Friday, July 27, 2007

Part of My Family Tree or What Happens When You Can't Say No

Being young is hard. Being young and female, in a time when a woman’s education is to be in the home arts can’t make things easier at all. Add a good dose of poverty and the dominant feeling that at the time a woman without a man is incomplete, and you have a tough life.

You have my grandmother.

I often fantasized that had she been born in my generation we would have been best of friends. She seemed like she had a lot going on in her mind, but just lacked the words to express it. And she lacked the family to support her. My mother was always one to condemn her and applaud her at the same time. I heard tell that my grandfather controlled her, but I only saw him once or twice so can’t say. I do remember he made me doll furniture and grandma said he loved me very much.

My grandmother was amazing when it came to crafts. She made pillows and dolls and knit and just everything you can imagine. At Christmas time the house was filled with decorations and not one, but three trees that she proudly displayed and showed off to everyone who came in the house. The light in her eyes outshone those from the trees.

It was hard talking to her at times, as she didn’t have the words. When she worked it was usually doing things such as sorting books at a shelter or other such tasks. She was so proud when she was around intelligent women though, and loved telling me those stories as best she could.

“So she went to whatchyoumcallit sweetie, she did. She’s very smart. And she did this thing, you know? And she’s retired from the thingibob and now we work together sorting clothes.” She’d tell me, as she explained her day. At times it seemed like every third word or so was a replacement word – a ‘whatchoo’ or ‘thingie.’ Was it just excitement or did she really just not have the language? Unfortunately, I think it was the latter because even in calm times I just couldn’t understand her.

Yet, I loved listening to her stories. I should clarify that this is my father’s mother. I never met my mother’s mom. My mother reluctantly ‘allowed’ her to baby-sit my brother and I one year, as there was no other option that was affordable. After that summer the visits tapered, even though my grandmother never condemned my mother or blamed anyone for the divorce.

Grandma also loved to cook. Not that she was good at it. Many a time did we have gritty candies and an odd mixture of flavors (think garlic brownies), but her family praised her as the domestic goddess she was taught to be.

When Grandma told stories they were seldom about herself. They were about some relative she was proud of who was wounded in war and ended up with a metal plate in his head. I think he was in a truck that hit a mine. He was her hero, I believe in her story he was riding around saving people when the fighting got in the way of his adventure. Sometimes she spoke of the craft fairs she went too and how people praised her dolls, but usually it focused on the other people in her life – how hard her husband worked, how proud she was of her daughter the butcher (who lived with her as well).

This also led to grandmother never really showing me how to sew, or crochet, or knit as she didn’t want to talk about herself (other than to say she had no choice in the matter when talking about her lack of education) and she encouraged my education. In fact, she paid for a party to celebrate my graduation from highschool. One that, unfortunately, she didn’t attend (she couldn’t drive and I think my mom said she wouldn’t drive her back home). So we had it without her.

But, what is the point of me writing this besides some nostalgia for a woman I once knew? The point is the one story she told my brother and I, a story she had kept bottled up inside for a long time.

It was about my father.

And her father.

Between her sobs she spoke about how she didn’t have the strength to say no when her father wanted to take her son. Through tears we heard little snippets of how she knew what he would do, because her father had done it to her when she was little. But she felt responsible now for what my father had done to my brother, because she didn’t have the strength to stop the cycle from continuing.

It’s a harrowing moment to have happen. All the moments there are- she was taken by her dad and couldn’t say no when he wanted our dad. My brother was taken. And now, there we were, both under the age of ten listening but not quite understanding what she was saying.

We held her hand as she cried, knowing she needed something and not really cognizant of the weight she had carried so long. This was her story – the one she never wanted to revisit but it was eating her up too much not to. She had been taught to always do what her father said. Even though she knew he was wrong, she couldn’t say no.

She just couldn’t say no.

