My Great Grandfather: When Cultures Clash. Ass kicking, long hair and Hard Knocks

My Great Grandfather: When Cultures Clash


Great Grandfather and his Rake.

It was the day before my Great Grandfather’s Birthday – his Life Celebration – when he died. 

He would have celebrated his hundredth birthday and it would have been celebrated on a Sunday.  Now I know he is somewhere in the Spirit World angry as hell that he missed it by one day.  Just one day!

My Grandfather would not be angry just because he died.  Everyone dies someday, he used to say.  But you see, he had this thing about him – these things actually. But there was one thing about him, and everyone who knew him would agree, he liked things just right.  And dying on his birthday at 100 years old would have completed the perfect circle.

My Great Grandfather was a bit quirky, a Renaissance Man and what a pop psychologist may even call a bit anal-retentive. Things had to be put in their proper place. Labeled. Cleaned. This however did not show so much when dealing with other people, it was just a little quirk in his own life.

For instance, if you opened his refrigerator, everything was arranged just the way he liked it. Food that may spoil first (and his favorite treats) were placed at the front of the fridge followed by food with a later expiry date and food less preferred (he hated beets, but knew they were healthy… which is probably why he lived to be so old). Things that didn’t spoil were arranged by size and color. Ketchup, mustard and relish were arranged in that order because that’s how they were aligned in a visible (light) spectrum. I told him it was because deep down he was a Rasta and he told me to shut the hell up.

Now I feel that his refrigerator habits made sense.  And even now I do the same thing. Which to anyone who knew the both of us, this was no surprise. They all used to say (and still do) that I was just like him. Down to the bone, they’d say. 

Maybe that’s why we got along so well, my Great Grandfather and I.

My father and I were a different story however.

My father and I were also much alike in a few ways – stubborn, temperamental – and perhaps that is why he tried to kill me one day. 

If not for my Great Grandfather and a rake, I might not be writing this now.

To begin, I should mention that my Mom and Dad got divorced when I was very young. My younger brother was a year and half old, my sister was just born and I was three.

He wanted to move to a warmer climate (sick of those New England winters) and my mother would not leave her family (a townie through and through)… so they parted ways. To be fair, my parents were very young when they married, so I can’t blame either. We do dumb things when we are young… and if it wasn’t for their dumbness, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

So YAY for that. 

We had not seen my father for a few years, and then one day, he came back.  

I got to see Dad on the weekends.  I was still young and it was a thrill to have a “dad” again. We would go out on his motorcycle, or drive around in his Cutlass.  He taught me how to fight and protect myself and when the bullies on the playground came around, I had something for them. 

Having a dad again was great (even though it was just the weekends)… until I started getting older and realized he did not know the first thing about raising kids. But still, he had his own ideas.

  You see, the older I got, the more I wanted my own identity… to be my own person. Some called me rebellious, but I wasn’t thinking that way.  I grew my hair longer and changed the style of my clothes.  My father took this all in stride at first.  But he was only tolerating my behavior for the time being. 

My father was what one would call Old School. He said he was brought up at the school of Hard Knocks, and that my generation didn’t know what it meant to be disciplined and respect their elders.

Little did I know that it was just a matter of time before Old School of Hard Knocks dominated any guilt feelings he had about leaving his children so many years ago.

Just a matter of time came one Saturday morning when he came to pick me up.  I was still eating breakfast when he came in. 

My Mother had gone upstairs and my brother was in the back yard playing with the dog.  My sister was standing in the kitchen door watching my brother.  I had stayed out late the night before with a few friends and had climbed back in the window of my room during the wee hours. I was still feeling a little drowsy when my father came in.

He stopped and looked at me.

“Hi Dad,” I said.

“What the hell is that in your ear?” he asked. 

My hand shot up to my ear.  A sudden cold washed over me as I started to sweat.  I had forgotten that my friends and I pierced our ears the night before, a kind of bonding thing I guess. 

I pierced my ear first with a sewing needle, and then I helped my buddy with his and he helped another with his and so on.  Then we all celebrated by drinking until we passed out (it didn’t take much, we were only fifteen).

“I asked if it was real,” he said.  I swallowed. 

(How come the only time you realize you’re swallowing, is when you are terrified?)

He grabbed my shirt and shook me. “Answer me!” he yelled

“I…I…” I couldn’t get the words out.  He let go of me.

“Take it out now,” he demanded.  I began to reach up and take it out. 

Then I stopped.

“No,” I said.

“What did you say?” my father said astonished.

I swallowed again (damn it!).

“No,” I repeated.

“You will take it out of your ear, or I will rip it out!” he bellowed. 

Fear gripped me, but at the same time I was angry.  I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do. 

He can’t tell me what to do, he doesn’t live here. I thought.

“Did you hear me, boy?”

“Dad,” I said, “why are you doing this?”

“I am not going to have a sissy faggot for a son,” he replied.

