Hand-me-downs and legacies

Today is my birthday. Like many birthdays before this one, the birthday emotions get mixed up with the Thanksgiving emotions, and I find myself celebrating my life simply by being grateful for the people I love. Sometimes that means calling with my dad just to make sure he knows how much I love him. Sometimes it means spending time with old friends, who have known me for 30+ years but love me anyway. (They are saints!) Sometimes it means going through old photographs and letters, spiritually re-connecting with loved ones who have slipped away. Today was a day of photographs and letters.

I have often written about my grandfather and his involvement in the Flint Sit Down. He was like a dad to me, and during the fishing and the baseball and the overall puttering, we had long talks about labor and politics. “The Sit Down is over,” he would say, “but you have to keep fighting to keep what you’ve won.”

The Sit Down wasn’t the only thing he would talk about, of course. He talked about growing up on the reservation, life during the Great Depression, how he met my grandmother, and what my mom was like as a kid. He left me with a lot of amazing memories, as well as some pretty awesome stuff. His 1955 Bear Archery long bow sits in my closet, and his Hohner harmonicas* are sitting next to my desk. And just a few minutes ago I found his letter to me, dated March 30, 1994:

Hi pie,
thought you would like to see these things.

Along with the short note he added five handouts from his Fairview Area UAW Retirees’ February meeting. Here are some snippets —

Dear Brothers and Sisters:
They’re at it again. Governor Engler and his friends in Lansing are claiming Proposal A will provide real tax relief for Michigan taxpayers and sound financing for our public schools.

We all agree that we need to find a fair and equitable way to provide sound funding for Michigan’s public schools – but Proposal A isn’t the answer.

What are they cooking up in Lansing this time? They’re at it again. Governor Engler and his pals in Lansing have cooked up a deal for you. It’s called Proposal A. And they say their new scheme will save you money and solve our state’s school financing problems once and for all. Trust them – it’s an election year.

President Clinton’s Health Reform Proposal
… After decades of struggle, the right to health care in the USA would finally be established. Every American and legal resident of the country would have access to health care wherever they were in our country no later than January 1, 1997. The state could make this available as early as January 1, 1995.

Comments of a Canadian Doctor

There seems to be a compulsion to link health care and employment; why? What does being employed have to do with need for health care?

Why are there separate health programs for different groups of people?

Why don’t Americans demand that adequate health care be defined as a universal human right?

And he included the words to Solidarity Forever. He seemed to think that I would forget the words, so he included a copy of the song with almost everything he sent me.

So as I read through the info on universal health care and public school funding, I realized that my grandfather had left me with more than memories and antiques. He left me with a job to do. His battles are unfinished. Labor, the middle class, and the poor, are all still under attack.

Now I’m not crazy enough to think that I’ve actually inherited the entire burden of these issues. But that tiny little piece of responsibility that my grandpa carried in his heart has found its way into mine. This is not new to me; I have always credited my grandfather for my interest in public affairs. But today I am struck by the similarity of his fight and ours. It’s the same fight, 17 years later. Look at Lansing and DC; we’re still fighting the same people. Only the landscape has changed.

I am fortunate to have had my grandfather as a role model, well into my adulthood. I miss him dearly but he left me with everything I needed to take up his torch. I know I have the right to speak up, I have the right to be angry, and I have the right to be silent if that’s what I feel is right. I don’t do these things nearly as well as he did, but all you bad guys better beware! I am getting better with age, and today is my birthday. :)

And now, with a grateful heart and hope for our future, I am off to enjoy birthday dinner.

Mi-gwetch, MishoMis. Za-gi-di-win.

*My grandfather was in a traveling band. He played guitar and harmonica, as well as a few other things. I’m saying, he was bad ass.

**We often spoke in Ojibwe to each other. (He taught me) Translated loosely this is “love you, grandpa.” Mi-gwetch is “thank you.”

There are no cover bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Follow me on Twitter - @christinebarry
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