Learning to Love at My Granddaddy’s Knee

by on January 25, 2011 · 14 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, From the Soul, History

With all that I’ve had to say lately and in the somewhat distant past about the need for a more loving world where diversity is appreciated, I’ve tried to point out, perhaps indirectly, that schools should be places that model how our world could be. I’m a proponent of Ethnic Studies for that very reason: they promote the building of a better world.

I’ve broached such notions of love because it is my duty as an educator to open minds to ideal possibilities. If nothing else is required of a teacher he or she should be a loving human being who is willing to reach out to a diverse collection of humanity.

Now the journey to becoming a loving man was, for me, at times quite a rocky one as it often is with black people in a color-conscious society. But a master mentor helped me along the way: my Granddaddy.

Granddaddy would often heal the wounds that I suffered growing up in Tucson back in the ’40s and ’50s by sitting me at his knee and teaching me the ins and outs of love.

He helped me resist the overwhelming urge I often had to scream and lash out at the world with the full force of my anger. He would settle me down when I would rush home sometimes, out of breath, letting my bike fall to the ground, fighting back tears, yelling from my soul to the top of my voice, “I hate white people!” Those were times when some white person had called me a name or had looked at me as though I carried diseases that would destroy humankind.

He would say, “Now, wait a minute, boy. Tell me something. Does the man at Ronstadt’s hardware store treat you with disrespect?”


“Does that woman at the library who’s always telling you about a good book to read and then puts a star on the wall next to each book you read – does she deserve your hatred?”


“How about that man at Safeway who always cuts you a piece of fresh fruit? You gonna make him into a bad person?”


“The man at the drugstore who always gives you a little extra ice cream in your root beer float?”


“Well, see, you ain’t mad at ‘white people’; you’re mad at a ‘white person,’ the white person who called you a name. Now tell me, am I right or wrong? Huh?”

“You’re right, Granddaddy.”

At that point he’d give me a noogie and say, with his big laugh, “Course, I’m right. I’m always right.”

Then he’d most likely proceed with telling me about how he rose one morning when he was 15, determined not to live one more day under somebody else’s dominance. Slavery had ended a few years before but that didn’t seem to matter to the folks who ran the plantation in Hawkinsville, Georgia where he grew up as a sharecropper.

On that particular morning he knocked the foreman off his horse to the ground and ran away, never to see his folks again.

As he ran and hid in little southern towns, he learned a lot about people, in general. He found, to his dismay, that there were a few black people who wouldn’t lend him a hand; they were afraid of what could happen to them if they were caught. And he found, to his surprise, that there were a few white people who would feed him and say to him, “Now you can stay here out of the way today and tonight we’ll look out for you and tell you when there might be a good time to go.”

“My, my, my,” Granddaddy would say, “Up to then the only white people I knew were mean and hateful; I didn’t know that they could be loving and kind. So I learned not to jump to conclusions about people based on the color of their skin.”

Then he would tell me about his seafaring days traveling all over the world, meeting people of every color and creed imaginable. He’d say “Some of those people were ornery as can be, but there were many who were good to know and associate with. There are a lot of loving people of all sorts all around the world, boy. Don’t condemn somebody for the sins of others of their kind. Keep an open mind. Don’t ever miss opportunities to love or be loved.”

Every time I sat at that man’s knee I reached newer and richer levels of human development. I became better able to love and be loved. By the time I became an educator I had learned, because of the legacy that Granddaddy left me, to get past people’s differences, understanding that everyone needs to be loved and respected no matter what their color, culture, or class. In my work I don’t think there’s a better lesson I could have learned.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Ernie McCray January 25, 2011 at 10:19 am

I just remembered how that dude loved spit shined shoes.


avatar Frank Gormlie January 25, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Wonderful post, Ernie. Your grand-dad sounded like he was a very wise man.


avatar Ernie McCray January 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Pretty wise although he’d let me talk him out of a nickel or a dime at any time which made my mom go: “Big help you are.” We were like two little boys in the house, playing grabass and having farting contests which he would always win because he could expell gas whenever he wanted to, a boy’s dream, a skill I envied. I’d sometimes spend a big portion of a day “pulling his finger” (smile).


avatar Sunshine January 25, 2011 at 12:46 pm

we all benefit from your granddaddys wisdom. how beautiful of you to not only absorb and live by his sage insights, yet to now share them with us. we all the richer for knowing you, Ernie.


avatar Ernie McCray January 25, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Gracias, luz de la sol.


avatar Jim January 25, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I have found bigots of all colors & races, too, Ernie. Great piece to use in the classroom. Growing up in the backwoods country of the UP, there were very few black people–my cousin being one. That didn’t deter people from having bigotries, however. The problems happened between Italians & Finlanders. Then when in college in the mid ’60s, I was pushed around by a black fraternity one night. I was called racist names, had soda thrown in my face, & had someone try to take a jacket away from me. Sitting there amongst them was even the star of the basketball team who I was tutoring for free to try to get him through Humanities. He did not say a thing to help the situation. Made me see for a moment (actually longer–I had time to go up to my room, load my shotgun, and start back down) how such stupidity can get started. Fortunately, it didn’t play out like it has so many times in our history and has made me fight so much more against bigotry.


avatar Ernie McCray January 25, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Keep the faith, man.


avatar Shirley Robinson Sprinkles January 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

Your grandaddy had the wisdom and perspective of age. It was great that he took time to share it with you. Mobility is one of the culprits in a modern world that robs a lot of grandparents of the opportunity to share such wisdom–families are scattered all over the globe.


avatar Ernie McCray January 26, 2011 at 11:35 am

And also our bodies ain’t as mobile as they used to be (smile). Hey, I’m in a silly mood today. Have a good one, Shirlgirl.


avatar Charles Greene January 26, 2011 at 11:47 am

Your Grandaddy and my Grandaddy came from the same area in time. I was asked the same questions. thank you for bringing back the memories.


avatar Ernie McCray January 26, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Hey, T.R., homey. And they are some memories, huh? I just remembered I’m supposed to call you. I will do that soon after heading up the coast for a few days.


avatar Lauren January 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Dear Ernie,

I love this story and how it’s helped shape you into the loving person you are. We are fortunate to have you!



avatar Lauren January 27, 2011 at 8:43 pm

I’m fortunate to be had.


avatar Lauren January 27, 2011 at 8:46 pm

That last comment was from me on another computer -as is this one.


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