They say he lived to be 168. Here’s how he lived.
This week, I learned that my grandfather worked as a janitor at a high school in Brooklyn, New York. In his day, many people died young. My grandfather was one of them.
I asked my mom for permission to tell the story of my grandfather, Frank C. Tarnowsky, who died in March 2014. I was sitting in his childhood home, and the memories were as fresh as when he was alive. I asked my mom if I could tell my family what I knew.
She said yes, her only condition being that I write it all down.
My grandfather died of a coronary, a heart attack, a fatal condition he had contracted many years earlier. He never fully recovered from it. He died of a broken heart.
We wanted to make it clear at the beginning of this series that my grandfather was not a racist, and he was definitely not a bigot.
My grandfather was not a bigot, not a racist.
But as I sat and listened to his stories of growing up in a Jewish home in Brooklyn, of his immigrant parents in Poland, of working in factories and his own family, and then his years as a janitor at Hunter High School, I heard the word that is most frequently used as a way to attack a person of color and their culture.
I heard the word that is used to dismiss a person of color.
The word, my uncle says, is “Whitey.”
My grandfather used the word when describing the police. My uncle says he did so several times when talking to my grandparents and my father.
He had a friend in the police force who called the police the ‘whites.’ My grandfather took the word and turned it into his own. He used it in the context of police. What could be better than white cops?
My grandfather spoke of police officers. He spoke of his uncle’s friend, who had grown up in a household where a