Sunday, April 06, 2008


This post was sort of inspired by Calliope's beautiful testament to her Grandmother. However, while Calliope's story is bittersweet, mine is just plain bitter. I didn't want to post my story, when there are so many lovely blog posts you could be reading about grandparents. So it was really Sophia's honest posts about her own family that made me decide to air my own dysfunctional and dirty laundry.

I hope that at some point, Co will post about her grandmother (who helped to raise her) because her story, like Cali's, mixes up the bitter and the sweet and, it must be said, the raucously funny.

The short version is that I never had a grandparent relationship. As I've grown older I've been more aware of this absence; even now, at 33, I have friends with living grandparents, and friends who have lost grandparents only recently. It is simply not a connection I can imagine, which makes me feel a little awkward and embarrassed.

My father's parents died young. I am named for my father's father (his name began with an L.). His mother lived until I was 2 1/2. I might remember her, just a touch, or I might just remember the photographs and stories I grew up with. I am told she loved me and I cherish that information. I still have the stuffed toy she gave me as an infant. My sister, born when I was three, is named for her.

(My father's family of origin had plenty of dysfunction; however, my grandmother loved me.)

My mother's parents, on the other hand.... To engage in a little distance, retroactive, amateur diagnosis: I think they were both narcissistic personalities. At the very least. When my mother and her younger brother were growing up, the family moved every few years because my grandfather had trouble keeping jobs. They lived in towns where they were ostracized for being Jewish, and they lived on the grounds of a mental institution. My mother was left with her grandparents (her mother's parents) for many summers, as well as her entire kindergarten year (hence, she attended a Yiddish-speaking Socialist kindergarten). My middle name is the same as my great-grandmother's, the woman my mother saw as her mother figure. Mom continued to be parented by her grandparents until they died when she was in her 20s; her own mother would refuse to speak to her for months and even years at a time.

When my sister and I came along, my mother had fantasies that her parents would redeem themselves by being loving grandparents. However, we were just afraid of them. My grandmother screamed a lot. My grandfather told jokes, but literally turned away if we cried or asked for anything.

I have one first cousin, 4 years older, the daughter of my mother's baby brother. C. grew up in California and every summer my grandparents would pay for her to fly east to visit her father; but because they paid for these arrangements, she spent the bulk of her visit living with them (her dad lived nearby). She would come to visit us after weeks of living with our grandparents, and dealt with the experience by organizing myself and my sister into plays that re-enacted the household. She played my grandmother, I played my grandfather, and my little sister played cousin C. The usual scenario was that as our grandmother, C. wouls scream at me (our grandfather) while I sat on the couch, watched T.V., and pretended to eat Oreos. Then Grandmother/Cousin C. would turn on my sister (playing Cousin C.) and tell her she was too fat and needed new clothes. My parents were both amused and horrified.

When I was nine, my mom threw my grandmother a huge surprise party for her 65th birthday. It was a big deal with a rented restaurant room and calligraphy on the invitations. Cousin C. was flown in from California. A few days later on Thanksgiving, my mom and grandmother had a huge blow-out fight because my grandmother accused my mother of throwing the party just to show that nobody liked her. Now, this is insane troll logic. The party was HUGE, the most impressive affair my nine-year-old self had ever attended. But my grandmother did not speak to my mother ever again. Three and a half years later we got a call that she was in the hospital; my mom planned to drive down to see her that weekend, but we ended up driving down for her funeral instead.

My grandfather insisted that my grandmother died without a will, meaning, of course, that he became the sole inheritor. All of the family (my mom, her brother, my cousin, and my grandfather's sister) firmly believe that he destroyed my grandmother's will. She had some money inherited from her parents, and she would have left some to cousin C., to our cousins who immigrated from Poland to Canada, to the young woman she virtually adopted after saving her and her mother from an abusive father/husband (my grandmother, unbelievably, was a social worker by profession). She really would have. My mom and her brother tried to do some investigation about the will, but it all led to dead ends like a dead lawyer, and some "private time" my grandfather had insisted on spending in their safe deposit box.

Just one month later, my grandfather announced his plans to marry a woman my mother's age with whom he had been carrying on an affair for ten years. She was his secretary. I saw him less than a handful of times between my grandmother's shiva and his death a few years ago. Except for one random card when I was in college, he never contacted me, my sister, or cousin C. My mother spoke to him on and off; every single one of their phone calls ended with him raging about how little she appreciated him. She kept calling every so often. "Where there's life there's hope," she always said. But when my grandfather died, neither she, her brother, my grandfather's sister, nor any of his three grandchildren went to the funeral.

I don't know what went wrong with my grandparents. But my mom is healthier than her parents. And my sister, cousin C. and I are healthier still.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just think how healthy Jo will be!

Start the therapy at 6 mo, I say!