Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Mother's Father (1922-2003) Part I

My grandfather was such a good man, but he was troubled by the world that he lived through. He never found a good way to express this until the very end of his life, which I find sad. His was a life that is no more and an America that is long-gone.

In many respects, this is a good thing, but it's impossible to say that I don't miss him or the generation he was a part of, now receding into the twilight. I won't say that my grandfather's generation was the " greatest [American] generation"--it wasn't. Most of the racists who beat civil rights activists, and even murdered them, were of the WWII generation. They were as wrong as one can be, but they weren't the whole story.

There were and are many shades of racism, and it's a part of our basic anthropology, almost innate to us. This isn't to say that people cannot overcome it, but it's a tendency within all of us as human beings. I think of racism as the greatest tragedy of the human experience. Were it not for the fact that I was shunted into the worst classes with the Black kids, I might not understand this. I understand discrimination well, and Black Americans have my admiration and empathy for the crap they have to put-up-with.
I hate most White Americans myself, they're generally pigs. That said, it doesn't excuse reverse-discrimination or a racist response.

My grandfather was bigoted to-a-point, and I lament this fact, but he still saw Black Americans (and other so-called minorities) as people. God, the times he would bait me with racial-comments--he was a teaser, he loved to pick. But he didn't hate Black people, and he was a friendly man for the most part. He worked with them at his factory job at a ball-bearing plant (Torrington) for decades and had a few Black acquaintances. For someone like Rollie, this was a very big step indeed.

His job was building the equipment and tools for the machinists, and he did it for about twenty years. Before that, he and my grandmother worked in other factories and munitions-plants like many in their generation. Interestingly, he was discriminated against at his job for a variety-of-reasons (some due to his personality!). South Bend is a town that is almost predominantly Polish and Hungarian, with the rest falling-off from there. However, with the influx of Hispanics, it's changing rapidly as it is in many places in the United States. Most of these ethnic groups had (and have) one thing in-common: Catholicism, and the cold, cruel, Old world exclusionary version of it. America is a very primitive and tribally oriented place. Tribalism is for the birds and needs to go the way of organized religion. It needs to die. If that's community, you can have it, and I'm glad that the modern world is crushing it.

Like in most American cities that have ethnic enclaves, each group really just takes care of its own. South Bend has been, and is, no different in this. Each group tended to discriminate, especially when one wasn't Catholic. In truth, my family has probably been discriminated-against on this basis more than we'll ever know. This is ironic, since I was baptised a Catholic! My grandparents weren't very active religiously, which I still admire. They taught me from an early-age, "Don't ever trust the preacherman, he doesn't know anymore than you do. He just wants your money." This is pure prairie Populism, a tradition I am more-than-proud-of. After being forced to attend congregationalist churches with my father, this belief was only reinforced, what hollow, meaningless-crap. If Jesus showed-up, they would turn him away because he would be in-rags, they wouldn't recognize him if he was glowing.

My grandparents didn't trust authority of any kind, a lesson for us all, because they saw authority abused during their lives. I believe that the time has come again for prairie Populism's resurrection, only this time it won't be agrarian, and just a simple expression of the will of the people in different times. What could be more beautiful and sacred than the unprompted assertion of humanity by ordinary people? My family comes from this tradition, and our familial culture extends-back to our Anabaptist ancestors in Germany and possibly Switzerland. Somehow, it survived organically within our family's culture.

The Anabaptists were the first religious group in Western Europe to call for a separation of Church and State. I suspect we've always been anti-clerical, and anti-war (excepting defensive wars of survival) in some ways, but WWII was necessary. Few would argue this, and fascism had to be stopped. It really was the good war to my mind. It was the aftermath that the politicians and big businessmen screwed-up, and keeping them in-check is the role of the people. The "world's greatest generation" tried to do this, but I believe the postwar economic-boom caused many of them to lapse into forgetfulness--they forgot who the enemy really was, namely concentrated wealth.

My grandfather was from Kansas, while my grandmother was from Arkansas. Her family were literally dirt-farmers, and she was a mountain-girl, and such a lovely and warm woman. She was a real-life Cinderella. When she died, I nearly went with her, the shock was so overwhelming. She was literally my second mother. My grandfather's family moved to Arkansas (Marshall, I believe) during the late-1920s, and this is how they met.

His father was insane--he was both a Freemason (Masonry teaches universal brotherhood!) and a member of the KKK during the 1920s (probably because of the movie "The Birth of a Nation"), and one of the earliest Jehovah's witnesses. He'd had a good-paying job with the railroad as an engineer, but he was basically an abusive asshole who felt he was always right. So, he quit his job, and moved his family to start a farm during worst period in American history to start one (except now), right before the Great Depression! I was told many stories about the dustbowl and the dust storms that blanketed parts of the South, South
west, and plains states, as a child.

They were stories of an apocalypse, a wall of death that smothered everything. Entire families were found suffocated-to-death in their shacks and farm houses according to my grandparents and the historical record.
The Bloughs nearly starved-to-death, and eventually the hothead had to get another job. He was also a physically-abusive man, and rarely spoke to his children.

Things got better for them, gradually, in Arkansas. My grandfather was one of the only young men in his town with a car (a 1929 model A Ford with a rumble seat--I've ridden in a rumble seat! Fun!). My grandparents met at a dance that could have been out of a John Steinbeck novel, and they knew the life he wrote about intimately.
They were poor, but luckier than many. They had food. My grandparents met at a public dance in Arkansas in the late-1930s.

There wasn't much work to be had, so my grandfather joined the
CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps, public works jobs provided by the New Deal). He always talked fondly about his experiences with the CCC and said that we should do it again as a nation. This was no Leftist firebrand, no radical, but a unionized worker who slaved his entire life. He was no fool, which is what America has been overpopulated with for some time.

I heartily agree with his sentiments about public service, and I think that it should be compulsory in our society, and
mandatory for all economic strata. This goes for war. The draft should be reinstated as a first-step towards ending our love affair with overseas meddling, and our bloated military budgets must be slashed for all time. The time for beating our swords into plowshares has come. We should look to past wars as they're instructive of what not to do.

The invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939 dragged the world into a global conflict. The world was aflame. This takes us to 1940 in the lives of my grandparents...

Revised 10.13.2008