Dark Side

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People are complicated things and when they’re family members the choice of how to deal with the bitter as well as the sweet can be a difficult one. Gary Crandall has this Perspective.

The legacy of our relatives is sometimes a mixed one.

My grandmother and my grandfather were working class people with only high school educations. In 1933, they bought a home in Berkeley for $1250. They fixed this house up and sold it for more than double the purchase price. For the next 40 years they continued flipping houses like this. By the 1960s, they were living in, fixing up and selling mansions in Piedmont. They were both good and loving to their friends and family. But my grandmother had a dark side.

One day in the late 60s a realtor came to the door of one of their large homes in Piedmont. The realtor said she had a couple with her that was interested in buying their home. My grandmother looked and saw a young African American couple next to the realtor. “I don’t want to sell to their kind,” my grandmother said and closed the door. The couple was Willie Mays and his wife.

My grandmother’s intense racism was apparent throughout the years I knew her. She wouldn’t want to eat at any restaurant if there were Black patrons. I’m not sure how she learned this bigotry. But it was always there. And the way it damaged others and diminished her own humanity was palpable. My grandmother was a loving, clever and hardworking woman - and an extreme racist.


How does one hold these disparate qualities when remembering a loved one? I could choose to deny the ugly traits as unimportant. Or I can see them as examples for my own personal edification. Not as behavior to emulate of course, but as blatant, searing illustrations of how not to be in the world. To observe, accept, be open and love: These are all the opposite of the racist mind, and what I aspire to be, partially because of the reverse example of my grandmother.

I think by holding our family members’ dark sides in this way, it’s as if we chemically change the bitterness of hatred into the more complex savoriness of wisdom.

With a Perspective, this is Gary Crandall.

Gary Crandall is a gardener and artist living in Martinez.