Thursday, July 9, 2009
Grandparents...hot and cold.
As a lot of people who read this blog might know...I grew up with a crazy father who kept us fairly isolated from people specifically and the world in general as much as he could. Most of the places we lived when I was young were either very small towns or isolated areas in which there were few neighbors. It was rare for people to come visit us...and rarer still for us to go visit them...or to spend the night with friends etc. Most of our friends were too scared to even come to our house for the most part...so we didnt do a lot of asking for slumber parties any how...but it would have been nice to have those sorts of memories.
My Mothers family never came to see us for the most part during my childhood...any visiting that was done was by us going to see them. It didnt happen a lot but enough so that us kids knew our grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. (they all lived in pretty much the same area in OK) When we went down to visit we usually stayed with my grandparents...and counted the days until we were ran out of the house and headed back home. It went something like this....
My grandmother was about the most anti social person Ive ever personally known in my life. She suffered a lot in her life so I figure that had a lot to do with it...but I also assume she had personal issues and personality hangups that made her who she was....a person that rarely smiled...never laughed...and had nothing good to say about anything. All my childhood all I can remember from her was a constant babble of complaints about everything and anything under the sun. Whenever we came to visit my mother braced herself for a constant onslaught of finger pointing and nagging from sun up to sun down...and late into the night. Grandma never seemed to run out of things to complain about...and didnt sleep much either...sigh.
Grandpa, on the other hand, dealt with life (and maybe his wife) by drinking...a lot. While she sat at the kitchen table (I rarely saw her anywhere else in her house other than the bedroom for sleeping...and she only went in there when she wanted to sleep) he would sit outside on the porch in his broken down chair sipping on beer and ignoring the complaints that were constantly being thrown out the screen door at him. They very rarely spent time in the same room together other than when passing through...and I never heard a single word between them that could in any way be considered civil...Mom says its because of the hard life they spent together and the era they grew up in. They were like enemies that couldnt live together...but wouldnt even think of living life apart.
Now I had two very different relationships with these two people. Like night and day...or hot and cold depending on how you look at it. As I sit here and think about the both of them (both have since passed on) I only have negative memories with my grandmother and only positive memories of my grandfather. Its possible because I was a child my memories are somewhat distorted but I will explain and you tell me...what was going on with those two?
As I mentioned, my grandmother was a bitter and angry woman...this was her personality and she pretty much treated everyone to a tongue lashing if they dared come too close. Most of the family had learned that a quick visit was just about all that could be had if you didnt want to get dragged into a tirade that lasted hours. Whenever we stayed there for more than a day...Mom would make frequent "trips to the store" just to give herself (and us) a chance to regroup and calm down. I was usually the first one in the car when she suggested we needed something...I couldnt get away fast enough. You see, my grandmother hated me...we all knew this...including my Mother...but none of us knew why.
Picture this. My grandmother rarely showed affection to anyone...even her own children...so a hug from her or even her reaching out and touching someone on purpose was just something so rare that it caused heads to turn and eyebrows to raise when it happened....and something remembered for a very long time. Growing up my older sister Tammy was favored by grandma, which was ironic considering Tammys rebellious streak and penchant for trouble making. I can remember on several occasions when gramma would call her over and pull her onto her lap...for just a few seconds but thats all it took...that contact was a signal that Tammy was about to get a treat (money, a trinket of grammas etc) and Tammy knew it..and soaked it up. Throwing me a look of such superiority that ordinarily I would be jealous...but I wasnt...I knew how she felt about me and knew I would never be asked to sit on her lap. I didnt miss it.
Years later after Tammy was gone little sis took over her spot and could be seen sitting on grammas lap now and then...and receiving some token or bit of money. In all my life I do not recall gramma ever touching me...nor do I remember her ever saying my name. She completely ignored my presence in her house for the most part....except for three occasions that stand out in my mind.
