Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mother May I, Part 2

I wrote Part 1 for the May blog exchange and thought that May would be the perfect time to post a few snippets about all the mothers in my family. All the adult women are mothers, so it's quite a wealth of material. I'm not really sure where this one is going to go though....just warning you.

My father's mother - Gram

Gram is Gram. You may call her Gram. Actually, you must call her Gram. Even her sister now calls her Gram. She portrays herself as having not existed before she was Gram. Her history is kind of sorted (at least to her), and it makes her completely avoidant if you try to talk to her about the past. And so, though I know her the best of all of my grandparents, I also know her the least.

Gram's house has always been a refugee camp for everyone in the family. When anyone was down on their luck, in between jobs or semesters, or just kind of a deadbeat, they could and would retreat to Gram's house. She's that quirky mix that is straddles push-over and insanely tough cookie.

We lived with Gram for about five and a half years surrounding my junior high years. Those were some of my happiest childhood years, simply for the stability it gave me. Sure, I was still pretty low on the social ladder, but at least I was on the social ladder. Being the perpetual new kid usually sort of leaves you outside of any real circle of friends. But when we lived with Gram, I belonged. I had my nerdy peeps, and we were pretty happy.

My mom was not very happy. Which I never really caught on to until much later. Like the cliche mother-in-law/daughter relationship, theirs was strained, to say the least. And living in my Gram's house for years, made my mom feel like she had no home of her own and no control over her own existence.

On the surface, Gram is very easy going, very go with the flow. But she has some serious control, which she maintains through stealth. She plays good cop until everyone is on her side. She plays the gossip game with perfect invisibility and excessive spite. And she is the queen of passive-aggressive conflict, making such subtle moves that they are unseen by anyone but the person they are directed at. She is a queen of manipulation.

I'm guessing that she acquired these conflict skills of hers simply as a survival technique. From the little I've gotten out of her, or my dad, her life from her mid-teens to her mid-twenties was an endless stream of disappointment, abuse, fatigue, and workworkwork.

And then she left. She left her husband, his dying parents, her three sons, and all of her extended family. And she won't talk about any of this and tries every day to obliterate these events from history. She seems to consider this to be the most shameful thing she's ever done.

I think it was survival. I think there was probably nothing else she could do that wouldn't kill her completely, either physically, emotionally or both. And I think she should be proud that she was able to get herself out of that situation, regain her strength and then return to make things better for her kids and herself. It makes me so sad that she may never see this act with the glasses that show it as the act of strength and courage that it was.

Because despite all her manipulation and gossip-y control, Gram is an extremely kind and generous woman. She'd never let someone falter or be in pain if there was anything that she could do to help it. She's 84 and she still mows her own 1/2 acre lawn. She's an amazing cook and a comforting hostess. She loves animals, and like people, makes a place in her home for any animal in need.

The last couple of times that I spoke to Gram, she mentioned that ten of her friends had died in the past eight months. Her only sister and brother-in-law are very ill. And I can't imagine. I can't imagine having gone through so much in life only to end up watching so many people you love pass away, one by one. Every month, feeling another pang of loneliness as you say goodbye to another loved one. Gram is my only living grandparent and I hope that she is as okay as she pretends to be. And I hope that she's finding some peace and happiness despite all that loss. But I still just can't imagine.


Blogger SO said...

Great Post Vick!

9:18 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

When my grandfather died back in November, all I could think about was how my grandmother was going to make it through the days. They had been married nearly 63 years. How do you get out of bed and make breakfast and take a shower when your partner of more than 60 years is never coming home?

10:22 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

It's nice that your daughter has a chance to know her great-grandmother. I had both of mine until I was in my twenties and am lucky enough to still have one living grandmother. The family history that resides with that one person is truly amazing, isn't it?
Great post.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

What a lovely tribute to your Gram, V. She sounds like an amazing lady.

4:28 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I love reading about other people's stories. Thanks for sharing this with us.

5:03 PM  

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