Jamie Beckett's Blog

Rambling with Conviction

Jamie Beckett

Jamie Beckett
Florida, USA
December 21
Jamie Beckett, is a resident of central Florida, the United States, Earth. Jamie's first novel, "Burritos and Gasoline," sold beyond the author's wildest dreams, earning enough cold, hard cash to take the entire family out to Denny's - twice! His second work of fiction, a novella called "To the Lifeboats," (available exclusively in eBook format) was released in September 2012. Jamie is an author, a city commissioner, and the humble recipient of the Aircraft Owners and Pilot's Association's 2012 Let's Go Flying award. An avid motorcyclist, dedicated airplane nut, and part-time guitar collector, Jamie is putting serious thought into developing some sort of career plan, as soon as more interesting things become somewhat less interesting.


Editor’s Pick
MAY 16, 2011 11:10AM

A Mortified Teenager Comes Clean, 35 Years Later

Rate: 21 Flag


I loved my grandfather like I have never loved any other member of my family. Granddad taught me to swim, to ride a bike, to drive a car, and pilot a boat. I spent at least a month with him every summer, and looked forward to holiday visits as if Granddad was Santa himself.

He didn't give many presents. In fact, Granddad was tight with a dollar. So tight in fact that when I once asked him to buy me a bicycle seat in August, that request opened the door for him to teach me an important lesson. He made it clear that he'd buy me the seat, no questions asked. But when my birthday rolled around I would have to recognize that I'd gotten my present months before.

I agreed, he bought the seat, and I found out just how literally he meant what he said on my next birthday.

Born in central Florida in 1898, Granddad was a racist. I'm not proud of that fact, but there it is. He truly believed that non-whites were somehow lesser beings than whites were. That one point of contention is the only aspect of our relationship that caused friction during our time together on this planet.

True story:

As a seventeen year old kid with long hair, a laissez faire attitude about life, and not much else – I was granted the plum assignment of picking up Granddad from the airport. He still lived in Florida as a retired gentleman of leisure, but he visited Boston each Fall to see an ophthalmologist due to the fact that he was blind in one eye, and had a cataract that limited his vision in the remaining one.

For the first time, I was picking up Granddad on my own, without adult supervision or caretakers. I felt like the king of the world as I rolled into the parking lot at Bradley International, in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. I sauntered inside with confidence, found the right gate, and settled in to wait for his flight to arrive.

This was before metal detectors, TSA guards, security checkpoints, or anything else that would identify the modern airport as a high intensity screening facility. In the late 1970s you could walk right onto the airplane with your departing loved ones and chat for a while before the flight. The airport was a fun, light, enjoyable place. It was practically fun to spend time there.

Granddad's flight arrived from Atlanta on time, and I met him with a big smile as he stepped off the jetway. We began walking at the pace an old man walks, headed toward the baggage carousel. We were about half-way there when I realized that the man walking behind us was Bill Cosby, the comedian.

Cosby was about as famous as famous could be. And although he was known to be funny, engaging, and smart as a whip, the man looked tired, haggard, and in no mood to hear from a pimply-faced teenage fan.

The fact that he had just recently experienced the inauspicious ending of a television series probably wasn't helping his mood at all.

Granddad and I continued on to the baggage claim, where we lined up facing the conveyor belt in anticipation of the luggage that would begin spewing forth momentarily. We talked about the weather, the flight, my grades in school – all the usual things. And then Granddad noticed the tall black man standing next to him.

Granddad turned so that his good eye could take in his neighbor more fully. He looked the man up and down, then turned back to me. He leaned over and in the sort of booming voice that the nearly deaf think of as a whisper, but the rest of us think of as a well projected voice, he said, “Son, isn't that that nigger boy who just got his television show cancelled?”

I stood there looking at the baggage carousel as if it was the most fascinating object in all the world. Slowly I turned my head. Bill Cosby stood silently, studying the carousel just as I'd been doing, studiously providing no indication that he'd heard the insult at all. I knew better. There was no way he could have missed it, standing no more than a foot away from the man who had just demeaned him in public.

I stammered, I paused, I thought as fast as I could think – but I couldn't imagine any response that wouldn't make the situation worse. “Yes sir, I think it is,” I finally replied.

I loved my Granddad, and I still do – flaws and all. But I have always wished that one day I would bump into Bill Cosby again, just for a moment, so I could stand before him as an adult, with more confidence, and a better understanding of what that moment in time might have meant – so that I could say what I should have said then. “I'm sincerely sorry, Mr. Cosby. You didn't deserve that. Nobody does.”

