Overcoming the shame of family sins.
While I didn’t know what exactly a Nazi was in 1974, I knew about our family’s dark secret by at least five years old. I overheard Mom yelling at Dad in loud whispers — trying to keep their argument out of earshot, but the yell-whispers ended up being louder than a regular indoor talking voice. Like those cell phone vibrations that are louder than actual ringtones.
I’m not spending an entire weekend with that Nazi monster, I recall Mom saying.
We were scheduled to drive two hours of country roads to Portsmouth, Ohio, for Thanksgiving to spend with Dad’s parents, Eloise and Jerry.
We saw Dad’s parents three times a year, and Grandpa always seemed perfectly fine to me. He was loving, charming, and always put me on top of his shoulders to carry around the room, tickling me along the way.
Grandpa was the main dentist in the small town of Portsmouth. Everyone knew him. Everywhere we went. Kids, most of whom had been to his dental practice, always smiled when Grandpa said hello, almost as if they were showing off their white teeth.
“Good morning, Dr. Kos,” you’d hear dozens of people say when I ran errands with him.
You can imagine how hard it was to square laughing on his shoulders with Mom’s oft repeated “monster” comments, although she never shared her admonishments with anyone but Dad.
The turmoil surrounding Grandpa stopped when he passed away when I was a sophomore in high school, and I seldom heard family members speak of him again. Not positively. Not negatively. It was almost like he never existed. But by age fifteen, I knew better, and I certainly knew what a Nazi was by then. Our high school did an entire semester on the Holocaust that year, so it was fresh in my mind.
Still, I never had the courage to ask Mom or Dad about him. Maybe I didn’t want to know. I chalked it up to Mom using the word Nazi as an insult but not meaning it literally. Comedians regularly joked about in-laws, so maybe this was just typical in-law tension. Rush Limbaugh would call feminists “Femi-Nazis,” so maybe that’s how Mom was using the word.
The internet wouldn’t come out for another eight years after I graduated high school, so there…