I live in MacGregor Lake in Mahopac and love to walk the hills and valleys of this beautiful neighborhood. Though I’m terrible at remembering names and sometimes faces, I find that a wave and a smile always gets a wave and a smile back.
I’ve lived in this community for over 16 years and feel quite comfortable and welcome here, even being a liberal Democrat who writes a weekly liberal column in a mostly Republican neck of the woods. So, recently, as I’ve roamed the environs, I’ve asked several neighbors who I know to be relatively conservative, who they might be voting for on Primary Day. The universal answer has been Trump.
The other day, while sauntering back home, as I’m about to reach my house, I hear the call, “Mishpacha” from a close-by neighbor. Well, this Yiddish phrase is usually a welcoming call from an extended family member; but, instead, it’s coming from this timeworn and cantankerous Irish guy—Walter Brady—who’s slowly shuffling up his driveway, eager to chat.
I enjoy schmoozing with Walter, but I’m not always sure that the some of the Yiddish phrases he uses when we’re talking—chutzpah, mishegoss, and meshuga—are meant to appeal to my heritage, or actually offend me. Walter seems to be the type of guy you either like or strongly dislike. In the neighborhood, and even in the town, he has a larger-than-life personality and reputation. You can count on Walter always being gruff, outspoken, and highly opinionated. But, I believe he is always willing to fight for what he thinks is ultimately the fair and right thing to do, and I admire that.
Over the years, and in spite of my conflicting feelings, I’ve come to like Walter and find him more of a pussycat than a tiger. Carve away some of the layers of toughness and hardheadedness, and there hides a bright man, more sensitive than he’s willing to admit, who does a lot of thinking about issues that affect us all. Though he often seems comfortable acting as the aggrieved party and choosing contentious positions, when the conversation ends, it always ends amiably.
I made a date to interview Walter, who is an avowed conservative Republican. Both Walter and his lovely wife, Carol, greeted me warmly. Carol stayed for most of the interview, but clearly warned me that she and Walter have a difference of opinion on almost everything.
Walter grew up in the southeast Bronx in the 1940s. The neighborhood was multicultural and in the midst of change.
“I’m Irish but there were blacks, Puerto Ricans, Italians, everybody,” said Walter. “I went to the local schools and then to Food Trades Vocational High School in Manhattan. I wanted to be a baker; my father was a baker. I went for a couple of years then quit Food Trades, when it wasn’t safe anymore. Most of the students were black and went there for a free meal—you could eat what you prepared—and this was their main meal of the day. There were too many fights and a lot of guys carried straight razors for protection. School was like being in the streets with the gangs, so I quit and went to work. I worked for some of the big commercial bakeries, went to Samuel Gompers High School part-time, and became a carpenter.”
“I lived in the Bronx until 1964 when my father, Red Brady, moved his Plaza Bakery, a Jewish bakery under rabbinical supervision, from Tremont Avenue to Bronx River Road in Yonkers. My father was a very interesting man. He was born in this country and went to work for a Jewish bakery in 1932 delivering rolls to the groceries on a pushcart. By the end of the Second World War, he had his own bakery and hired many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust; he even learned to speak Hebrew.
“I went to work for my father as a baker when the construction industry went bad. He was a tough guy—they called him Meshugina Red—but he was a helluva baker and knew how to run a great business; we did very well.
“I got married in 1965 and built our house on MacGregor Lake in 1970. In 1974, we moved the Plaza Bakery from Yonkers to Route 6 in Mahopac, and it thrived until 2001, when we sold it. “
“It was a tough business to run,” said Carol, “but the customers and people of Mahopac were wonderful and felt like family. We all worked very hard, but it was worth it.”
OK, I thought, it was now time to get to the heart of this meeting: Who did you vote for and why?
I asked whether they were religious and if they believed in God. They both said yes, without hesitation. I also asked if they were practicing Catholics, and went to church.
“We don’t go to church often enough,” Carol answered, “but we are practicing Catholics.”
Does religion affect your politics?
“Well, we’re both pro-choice and support a woman’s right to choose,” they answered, “but we’re against late-term abortion.”
“If you both still ran the bakery,” I asked, “and a gay couple walked in and asked you to make them a wedding cake, would you?”
“We did make a wedding cake for a gay couple,” Carol said. “They were just another couple getting married.”
“My daughter’s godfather was gay as could be and died of AIDS 40 years ago,” Walter added. “Gay people don’t bother either of us; we have them in the family.”
“Most Republicans are anti-gay and anti-choice,” I said. “You folks are confusing me. What is your politics?”
“My father and mother were both Democrats,” said Walter. “Me and Carol started as Democrats. We’re both Conservatives now. We’re tired of the Democrats giving the people something for nothing.”
“Don’t include me in this,” interjected Carol. “I vote for the candidate I believe in, not the party.”
Walter then went on, “The Democrats are giving away something for nothing. They’re also giving it away to the illegals, the lazies, and drug pushers. Trump will build the wall. He started it all by saying he’ll put a stop to this.
“I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on with the Republicans,” continued Walter. “Trump is a good businessman; he’s a good negotiator and knows how to compromise. They’re picking on him. If he wins the most delegates, don’t take it away from him at the Convention. I’m worried about my grandchildren. I’ve got 10 grandchildren. You keep allowing all these people to come into the states from wherever they want and give them whatever they ask for and, you know...”