My Klansman Poppy Taught Me How To Love Republicans

Growing up in a super dysfunctional household, I had very little in the way of nurturing. Between working full time and regularly engaging in marital battles, my mom had little quality time with us kids. I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandmother and grandfather (who we affectionately called “Granny” and “Poppy”). Pop was a very mean man. I can remember times he would come home for supper, and if Granny didn’t have the food on the table, he’d call her every expletive in the book (with “bitch” in 1st place). Granny often took to vent with me, telling me stories of how he’d been mean to her (especially the story of her catching him cheating).

He was also one of the most racist men I’ve ever known. I can remember him yelling at the TV and turning it off when Emmanuel Lewis came on television, grumbling about how “the n****rs were taking over the world.” From what my mom has told me, he also was probably in the Klu Klux Klan. There were so many dark sides to my Poppy; it would be easy to hate him.

But I don’t. While I saw all the ugliness, I saw a side of him that made me love him. More than any person in my young life, he nurtured me. He would often spend time with me one on one, offering me a father figure rarely present at home. I can remember many trips he and I took to White Castle just to hang out and talk. When I would complain about how my parents treated me (a difference in how my parents treated me and my brother, Granny and Poppy both acknowledged), Poppy would tell me not to mind that. He would enthusiastically comfort me, saying, “you are smart, and you are going to do amazing things with your life”. That may not sound very profound, but those words coming from Poppy were.  Those words have echoed in the back of my mind for the past 35 or so years, giving me strength.

Pop taught me that people aren’t one dimensional. While he was incredibly hateful to Granny, he was a loving and nurturing man to me. The duality of his life has made me look at people differently. Being a liberal Democrat on a Facebook account full of Indiana Republicans (mostly my Alumni from Southport High School), this skill has come in handy. I’ve been able to become good friends with people that are my ideological opposite. Poppy taught me to see the humanity in all people, and life taught me what Bernard Meltzer knew:

“If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along — whether it be business, family relations, or life itself.”

*edit*

I wrote this post in 2010. Eleven years has given me a lot of time to reflect on this. It’s still true, mostly. But most of those people from high school I’m no longer friends with.

I learned most of this navigating (and finally ending) my relationship with my mother. I don’t have to agree with someone 100% to understand them, but I have some non-negotiable boundaries. I won’t allow space in my life for people who:

  • don’t supporI basic human rights
  • try to continue to gaslight me or want to debate my existence as a trans person:
  • won’t own up to their mistakes/dishonesty

I understand the bigotry and narcissism that might drive someone to make this kind of statement on social media, but I don’t have to accept that kind of toxicity in my life. That will get you a block on social media and in life.

I can love the part of the person that wasn’t toxic, that nurtured me and allowed me to grow into the person I am, without having to accept that person into my life now.

Understanding the nature of human beings is pretty key in understanding and dealing with people in your life. People aren’t all bad or all good. I can understand what drove Poppy to be the person he was without agreeing with or accepting his toxicity.

When Poppy was six years old, his mother, Bessie, died of tuberculosis. A year later, his father married Pearl. His stepmother (Pearl) told him never to mention his mother (Bessie) ever again, that “she was his mother now”. My step-dad (Russell) died when I was 11 (I thought he was my biological father until I found my bio dad a few years ago). And that messed me up for decades. That kind of trauma impacts your development as a person. Trauma is passed down like a virus, and it mutates. Poppy passed down his trauma to his kids through who he was. They impacted their kids too. It’s not shocking that between his three kids, there are 8 marriages and a lot of mental illness.

I considered changing the title of this post to “My Klansman Poppy Taught Me How To Love Understand Republicans”, but you can’t strikethrough a title. Also, I love the part of the man that nurtured me while despising the toxicity that dominated his life.

-Marti Abernathey August 2021

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