Monday, April 2, 2012

Lessons . . .

When I as growing up there was comfort in family and friends, and in the world around me. Like most children of my era I didn’t have to worry about sexual predators or wearing safety equipment to go ride my bike, and everyone in the neighborhood knew me. In fact almost everyone in the neighborhood, adults that is, practically raised me. 

After I reached a certain age I would go out and play all day and my mother knew where I was almost every second of every day, because the neighbors watched out for me and all of the kids in the neighborhood. In those days that was community. Everyone looking out for each other. 

You see even from the perspective of a child, America held a certain security and meaning. True we didn’t learn the meaning part until we were in school or as in my case there was a family member that loved America so deeply that despite its obvious faults, they wanted to teach their children and grand children about it. 

In my case it was my grandfather, which was kind of weird because it wasn’t until many years after he passed away that I discovered that he was a man of secrets. Secrets that had they been known would have destroyed his life and the lives of his family. My grandmother, uncle, and mother. 

You see, we didn’t learn that my grandfather was half Cherokee Indian and White Mountain Apache until after he died. Many years after in fact. 

In this day and age we might raise an eyebrow just a little bit and find it interesting that someone’s heritage was mostly Native American. But you have to remember that back when my grandfather was born in the Arizona Territories being an Indian was akin to being a leper. And while there are those who would disagree, blacks had more respect in the old west than did the Indians. Indians were not allowed to purchase land, alcohol, or even attend white schools. Instead they were taken to schools run by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs which in the eyes of the Indians were little more than concentration camps designed to turn the red man into a white man and destroy his heritage as an Indian. 

In my grandfather’s case however, fate took a hand and his life was somewhat different. His father, my great grandfather was a scoundrel of the first order. He had fled Van Zandt Texas after killing a deputy marshal and went to the Arizona Territories. He took the name of Van Zandt, which was kind of cheeky on his part. He met and married my Great Grandmother while hiding on the Reservation of the White Mountain Apaches. She got pregnant with granddad and died giving him birth.  The best thing my great grandfather ever did for my grandfather was to desert him and leave him at the door step of a ranch house own by a white couple in Northern Arizona. Or at least that’s the way the story goes. 

Granddad was raised by these people, sent to school until the third grade and then worked the ranch until he was about fourteen years of age when he was forced to leave after the death of his foster father. And surprisingly, after Arizona became a state he became a life long Republican. I guess that if I really thought about it there is a book that could be written here, but that is not the point of this story. I am in fact telling you this so that you can gain a sense of the man himself. You’ll never know him the way I did, and you’ll never go through the experiences I shared with him until his death at the age of 58. 

I’ve told you this so that you will understand the strangeness of a man who had all of the cards stacked against him from the moment he was born, yet was able to accomplish so much. He didn’t look Indian, which I suppose sometimes happens, and he learned early on that if he wanted to do the things he wanted he had to keep this secret that now days we are somewhat proud of. Yet despite it all his love for America was deep, old fashioned, and proud. And it was these values he tried to instill in me. 

While there may seem to be a contradiction here, there isn’t really. Granddad taught me what he could about the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution of the United States. Which to say the least was difficult for a nine year old boy to understand. But he went even further. He would talk about great men and tell me fantastic stories about their lives and what led them to do the things they did. He showed me the world around me and despite the fact that he only had a third grade education he was a man who read constantly and taught himself everything that he could learn. And he tried to share that knowledge with me. 

I grew up mostly in New Mexico and Arizona. And I have to admit that I was more than a little bit of a wild man then, but granddad was the one person that could stop me and make me listen. He taught me a love for the land, and what satisfaction could come from using your hands to create something unique. He also taught me that despite its failings America was the greatest place on earth and its people were the best and most generous people there were. In his way, I think he was also trying to teach me that like the Indians there would come a time when we would have to fight for our freedom against those who would steel our way of life from us. And like the Indians, we would have to face the fact that we might fail. 

Knowing what I know now about my grandfather, I often wonder what he would think about our nation now. Our family history from the maternal side began with my grandfather, and years later it ends with me. Not to belittle my father and the family history that exist there. The lessons learned there are as great as those learned from my grandfather VanZandt. But I have to admit to a special fondness for him.

I don’t know what he would think of me now as he never had the opportunity to watch me grow up, serve my country, raise a family and try to carry on his legacy. I can only hope that he won’t judge me too harshly because like most men I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years. But the one thing I have always remembered is that he taught me about love of country.

Now, years later I am trying desperately to convince those of you who read this that American is in danger and that we must don the war paint and fight for what is ours against a group of people and nations who resent our freedoms and our greatness. Who would see our people become slaves and serfs ground down by the boot heel of oppression. I am not some one who wants to destroy our government or our way of life. I’m some one who desires with all of his heart to see America and its people preserve that way of life. Return, if you will, to the old ways. 

I want to see an America where every man, woman, and child counted for something and that the dream of America was greater than the parts that made her and stood as a beacon so bright that the rest of the world count not help but see her and her glory no matter where they were.