Processed today, taken in 1945
The bond of a grandparent with a grandchild is different from the parental bond: freer, more passionate. Grandparents know they don't have much time left, and so they love with abandon, in ways young parents, still deluded by a sense of immortality and burdened by responsibility and the conflicts between their own needs and those of their children, cannot.
I fished out this old and blurry photograph of my grandparents, taken the year I was born, and contemplated it.
They were in their late forties when I was born to their daughter, who wasn't married. Both were working, he as a clerk in a hardware store and she as a supervisor of school lunch kitchens, and times were hard for them. Yet to relieve their 21-year-old daughter of the shame and the difficulty of rearing a child alone, they sent her off, and they took me into their home and arranged their work schedules so that they could care for me. I spent mornings with my grandfather in the hardware store; then at lunch time when my grandmother got off work, he took me to her for the afternoons.
They were FDR Democrats. They lived in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, surrounded by virulent racism. There were Confederate soldiers in both families, there were rumors that there were KKK members in his family, and there were Quakers who were part of the "underground railroad" in both families. Around me, in my childhood, the Civil War was re-fought continually. There were grudges, shame, and rage. Some aunts and uncles wouldn't speak to others. Some stomped out of our lives never to be seen again. The bloody history of slavery, lynchings, white supremacy, and the privilege of some built on the suffering of others was part of my childhood landscape.
I saw my grandfather put his head in his hands and grieve over racial injustice, and I remember him saying to me, gravely, "It ain't right, what happens here, and I don't know what a fellow can do to fix it."
I think my grandparents would have been proud to see the Confederate Battle Flag come down this morning in South Carolina. I send them word on the wind, with my love. "Look," I say to them, "finally that symbol of hatred has stopped flying over South Carolina. But the hatred is still there, of course. Race privilege and racism are still there. There is still much work to do, to end it. We're still working for that dream of equality you believed in. Thank you for opening my eyes to racism."
As an extra, I include a picture of me, aged six, forced to wear a skirt but sitting like a man, full of bravado and hope that one day I would be part of the abolition of white supremacy.