But while she felt that was her legacy, it’s not. She loved me. She loved her entire family and always did what she could to keep them clothed and fed and clean. As powerless as she felt, she still fought hard to love everyone. She was proud of everything anyone accomplished – no matter how others might have viewed it. The problem is now, when I’ve tried to reconnect with her it’s just apologies. I haven’t seen her since I was young, it was forbidden after a time (even though my mother still accepted money). She is sorry she didn’t stand up to my mother more, but was afraid we wouldn’t be allowed to her house anymore as eventually happened. She’s sorry she didn’t talk sooner about things that were going on. I do hope she forgives herself soon as I have. She was an oasis for me. I loved going to grandma’s house. And that one story she did tell of herself, it shows me what I have to face, an evil that goes back a long ways. I’m glad she had the strength to tell us what had happened, and what does happen when you don’t have the strength to say no.


dawn said...

Wow your grandma sounded like a really great woman, reading this reminded me of my grandmother. I loved mine more than life. I also felt if she was my age we would be best friends, She was the total opposite from my Mom and still to this day really don't believe that my mom came from her. It took alot of strength for her to tell you about the fathers. Anyway Victoria I'm not around weekends but I'll be back Monday. Stop by my blog sometime. Have a great weekend.

Amel's Realm said...

The story of your grandma makes me feel to put it...sad.

I'm glad she managed to spread love everywhere, though, but yeah, not having the strength to say no is really destructive, isn't it?

Jessica Weisenfels said...

Why do I love this so much:

"when I’ve tried to reconnect with her it’s just apologies"

I see that my grandma could have been your grandma--but she's not. She is Oasis without Apology. Still, that phrase means something...

I really love your blog.

Victorya said...

Dawn - it's a sad twist of time that we can't grow up with our grandparents, isn't it? They seem such bastions of love and hope.

Amel - it's tough. We haven't talked in years. I don't blame her, I just feel sad. It is tough to say no when you are brought up beleiveing you are less than other people.

Jessica - thanks for stopping by, I'm glad you like it and can find something here. My grandma did apologize - which is more than many people have the courage to do. I respect her immensely.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't close to either of my Grandmothers. It really didn't matter to me when I was young. As an adult, I feel I missed out on the times we could have had.

Amel's Realm said...

Yeah, I know what you mean, Vic. What makes me sad is that it's ingrained in your grandma's brain that she can't say no.

It's like what happens to Ching in one of my posts...she just can't "fight for her dreams" as she's too afraid to do it, afraid of the consequences, etc.

I hope your grandma's enjoying her life now and can make peace with herself. :-)))

david mcmahon said...

Hi Victorya,

I never had grandparents and your post brought a lump to my throat.

Beautifully told.

Keep smiling


Paper Fan Club said...

Victorya, there must be a novel written about your grandmother someday. It's incredible to read how much she touched your life... I've never really thought through the idea of "what if" about my own grandparents. But I will.

Rachelle said...

Dear Victorya,
Wow, this brought back some memories. As a shild my mother's mother was a sweet old lady who laid on her couch all the time with her weenie dog and was spoiled by my grandpa. Everything was pink, and she was pretty.

As an adult I learned that she chose her child molesting husband over my mother when she was a teenager, and as an adult, him over the safety of her grandchildren.

It is hard to reconcile my memories of my grandparents with the truth, but my heart knows.

I was the chain breaker in my family. And it has been incredibly hard- as Iam sure you know.
You are a strong woman, and I am very proud to have met you.

Rachelle said...

oops! Forgot to add what was in my head....
I too have PTSD and your grandmother was very, very brave.
With her troubles communicating, it must have been so terribly hard to hold all that inside. I am so glad you were there for her when it all came out.

Victorya said...

OMG Rachelle! The line about the weiner dog made me jump. She had one too! I don't remember it's name, just that she had one until he died.

And rabbits. They had rabbits at one point.

David - always nice to have you drop by.

Paper - I think at this point the novel would be highly fictionalized, but it is an idea. Just the life I imagined for her. Give her a chance to live the way she should have - free and without need for apology.