Lessons–On the Occasion that Your Grandpa Derrick Comes for a Visit

Dear Lily June,

A week from today, your maternal grandparents–your Grandma Raelyn and Grandpa Derrick–will come for a visit. A week from today, we will all sit down together to break bread, though when it comes to politics, your Grandpa Derrick (my stepdad) and I often sit at opposite ends of the table.

During one particularly nasty debate when I was in high school, after 9/11, I remember I fired the question at him of whether he’d send his son to die in the War on Terror. I think I blew open a rift between us then that has never quite healed, but at the time, I remember thinking his politics and beliefs embarrassed me. I hadn’t learned, yet, how fiercely a parent’s love can burn…

When I was much younger, though, we had been close. He would sing everywhere–in the shower, the grocery store–and though this, too, embarrassed me at times, mostly I thought it was kind of magical. He had a deep, rich baritone, so if he were in the frozen foods section in the middle of the store, I could hear him belt out showtunes from musicals all the way in fresh produce at the front. And he never seemed embarrassed that everyone else there could hear him, too.

One of his favorite musicals was South Pacific. So many of the songs I sing to you, Lily June, about “washing that man right out of my hair,” or “happy talk” come from that show. So I was surprised I didn’t think of the song below until today, a song so relevant now I almost can’t believe it was written in 1949. In light of the hate crimes currently surging across America, I couldn’t find its lyrics more resonant:


[Before he starts singing, the character Lietenant Cable says that racism is “not born in you! It happens after you’re born…”]

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I promise to teach you its lyrics, Lily June, as your Grandpa Derrick taught me, even while I also try to teach you never to internalize the lessons it threatens against.






One thought on “Lessons–On the Occasion that Your Grandpa Derrick Comes for a Visit

  1. Bun Karyudo says:

    I take your point. The lyrics do seem particularly relevant at the moment. Prejudice in general and racism in particular are the great evils of our time and I do think kids take their cue from the adults around them.

    Liked by 1 person

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