Many, many years ago, I had a couple of neighbors who were Klansmen. We all knew it, but didn’t care. I think everyone in the neighborhood agreed that they have a right to belong to whatever organization they wanted, as long as they left us out of it.
How I actually found out was; I got up one morning for work and noticed my husband peeking out the front window. I had no idea why, but I quietly crept over to him anyway. We were in the house alone and no one could see us that early in the morning so I was really curious as to what he was looking at so secretively.
“What are you looking at?” I asked in whispers as I was coming up behind him.
“I’m watching the cross burn in the neighbor’s yard,” he answered whispering back to me.
“What!” I exclaimed. “What neighbors?”
“Shh! The black family across the street,” he answered. “Someone burned a cross in their front lawn.”
I was shoving him aside to see for myself as the firemen and police arrived. “Who would do such a thing?”
That’s when he told me. I was shocked! I could not believe that nice man down the street was in the Klan nor could I believe our neighbor two doors down was in it with him. We soon moved out of the neighborhood.
Two Doors Down was the one to burn the cross under Nice Man’s direction. Two Doors Down got ten years in prison for that stunt, while Nice Man was never mentioned. Like I said, we moved. I didn’t see either one again until the day we had a new admission in the nursing home and it was Nice Man from down the street.
Since I was the last one in the loop at home about him, I didn’t bother to tell anyone at the nursing home of his affiliation with the racist organization. I truly thought it was a well-known fact and I was just the last one to know about it. Especially when one night, my co-worker shared with me that Nice Man was in the Klan.
“Everyone knows it,” she confirmed.
Nice Man frequently used a lot of racial epithets and slurs, homing in on the “N” word specifically, toward his caregivers so, I was even more sure everyone knew. We were ALL the “N” word indiscriminately, if possible. It didn’t matter our race; he was mean to all of us, lashing out, striking us, or trying to run us over with his wheel chair.
When Nice Man’s wife passed away, I was shocked that the CNA’s would take him to the phone every day, sometimes two and three times a day to let him call his (deceased) wife.
I thought that was cruel and became very angry until one of his aides explained, “Mr. Nice Man doesn’t know she passed,” she explained. “We let him call her so he can hear her voice on the answering machine. The family agreed not to change the message so he can talk to her. It makes Nice Man feel better.”
I thought to myself, Wow, these girls have some class! I was completely taken aback by the empathy and compassion they showed him in spite of his terrible, and at times, volatile behavior. The night he died, I saw even more of that same class act.
I had looked outside the door into the yard of the nursing facility. Nice Man’s family had gathered on the front lawn. One of the CNA’s, who was peeking over my shoulder, commented, “I ain’t going home until they leave. It looks like a Klan rally out there.”
I giggled a little and opened the door for one of his granddaughters who was coming back inside. As she walked through the lobby, I realized the CNA’s had gospel music on. I turned and said the group, “Can you please turn that music off?”
“I realize that Nice Man was our patient, but sometimes we have to extend courtesies to the family, as well. They don’t like that kind of music,” I answered.
All of the CNA’s stopped and looked at me in shock. “They don’t like gospel?”
I turned to the CNA who didn’t want to leave before the family left. I thought everyone knew! To all of the staff, I answered with surprise, “No, ladies, they’re Klansmen.”
They were equally surprised at the information and clarified, “You mean, real Klansmen, as in, the Ku-Klux-Klan?”
“Well that explains a lot,” they all murmured between themselves
I could not help but laugh at their expressions. However, I quickly realized it might not have been the wisest thing to tell them. I didn’t want them to disrespect the family and jack up the music defiantly. I couldn’t blame them if they did, but as I walked back to the desk, and mentally kicking myself for saying something, I heard the radio click. They had turned off the music and sat in the lobby silently.
I have to say, I was so proud of them that night. They truly rose above themselves and showed more class than I would have ever shown on my best day! I approached them all before we went home for the night and thanked them for rising above the racism and showing that they were bigger and far better people than anyone could have ever imagined.