Since I took a blogging break to do some catching up (wise I was, because I got my annual March “crud” and would be too exhausted to move if I were still in catch-up mode) I have been thinking about what my first non-meme post would be. All kinds of ideas have been through my head, and most of them will probably make it to posts, but as usual, something hit me out of the blue. I was visiting another blog when I found this post:
This post made me decide to write a little about my mother’s family. (A small part of this post is what I wrote in the comment I left for her post.) For those of you who have been readers of my blog for a while, you know that my mother died too young and that I want to tell her story. But the story is long, and it is complicated, and it is mostly not pretty. And sometimes I do not even know why I want to tell it, but it seems to me there are lessons to be learned from it. I know that all through my own life, I have learned a lot about human behavior (mostly things to avoid) from my mother’s family.
The first solid memories I have of my grandmother were when I was 4 or 5. She and my grandfather lived in the mountains in Colorado in a house that was mostly underground. I lived with my parents and younger brother in Missouri. I know my grandparents must have visited other than when my brother and I were born, but I do not remember. And I do not remember any earlier trips to Colorado. Maybe there were some, but it is possible there were not. During that first memory, I have almost no recollection of my grandfather. He was quiet and patient, and I think mostly stayed out of the way because the hen of the house pecked him whenever he came too near.
My memory is of my brother and I helping bake Christmas cookies. It is almost as if I could stand across the room and see my brother and myself pressing the pink and green cookie dough with our chubby hands. We were standing on chrome-framed chairs, silhouetted against the kitchen window which was high above the sink because it was at ground level. I remember my grandmother’s voice that grated even then telling us to do this different and don’t do that. She had prepared the dough ahead of time and cut it into pieces for us, but not one piece that we touched was “right” to her.
My grandmother was never a person who was loving to me. Even from this first memory, there is nothing stored in my mind about her being kind or doting–only correcting. The other main memory from this visit was of her dogs. She had two Chihuahuas, one blond and one black. The black one was my aunt’s dog when she lived at home. She had trained him to be mean. I remember walking with my back to the wall the entire visit, as far away from the dog as I could be so he would not bite me. But he still did. He ran across the room and grabbed two of my fingers and ripped flesh right off of them when I was possibly not being quite cautious enough. At this point my grandmother chastised me for getting too close. I can understand being severe if I were getting too close to the dog as a warning, but after being bitten (by a dog that probably should have been locked up says this animal lover), I think comforting, not chastisement would have been more appropriate. I never remember a single feeling of warmth and love coming from her.
When I was nine, my grandparents moved near us. My “other grandmother” had always been so kind, and I was hoping that my maternal grandmother living near us would make us close. It did not. I felt like I could never please her. (I later learned I was right about that.) But I had friends who had the BEST grandmother. My best friend was part of a giant family that spent weekends and holidays together at one another’s homes or at their lake retreats. Everyone adored the grandmother to whom they affectionately referred as “Granny.” I so wanted to have a family like that. I loved that my friend and her siblings and cousins had a pet name for their grandmother. I called my grandmother “Grandma.” I thought about this for a while, and decided I would start calling her “Granny” as an affectionate term. I had a label maker. (You know, the ones in the 70’s that embossed sticky tape with white letters and numbers? I had to squeeze it to make the letters, not key them in and wait for them to print out.) I made a sticky label for my grandmother that said, “World’s Greatest Granny.” Looking back I have no idea why I thought to put “World’s Greatest,” but it was probably to win her affection. I guess I was trying to repair something that I knew was terribly broken, but that I had no skills to fix. It was my 9-year-old attempt at covering her trespasses against me and completely forgiving and starting fresh, although until I was 30, I would always think the trespasses were my own fault.
My grandmother accepted my childish gift with all chilliness. I remember feeling deflated at her reaction, and knowing that yet again I had done something wrong, but not understanding it at all. In all fairness she stuck it to the dashboard of her car for a while, but I think that only served to remind her how much she resented it. She did not want to be called “Granny.” She did not like it. How could I say such a thing to her? She told all her family who would listen and all her friends (who I knew from church) how disrespectful I was. I know this because this was one of the many times my aunts and people from church came to me demanding to know why I treated my grandmother so poorly.
MY GRANDMOTHER HELD THIS INCIDENT (AMONG OTHERS) AGAINST ME THE REST OF HER LIFE, which was 31 more years. My motives were pure and innocent, but she only resented my gift. She brought it up from time to time until she died. No, not always to me. My relationship with her ended much before her death, but her complaints about me sometimes would filter their way back to my ears. When she died, two of her daughters were present. My mother was not because she had already died. A couple of my cousins were present. But most of the family was not. She did not die (or live, for that matter) surrounded by people who loved her. This was because she did not love people.
Is there a point to this story? Yes. But it is not about me. You do not need to leave me comments of sympathy about her treatment of me because I have dealt with that and put it aside long, long ago. But as I have said, there are things to learn from this. What I think can be learned here is that if children love you enough to call you anything that is kind in their hearts, let them do it! So what if it is not your favorite word! Because it is from a child or grandchild should MAKE it your favorite word! I never liked the word “Mama.” My brother and I called my mom that; I am sure that is what she called herself as we grew up. But I never liked it. I called her “Mom” when I was older. I taught my girls to call me “Mommy” and hoped that when they felt too old for that, it would go to “Mom,” or even “Mother.” But they call me “Mama.” I do not know why, but coming out of their lips, it is beautiful. They say it in all sweetness, and it is endearing to me.
So if a person decides to be so picky as to choose what s/he is called by a child and be hateful about it, then s/he should be willing to accept the consequences of alienating the child. It will not happen overnight, but that attitude will not stop there. It will pelt the child until they are so battered that they have to get away to recover and find out who they are. And if the child is not strong enough to get out from that oppressive personality, then morbid selfishness will be passed to another generation.
As a positive way to end this, a little story about Grandma D. When she was first introduced to our family–on her honeymoon with my father–she walked in the door and hugged us all as if we were her long, lost family. We sat down and chatted. She treated my daughters like I am sure she treats her own grandchildren. She told them they could call her “Nana” because that is what all her other grandchildren call her. My oldest daughter (age 5 at the time) got my attention to take me away from the hubbub. She told me privately that she did not want to call her new grandmother “Nana,” but “Grandma D.” I asked why. She said because she did not have “Grandma Kate” anymore, and she wanted to feel like it was her grandmother. “Nana” did not seem like a grandmother’s name to her. I told her to tell my dad’s wife this. She did, and “Grandma D” graciously accepted the child’s love and has been know as such since. When she dies, it will be as she has lived, surrounded by those who love her, from old and new families.