MY GRANDPARENTS were born in the 1890s and late 1880s, about 25 short years after the Civil War ended, and they were Southern to the bone.
They were, as am I, Georgia Crackers, but that’s not as simple a thing as you might think.
It’s popular these days to remove statues of Civil War participants, done with the silly notion they were all evil people, but they were not. Gen. Lee, for instance, opposed slavery, but he joined Confederate forces because he wouldn’t fight his native Virginia.
His dilemma was a 19th Century version of “it’s complicated.”
As a youngster I spent far more time with my maternal grandparents than with my father’s folks due to physical proximity, my mother being an only child, and my father not being overly fond of his own father, a Baptist deacon.
As a result I know nothing about my paternal grandparents’ racial attitudes, though I suspect they were extremely liberal, even from a modern perspective. They took Christian values very much to heart. There was nothing hypocritical about them.
My mother’s parents were another matter. My maternal grandfather died when I was 12, so I had little first-hand experience with him, which I did have, quite a lot, with my maternal grandmother who didn’t die till I was 22.
Of my four grandparents, my favorite by far was my maternal grandmother whose name was Osie Moree Powell. I spent weeks, sometimes months, alone with her on her South Georgia farm during school vacations when I was an adolescent.
There were two double beds in the bedroom. They were situated head to head with a small walk space between, and the two heads were beside an open window where we slept summer nights with an incoming breeze and the sound of crickets.
She had two full-time employees for decades. One was the maid, Willie. The other was the handyman, Cap. They lived as man and wife in a house owned by my grandmother. It was down the road a piece.
The house down the road aspired to being a shack. Its unpainted, wooden walls were sieves, and it leaned ominously on brick footings. When I was about 15, my grandmother built them a new house almost directly across the clay road from her own home. She built this simple but sturdy house because she cared about them.
Willie was like part of our family when I was growing up, and my grandmother took care of all her needs. She took care of Cap’s too, which included bailing him out of jail after his frequent weekend benders. Cap was fond of bourbon.
My grandmother owned a Ford sedan. Sometimes, she would need Cap for a chore elsewhere, perhaps in nearby Sylvester, the town. They would get into the Ford, her up front driving, Cap sitting in the back seat, just like in buses in those times.
Driving Miss Daisy but with the roles reversed.
I cannot imagine that she told Cap to sit in the back seat, but he did, and she never indicated that he should do otherwise. It’s just how things were.
Though my grandmother was the sweetest woman imaginable, beloved by all, especially me, she reflected her times. I once asked her how she would view a daughter marrying a black man. She said she’d prefer the daughter be dead, and she meant it.
I grew up in segregated public schools. There were no black classmates though I did not finish high school till 1962, which was after schools were integrated in areas of the South. This was due in part because there simply were no black neighborhoods near me.
I didn’t come into normal contact with blacks till I joined the Air Force at age 18. Before that, my contacts were just with Willie and Cap and the occasional black kids with whom I played near my grandparents’ farm. But that was infrequent.
Moving down one generation to my parents, we find a couple of flaming lefty liberals, especially my father. My mother got that way, I imagine, because of my father. It certainly was not due to the home she grew up in.
My mother, who spoke like Scarlett O’Hara, never voiced one kind word about “the Yankees.” And my father was not very keen on them either.
I wonder how my parents, who were hardcore Democrats of the “civil rights” variety, and union fans, would view the nutty political and racial conflicts of today.