged), Poppy would tell me not to mind that. He would enthusiastically comfort me saying “you are smart and you are going to do amazing things with your life”. That may not sound very profound, but those words coming from Poppy were. Those words have echoed in the back of my mind for the past 35 or so years, giving me strength.
Pop taught me that people aren’t one dimensional. While he was an incredibly hateful to Granny, he was a loving and nurturing man to me. The duality of his life has made me look at people differently. Being a liberal Democrat on a Facebook account full of Indiana Republicans (mostly my Alumni from Southport High School), this skill has come in handy. I’ve been able to become good friends with people that are my ideological opposite. Poppy taught me to see the humanity in all people and life taught me what Bernard Meltzer knew:
“If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along — whether it be business, family relations, or life itself.”