I hadn’t seen my sister in years so when I got to town I took her to the mall
where over cheese soup and a martini she tells me our grandpa murdered a man.
It happened in South Dakota during the Great Depression.
Grandpa had a grocery store and there was an apple in the bin out front.
An Indian off the reservation wandered by and when he thought no one was looking,
put the apple in his pocket and walked away. Grandpa kept a loaded
gun behind the counter and shot the Indian without warning— killed a man for taking an apple.
Not long after that, Grandpa moved the family out West
where he thought they could have a better life.
He was never charged with any crime.
He died before I was born but I’d always kept a picture of him on my mantle.
After my sister told me the story, I went home and put the picture in a drawer.
I couldn’t bring myself to look at it anymore. Nor could I bring myself to throw it away.
A poet I admire once said, “I have only what I remember.” But I can’t agree with him here.
Because even though I never knew —and so could not possibly remember—
the story of my grandfather and the Indian, I have it deep inside of me
and it accounts for much of the pain I’m feeling right now.
Put another way, just as a fish doesn’t know that the water it swims in is water,
we don’t always know what we’re swimming in— about events in our history
that make us who we are.