“I am not a sissy faggot,” I had to defend myself. You try piercing your own ear with a needle!

“Then take the earring out of your ear.”

“That has nothing to do with being a sissy faggot, Dad.”

“Take the goddamn thing out now, boy.”

“No!”  I yelled. “You can’t tell me what to do!”  I struggled to my feet, but my legs felt like Jell-O.

He began to roll his shirt sleeves up.  “Are you talking back to me?  I believe you need to be disciplined the old fashion way. Your mother doesn’t discipline you enough.” 

He began walking towards me.  I backed up.  My sister turned and saw us. I prayed that she would run and get Mom, but she just stood there watching. I backed up into the kitchen and scanned the counters for something I could protect myself with.

WHAM!!  He backhanded me.  I reeled around.  The whole kitchen began spinning as I fell.

“Get up you chicken shit sissy.” Dazed I grabbed the door knob to the kitchen door and pulled myself up.  He reached for my ear and I turned my head.

“Don’t you turn away from me, boy!  Now are you going to take that thing out of your ear?”

“No!”  I cried.  He grabbed me by my long hair, my shirt and that extra bit of skin on the back of the neck and hurled me out the kitchen door into the back yard.  My brother stopped playing and looked at me.

“What’s wrong?” my brother asked.

“Nothing,” my father told him, “get in the house.”  My brother was still looking at me as he went into the house.  My Father jerked me to my feet. My legs were shaking, but I managed to stand.

“Now, do you think you are man enough to hit me?” he asked.
I clenched my fists.

SMACK!!  He hit me again.  “You’re not a man.  Now get up boy…  I said get up!”   

The inside of my mouth was filling with blood.  My head was spinning.  I got back up.  I licked my lip, it was cracked and bleeding.

“Now you are going to take that thing out of your ear, and then we are going to go to Ernie’s.”

GOD, no!  Ernie was the town barber.  Probably the last of his kind.  I think he was a barber in the military before he opened his own shop. I knew that I was NOT going to go to Ernie’s.  He would have to kill me first.

“Dad, you can hit me all you want, but I am not going there,” it hurt when I talked and blood spattered out of my mouth onto my shirt.

“Oh, now you are telling me what you’re going to do?  Well, I’ll tell you what, I am going to beat you senseless.  Then I am going to pick you up and take you there.  When you wake up, you will have a proper haircut and that thing in your ear will be gone.”

“I am not going!”  I raised my fists to fight back.  Anger took over fear. Instinct. 

He hit me again knocking my fist into my nose.  Then I felt another blow and then another.  I was bleeding and mucus was all over my face. My eyes were filled with water, and then the hitting ceased. 

I heard a noise and some muffled shouts. My eyes were shut, but everything was still spinning. I was in the fetus position on the ground.

I opened my eyes. I stared at the ground and saw how the grass moved when I breathed. I lifted my aching head and turned my stiff neck toward the house and saw mother in the doorway with a look of horror on her face.  My brother and sister were watching from the window. 

My father was holding his knee in what looked like pain.

“You son of a bitch!” he cried. “You can’t stop me from disciplining my son!” 

I looked to see who my Father was talking to, but heard my Great Grandfather speak before I saw him.

“Ya wanna try to hit me, boy?”  My Great Grandfather asked my father.  I looked over at Gramps and he was holding a rake he had just used to hit my Father in the knee cap with.

“Hit an old man?” My father laughed and then grimaced, “I’m not going to hit an old man.”

“Why not?  You’re hitting a young boy, why not an old man?”

My father looked at him and then looked at me. 

I stared at my father – hating him and feeling sorry for him at the same time.

“Come on, now!” My great Grandfather taunted. 

My father looked at him.  My Great Grandfather smiled holding the rake firmly and with confidence. 

His smile wasn’t a happy smile or even a sinister smile. I am not sure how to describe it.  Perhaps it was a smile that conveyed, I don’t have a care in the world.  I can kick your ass or have a cup of tea, it’s all the same to me.

“Well, ya gonna stand there rubbing your knee contemplating hitting me or are ya gonna apologize to the boy and your ex wife for whatchya did, then get on out of here?  And if you’re calmed down by next week, maybe ya can come back.”

“I’m not apologizing to anyone,” replied my father as he limped away. 

He went around the front yard where his car was parked.  I started to get up.  My Great Grandfather leaned the rake against the house and came over to me to help me up.  I could feel the strength. I would say that he was strong for an old man, but he was strong for any man – young or old.  A strength that I hoped to have someday.

“Let’s getchya cleaned up,” he said.

We didn’t see my father for a month after that day.  He called a couple times to talk to my brother.  It didn’t matter.
For the time being, I still had my hair – my long hair –  and my earring. 

Later on that month, I switched from the silver stud earring to one with a feather – a small feather – just like the one my Great Grandfather had in his ear…



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