By Patrick Braunscheidel
They both needed four bedrooms and, as fate would have it, their needs were met 70 feet from each other. It was the height of the postwar baby boom; between them 13 children would be raised. When it was time to provide for the children, one dressed in a white collar and the other clinched a lunch bucket and dressed in a blue collar. When it came time to worship, one turned to his Bible and the other to the Pope.
In the voting booth one was solidly Democrat, an FDR man through and through. He would tell how Franklin Roosevelt rescued the country from the Great Depression and the world from fascism. His humility was revealed when he told a class of high schoolers 50 years later that on his first dive-bombing mission, he wanted only to be with his mother. The other was as equally humble by the way he lived his life in a genteel demeanor every day.
My first realization that these men saw the world profoundly different came when President Nixon resigned in 1974. The white collared man said, “What a shame; he is a damned good president.” The other said, “May Nixon be damned for what he had done.” As the years passed what I came to realize that these next-door neighbors gave little attention to what the other thought, yet their concern for one another was admirable.
One day, I was trading barbs with a neighbor just outside the family room where my father was reading the paper. When he talked, the glass on the windows trembled in fear. “Pat get in here; don’t you ever say anything to hurt the feelings of another person.”
“Didn’t you hear what she was saying to me?” I protested.
“I don’t care what she is saying. I only care what you say. Don’t you ever do that again!” The conversation was heard outside. Both of us got the message.
My fear is that some who are reading this will stop if I identify the political affiliation of my father, or that you will think he was some kind of hero. The political climate of fear and hatred we are in the midst of would at best confuse them or, at worse, cause them to fear their beloved nation was beyond repair. They both understood that in a constitutional republic, the well-being of one is directly connected to the well-being of the other.
As the years passed and the children moved away, both of these men would stand by their wives as they suffered unforgiving illnesses. Their loyalty, work ethic and ability to see the goodness in the other’s “otherness” were of the greatest lessons I ever lived.
In the twilight of my father’s life, I was sitting at the kitchen table. He was recovering from surgery that removed a tumor-laden kidney. There came a gentle knock on the back door (in our neighborhood using the back door was a privilege only neighbors had). “Come in,” my father gently replied. There was his neighbor of 50 years, fist pumping as if the Bills won the Super Bowl, with wet eyes and in cracked voice, saying, “I knew you would make it Paul, I just knew it.”
My father asked him to join us at the table with a nod and reciprocating wet eyes. What I witnessed in that moment is what I witnessed my whole childhood. If you want to make the world a better place, love your neighbor.
Patrick Braunscheidel learned lessons of respect from this father.