Cosby walked to his car in silence, threw his bags in the trunk, and left. He may have forgotten that slight fairly quickly. Certainly it was neither the first, nor the last time he suffered public insult. But it was a first for me. And I have remembered it vividly ever since.

The irony is that I learned to keep an open mind from a man who didn't have one. And I learned that unconditional love is not an easy condition to live with. I also learned an important lesson from Mr. Cosby. Pick your battles. Even if you're in the right, that doesn't mean it's time to throw down and go to war over even a completely unwarranted comment made by a racist old man.

Tomorrow is another day. Perhaps, I can do something to make it just a bit better. Because of that one, brief exchange, that is my mission in life. So I try. That's the best I can do. But I try, and I will keep on trying until I can't raise my head off the pillow anymore.

I hope you'll try, too.

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A nice piece that could resonate with a lot of us.
You may count on it..... Sir.

Nice to see you back, Jamie. Excellent post, more than worthy of the EP
Thanks, John. My calendar's been a little full for the past year or so, but with the old book out as an e-book now, and the new book taking shape, I've decided to get back to OS to visit with the regulars and see what's up.

It's good to be back. I'll try to rattle cages, illicit chuckles, question authority, and generally throw enough material at the wall to make people ask, "What the hell's wrong with this guy?"

Apparently that's my comfort zone. Go figure.
Ohhhh man, many of us have gone through that, but rarely in front of someone of such "celebrity". And yet, your Grandfather could not help but be who he was--just like my grandfather or father. That was a word which was bandied about in the normal course of conversation then and not necessarily used as a rascist comment. More's the shame.
You're a great story teller and I felt like I was there with you and your grandfather. "Unconditional" love is just that and the way you love your grandfather is a great example of what that is. I loved your summation: "The irony is that I learned to keep an open mind from a man who didn't have one. And I learned that unconditional love is not an easy condition to live with. I also learned an important lesson from Mr. Cosby. Pick your battles. Even if you're in the right, that doesn't mean it's time to throw down and go to war over even a completely unwarranted comment made by a racist old man." It feels so counter-intuitive to keep our mouths shut, but I think that kind of space, that kind of letting go can be profoundly powerful. Thanks for sharing and congrats on the EP and cover.
"...unconditional love is not an easy condition to live with." Isn't that the truth.

Great post. I can definitely relate.
I really like this piece. I admire your unconditional love for your grandfather. I don't understand racists although I was raised by a closet one. ~r
This is a very interesting article and I commend you for writing it. A couple of comments first of the idea that this was "a word which was bandied about in the normal course of conversation then and not necessarily used as a rascist comment" is - the most polite term for it is incorrect. If this was true then people would have the same reaction to "colored" of which the phrase was true. People react to that word as insulting but not a threat. Second you were correct to feel bad about it but you should congratulate yourself both for that simple fact and for having the courage to write about it. The world is a different place and a better one now because you and many people like you felt bad about such thing. That feeling is behind a lot of what has changed the world
What a great tell! I struggle with a close elderly family member with dementia and that booming deaf voice does deliver some real crazy racist bombs in the most awkward moments in public. No filters. I so feel your experience.
P.S. Central Floridian here too! We rock.
I, too, was raised in the South and had relatives I loved deeply in spite of their horrendous racism. The best way to teach our own children that racism is wrong is to live our lives as the best example we can be. The South is not the only region of the country in which racism thrives - it's in every culture - so we must continue to fight it wherever we live. Your work is beautifully written.
Powerful post, Jamie. Bill Cosby is a highly intelligent man who value family highly. Had you not been with your grandfather, he might have said something, but he would never embarrass another man in front of his child or grandchild.

@Walt: The previous commenter beat me to the punch. There are no circumstances I can think of under which a white person can use the word nigger in a non-racist way. Perhaps you meant not in an angry way?

Excellent....We mostly love people not because of what they do but in spite of what they do...Bill Cosby is an impressive guy...
Excellent post! Your grandfather reminds me of my paternal grandmother. Although I loved her very much, I got into many arguments with her due to her ignorance regarding race.
hmm...so, what was the point of this?
Thank you OSers for a flattering series of comments on the story that details my most embarrassing moment. I have rarely told this story, and certainly never to a large audience where some might take offense. But this has been a truly liberating experience, which you have all been a part of - and I thank you for coming along for the ride.
Powerful post. Thanks for sharing.
Ugh, I have racist elder family members, too.

Maybe you could write to Cosby and send him a link to this post.
What a powerful story. A lot of us have had to face racism among those we love, and, like you, we are often left speechless, feeling humiliated and weak. I've always appreciated Obama for talking to the nation about this.
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Such a powerful story, Jamie. A reminder to all of us to stand up for what we know is right...and to constantly try to do better. Thank you!