Tag Archives: history

Soul Searching

My dad told the same stories many many times. Some of his stories embarrassed me. I wish he were here to tell them again.

I remember how he began the story of attending an event at which a lecturer from Berkeley addressed the packed John Glas Fieldhouse on the campus of Bemidji State University. The man was native American. The first words out of his mouth were, “You Christian sons of bitches”.

“You could have heard a pin drop”, my dad would say. “Then the man repeated his words. You Christian Sons Of Bitches. There were some nuns in the front row, looking down at the floor”.

The lecturer went on to tell how the U.S. Army awarded 20 medals of honor to the 7th Cavalry for the shooting deaths of at least 150 Lakota men, women and children on the Pine Ridge Reservation in SD, Dec. 29, 1890. Babies were found still nursing their dead mothers.

One of his hospice nurses later said to me, “Your dad is very outspoken about social justice issues”.

I remember how he would say there would not be peace in the Middle East until the Israelis (whom he called Israelites) admitted they had taken their land from the Palestinians. “The same way we took land away from the Indians here”, he would add.

A lot of what my dad said comes back to me. He was an admirer of labor leaders John Lewis and Jimmy Hoffa. “They were roughnecks and maybe they cooperated with organized crime”, he would say, “but they put milk in stomachs of innocent babies”.

I find myself telling my dad’s stories. His truth…plain, unvarnished, sometimes hard to swallow and sometimes lacking in nuance…was far more credible than some of the spin that passes for truth nowadays.

family history

I’ve said this many times. I love history, especially when I can see where I fit in.

Around the time of Pearl Harbor, long before I was born, a local American Legion post held a meeting. A few days later, an anonymous letter arrived at my maternal grandfather’s house. The letter said that he, my grandfather, was using his position on local boards to promote his anti-American, socialist philosophies. His actions were being examined in light of the fact that he had avoided the first world war draft by relocating to Canada. Unless he changed his ways, the author intimated, he would be reported to the authorities.

This letter loomed large in family folklore. It was said the writer composed it when he was drunk. Nevertheless, he did succeed in striking a chord of intimidation and fear in the family.

Years later, I was sorting through papers in my grandfather’s attic and I found the letter. It was crudely and boldly written in pencil, and was still in its envelope with a three cent postage stamp. I felt a chill and a thrill as I read the words which heretofore had been related in a paraphrased fashion. History! My grandfather had been told he should go live in Sweden if he didn’t like it here. The author stopped short of telling him to go live in Russia. It was the original “love it or leave” letter.

In the same trunk I found my uncle’s draft notice. My mother had always wondered if allowing his son to be sacrificed for his country had been a sort of vindication for my grandfather in the community.

More years passed and my grandfather lived to be 96, outliving his nemesis by several decades. I told my mother I wanted to research the archives of the local American Legion posts to see if there had actually been a discussion about my grandfather’s patriotism. She said, “Oh, you’d better not look into it. We could get into trouble”. I replied, “But, these events happened more than fifty years ago. This is history. All the people involved are dead”.

After my mother died, I looked for that letter again but I never could find it. I have to wonder if she destroyed it.