My Grandfather’s Legacy
Growing up I lived close to my maternal grandparents. We would have dinner with them at least once a week, or more if there was a holiday or birthday to celebrate. Since I was an only child, I spent lots of time with the adults on those occasions: mashing potatoes and tossing salad, setting the table and clearing it again, serving food and helping with the dishes.
My grandparents were the children of immigrants. My grandfather’s parents were from Italy and my grandmother’s were from Lithuania. Theirs was considered a mixed marriage because back then, not only were Italians supposed to marry Italians, they were supposed to marry Italians from the same village. But my grandmother liked my grandfather because he was smart – and he had a car – and she had bright eyes and a smile that my grandfather couldn’t resist. She learned to cook Italian and he went to the Lithuanian church and they made it work.
During those family meals, I listened to the adults talk about everything from work and neighbors to church and politics. One of my earliest memories is from one of those evenings. The adults must have been talking politics because afterwards I remember asking my grandfather what the difference was between Democrats and Republicans. My grandfather was a union welder by trade and a faithful Democrat. He boiled down the political parties into two sentences: “Democrats do things to help the people. Republicans do things to help companies.” I thought for a second and then asked, “So why would anyone be Republican?” It’s corny and it sounds like an ad for the Democratic Party, but it’s true.
Over the years my understanding of the parties has grown more complex. I know that Democrats also help businesses because they know how important good jobs are, and Republicans also help people because they have families and loved ones, too. However, to me, Democratic Party policy fundamentals – a living wage, safe working conditions, clean air and water, access to health care and education – feel grounded in the principle that we should care for other people. There is an implicit recognition that everyone deserves a decent standard of living, and a responsibility – as my grandfather honed in on – to help people. This is why I’m proud to be a lifelong Democrat.