My Grandfather's America
My grandfather, Keefe Walker, was many things. He was a veteran, an electrician, a union man, a Democrat, a Catholic, a father, a grandfather, and even a great-grandfather before his death.
My grandfather died when I was in middle school, but even though I was young at the time I still have so many memories of him.
I remember him showing me his glass eye in its velvet box, gleaming like a giant cocktail ring, after he’d removed it at the end of the day.
I remember playing the piano for him in my grandparents’ home – the piano that is now mine. I remember playing the piano for him in the nursing home where he spent his last months, and I remember playing the piano for him in the church at his funeral.
In all honesty, thoughts of my grandfather are usually few and far between; but in this past year, this strange year, he’s been often on my mind.
My grandfather was in the US Navy, and he served during World War II. While we were on stay-at-home orders this spring and summer, I thought of my grandfather in his submarine. I wondered what he might have done to pass the time during the long weeks at sea, and how he might have broken up the monotony of the same scene and the same people day in and day out. Compared to his unique form of quarantine, it felt like a privilege rather than a burden, to be home with my family and to take our daily walks in nature.
This year as political tensions ran high, and we had actual Nazis marching in our streets, I thought of my grandfather again. I remember watching the news in horror, thanking God that Grandpa wasn’t alive to see this. I though of the shame he would certainly have felt, seeing his beloved country tolerate such an open, callous display of hatred and the very ideology he risked his life to fight against during the war.
I thought of my grandfather fearlessly putting his life on the line to stand up to fascism and leaders who incited violence against the marginalised communities they should have protected. When it felt like my heart would never recover from the constant assault on human decency we witnessed this year, I found courage in remembering that the fight for equality and justice isn’t new. My grandfather chose to fight that good fight, and I can too.
My grandfather loved America. He called the town where he and my grandmother raised their family “God’s own country.” He was proud of his service to our nation. I still have a lovely letter he wrote to me about his time in the Navy when I was in the second grade and we did a class project on our personal heroes. I can only imagine what he would have felt hearing his Commander in Chief openly mocking our country’s fallen troops. Having been wounded in the service of his country, I can only imagine what he would have felt watching his Commander in Chief openly mocking people with disabilities.
Earlier this month I thought of how my grandfather, a lifelong Democrat, would have celebrated when we came together and reaffirmed what America was once known for: a nation that believes all people are equal; that all people who come to this Land of Opportunity deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and that those who seek power at the expense of and to the detriment of the most vulnerable members of our society, have no place in positions of power in our government.
I thought of my grandfather again when I read over and over about how the pandemic and economic collapse have disproportionately affected the poor, the immigrants, and other minorities. My grandfather was not only a devout Catholic; he was also a Knight of Columbus, charged with protecting the vulnerable and addressing issues of iniquity in our society. His devotion to following the example of Christ in caring for the poor and the needy has been my own inspiration in supporting organizations that committed to bringing assistance to where it’s most needed: to People of Colour, refugees, and other marginalised groups.
This year has been incredibly difficult, and I think only the most elite in our nation have managed to pass through it unscathed.
But I remain hopeful:
As the daughter of an immigrant and the granddaughter of a proud American veteran, I take courage in the legacy that has been built for me by those who came before: that it is always right to stand up to injustice, discrimination, and hatred; and that it is always right to stand up to the people in power who encourage and incite injustice, discrimination, and hatred.
I take hope in our beautiful country, which I know my grandfather loved so much, returning to a place where we will take care of the marginalised instead of excluding them; where we will support policies and laws that protect all people, not just people who look or speak like us; and where we will hold those in power accountable to the people they have been elected to serve.
On today, Veteran’s Day, I honour all the people who have selflessly served our nation and who have protected what America stands for. Amidst the unique trials our country has experienced this year, I hope and pray that we will welcome in a new year of healing divisions and a renewed commitment to serving all people with love and compassion, as Christ has called us to do.
On this Veteran's Day, I hope and pray that my grandfather’s America will be the one which prevails: where leaders truly care about every member of our society, and where we do not tolerate those who seek to divide, to separate, and to criminalise on the basis of skin colour, race, or socioeconomic status. Not everyone is able to serve in the US military, but all of us are able to serve others in our daily lives.