So yeah, I’m posting this against my better judgment, because I really don’t have another place to express this. Then again this is a personal blog, and it’s kind of sporadic and messy, and isn’t this why I started in the first place? So yeah, here goes.
I only have two really good memories that directly involve my maternal grandmother. And by “good,” I mean pleasant and/or warm memories, not easily remembered ones (though I have a million of those).
The first memory
One day when I was about 6 years old, we visited my grandmother’s house in St. Helena and she gave me a baby doll in a crocheted dress with a matching blanket, both of which handmade by her. My doll’s dress and blanket were a bright orange trimmed in white. Now I have never been a fan of the color orange (which might have something to do with growing up in the 70’s when all the Tupperware was orange and puke green) and my doll was a little creepy looking, so I wasn’t very excited. But I understood that my grandmother had put a lot of work into her gift and I appreciated that so much that I made a big show of playing with the doll, wrapping her up in the blanket like a little burrito as I had seen so many women do with their babies. I never loved that doll and hardly played with it after that day. I did love on that little orange blankie and the little blue tag sewn into a corner that read “handmade especially for you.” I kept it near me for most of my childhood and I clearly remember it was one of the items I packed into a garbage bag along with the rest of my treasures that I wanted to save from The Great Flood of 1986. But that’s another story.
The second memory
This particular memory comes right after my little brother Nico was born, so I was 7 years old. I was sitting behind the couch with my two favorite books in a bid to find a quiet place away from the baby and the parade of guests coming to coo over him. My grandmother was sitting in a chair across the room, crocheting and visiting with one of my much older cousins. She had been teasing me about having my nose in the books again, and I wasn’t happy about her being there. But then I heard her brag about me, something she very rarely ever did. Then she called out to me, “Mi’ja, what are you going to do when you grow up?” To which I gave my standard answer, “I’m going to graduate from high school and then go to college.” “Isn’t that cute?” she crowed. And my cousin asked, “How does she even know about college?” And behind that couch I smiled wide, happy that she was proud of me.
My grandmother was not the nicest woman
I know now that there are so many reasons why she was who she was. She lost her own mother at a very young age. She was raised by aunts who weren’t very nice to her. When she was a teenager she fell in love, got married to a good, simple man and they had 10 kids. 10 kids! She worked in the fields, and later she helped support her family by cooking meals for the fieldworkers while also feeding, watching and worrying over all those babies. And over time she became hard. In fact, she could be downright evil. And I say that without a hint of irony or exaggeration. There are dozens of family secrets that trace right back to her and we’re still not allowed to talk about them. She has broken her own daughters, disowned grandchildren and turned brothers & sisters against each other. I haven’t said more than two sentences to her in the past 10 years. She stopped speaking to my mother twenty years ago. Over nothing. Over my mother finding love with a good, honest, hardworking man – a man who gave my mother the love she needed, which in turn made her strong enough to stand up for herself and her daughter. I won’t go into details because, well, it’s not important any longer.
Life is strange
Last week my grandmother had a heart attack. And it was bad enough that even my mother went to the hospital to see her. The doctors informed the family that while the heart attack was relatively mild, it stressed the rest of her organs, and her kidneys had been pushed to the breaking point. Since her veins are too weak for dialysis, they can’t do anything for her but make her comfortable. And wait. My grandmother is 90 years old and her health has been deteriorating for some time. So while her kids are sad about this news, they aren’t exactly surprised. But the odd thing? She’s in this state of semi-delirium right now, and it’s making her a much more pleasant person to be around. It’s like the last 40 years of bitterness have just washed away, and she’s this woman that none of us can even remember. She’s speaking to my mom again, as if she never stopped. She’s also seeing people who aren’t actually there, and talking to family members that have passed on, but still. So here’s the thing. I gave up on this woman a very long time ago. She hurt my mom, she hurt me, she twisted our family. I haven’t felt anything like love for her in a very long time, and I honestly wasn’t expecting to mourn her, as cold as that might sound. But now I hear this sort of hope in my mom’s voice, because even though her mother is dying, she’s finally getting this last chance to have a mom. And that makes me weep these crazy, bittersweet tears. Ain’t life fucking strange?