One time I was very bored...there is nothing much to do in a house in which two old people live...and this neighborhood had no children in it...and so I was searching for something to do. Grammas living room (a room she NEVER spent time in except to dust once a week) was like blast from the past. Every bit of furniture and collection of knick knacks in that room remained in exactly the same position for as long as I could remember. Nothing ever changed...nothing was ever thrown out or moved. The same furniture...the same books on the shelf...the same picture of JFK was on the wall for as long as I could remember. Nobody ever really sat in there except to watch TV...and she didnt like the TV to be on all that much so it was off most of the time as well. You learned quick when being in grammas house not to touch things...move things...or even show interest in things...she had her eye on every last object in her house and took inventory often.
Out of extreme boredom and in an act of desperation (mom had gone out with my aunt for several hours...I was alone with gramma that day) I entered the sitting room and pulled a book from her shelf. It was a very old copy of Tom Sawyer. I sat in a chair and read the whole thing in about 2 hours (I have always been a quick reader). When I finished I placed the book back on the shelf and went about my day. Unknown to me gramma had quickly noticed me entering the sitting room and had been complaining the whole time (most of her complaining was done as if she were talking to herself...not necessarily directed at anyone...but loud enough so we knew she was hot about something). As soon as my mother arrived she was hit with an onslaught of accusations that I had "tore up" the sitting room...I had "gotten into everything"...and I had probably "damaged" her book. Mom defended me telling gramma that I was very respectful and wouldnt hurt anything etc...but later on she kicked my butt telling me I knew better than to antagonize gramma over her things. Its just the way things were...sigh. I never touched anything in grammas house again if I could help it.
Another time Mom, gramma, grandpa and I went somewhere (a very rare occasion for them to both be in the same car as I recall) and I sat in the backseat with grandpa. When we arrived I chose to stay outside in the car with grandpa rather than go inside the house and visit some "old lady" who was sick. The entire time they were in the house...gramma stood near the door and kept her eye on the both of us outside (I didnt realize this at the time of course)...and on the way home she complained loud and long about me (in an indirect fashion)...wondering why I preferred sitting in the car with HIM...what did I do while sitting there...how could mom just let me sit there...it went on and on until we reached home. Her complaining from one side...mom and grandpa telling her to shut up from the other...I never said a word because I didnt understand why she was so mad at me. I hadnt done anything but sit in the car and talk with grandpa to pass the time...sigh.
The last incident was actually the last time I visited my grandparents home as a teen. I had been suffering an incredibly bad headache for much of the day. I had gone to Mom asking if she had any Tylenol...she told me to go ask gramma as she had a bottle somewhere. Of course I didnt. I couldnt bring myself to ask her for anything...I could barely bring myself to speak to her since she had spent my entire life either ignoring me or complaining about me. I suffered a few more hours hoping it would go on its own. It didnt.
I went back to mom, who at this point was in a very bad mood (I dont recall what was going on but do remember she was very mad about something)...and when I asked her she exploded at me to just "go and ask YOUR GRAMMA"...so I went...with a heavy heart and trepidation. Of course it didnt go well. I do believe it was the first time in my life that I directed a request to her...asked her for something...wanted something from her...she didnt take it well. From the moment I asked for some Tylenol she went on a rant about how I was "using up her medication" and she would be "left with nothing and she was an old woman" and how I was "inconsiderate to take her medication when I could get my own"...and similar complaints.
I slunk away to a dark room and laid down hoping the headache would go away with some rest. It didnt. Mom found me an hour later in tears, grabbing my head and unable to open my eyes the pain was so severe. She asked me if I had taken any pain pills. I hesitated...then told her gramma had not given me any.
All Hell broke loose that day. Before an hour had passed our bags were packed and we were headed back home....but not before mom had let gramma have it about making me suffer rather than give me 2 little Tylenol...gramma went on her rant and they went round and round until we were slamming doors and headed down the driveway. I didnt see gramma again until 6 years ago while visiting my family in Texas (she and my older sis passed away a year later within weeks of each other...a double blow for my mother)...I never seen my grandpa again. He passed away the first year I was in Bahrain. The last image of my grandpa was him standing in the driveway with tears in his eyes waving goodbye...because he felt as if this would be our last visit for awhile considering gramma had done her best to run us off for good this time. 2 years later I was in Bahrain and he passed away.
*to be continued. I will talk about my grandpa and our relationship.