My grandfather's name was Dexter Linus Thomas Matthew Jacob
Mann. His mother was a Christian and a racist
, once she refused to buy a certain brand of ice cream because it featured a black child
My grandfather had six children, two of whom were dead. Three of whom would not speak to him and only one, my father, maintained contact.
Long before I was born my grandfather was the driver in a car that was totalled by a train. It paralyzed his leg and killed his brother. The doctors told him he should have it removed - he refused - and found a strange way to walk. He would lean on it and then swing his working leg and then would swing his leg forward. It was a slow walk, a very slow walk.
My grandfather loved me dearly. He would tell me that I was the only one he would consider his grandson. Dale and Donny were both drug addicts, Donny having stolen the money for his infant daughter's tombstone and spent it on crack cocaine. Tommy was half Jap, and Chris was the son of a man who would beat his daughter.
There was also the fact that I was unafraid. Even as a child I would tell my grandfather that what he said was stupid, I would tell him that racism was crap, I would tell him that Nana's cooking was much, much better. I told him that his smoking killed my grandmother, the only woman he ever loved.
In his life, he told me, he had killed three men: his brother, his best friend and the man who stole his dog.
So, my grandfather had surgery to take care of a minor stomach problem after a lifetime of avoiding doctors. They closed him up and declared themselves successful only to have him cussing a report of greater pain not much later. They had done something to him. No one ever explained to me what, but he became very, very ill.
I realized he was dying. When he was nearing the end I went into his hospital room. I looked at him and recognized that I saw the love he had for me in his face.
This was proof that he was weak.
I asked him, then, "In all this time, what have you learned?" The very last thing he would say was a sad, sad statement. "Mikey," he said, "I haven't learned anything."
And he died.