Sunday Morning ~ Grandmothers
Ukonde uyambira ku bwakale. ~ You start weaving a new net using the old one.
~ Chewa proverb
September 11, 2022
My grandparents died when I was very young. I have vague memories of my maternal grandmother who spoke Acadian French, and was ‘senile” as my mother told me when I asked why she behaved the way she did. My grandmother would dress herself with her clothes on backwards, walk downstairs from the second floor apartment, and get lost in the streets of Cambridge. I remember my mother getting a call and without a word, jumping in the car to go look for her. I went with my mother once to that apartment where I nervously observed my mother re-dressing this smiling old lady, then watched as she threw out rotten food from the fridge, moaning in disgust. My grandfather sat mute in the rocking chair in the another dark room. To my childish senses the whole place smelled putrid. I think I held my nose the whole time. My memory of that afternoon is dark and shadowy. Once after that my mother took me to a nursing home, also shadowy and smelly, where both her parents lay in single beds side by side, my grandmother with the same smile on her face. She looked like an old doll. It is the last memory I have of her. I remember my mother getting a phone call reporting her mother had died, then hearing my mother make funeral arrangements. I sat on the stairs looking through the balusters, hiding, as if I weren’t supposed to be hearing the conversation but wanting to witness the mysteriously unfolding events. Adults would never explain or tell us anything so we had no choice but to be sleuths. I heard her say she wanted the corpse dressed in a blue dress, and later that afternoon, thinking I would make my mother feel better I guess (not that she looked or acted upset), I told her I saw a woman in a blue dress flying up to heaven. It was a lie. I had seen no such thing, but I somehow thought it would make her happy knowing her mother was on her way to heaven dressed as she wished. I remember my mother turning from the dishpan, her hands soapy, her apron intact, and laughing.
I envied my friends’ relationships with their grandparents. It all seemed so loving and happy, and I wondered what it would be like to be loved like that. In my college dorm we once took up a collection so a co-ed could get a bus home when her grandmother died. I thought it was remarkable she should go to such effort. Feeling generous, and in line with other contributions, I donated a dollar, but I felt left out of the true sympathy others were expressing. My empathy was forced and wistful.
Five years later, my mother held my firstborn for the first time. I had never seen her so joyful. He was a year old by then, her first grandchild born in Africa and distant for the first year of his life. I loved seeing her expression and knew he’d have something I hadn’t. She was like that with all my kids, though, she couldn’t hide her favoritism for the first. The other kids didn’t seem resentful, they just loved her back and it made her bloom. Even their teenage sarcasm was loving and tender, something I appreciated for her sake but resented for mine since they were pretty brutal to me.
Spending this past month with my own grandchildren, I thought a lot about being a child, comparing their lives to mine. It was an interesting exercise, not in an analytical nor a regretful way; it was only a comparison. We began each morning with writing a very short story about what happened the day before. We’d lie in bed and I’d suppress laughter while writing as they dictated. Their perceptions of news worthy events were comical and surprising. I wondered what I’d have chosen to write about without judgement as a kid. Once, when Amelia was deciding what to say she stopped and asked, “Wait, is anyone else besides us going to read this?” before deciding to include something she didn’t want shared. I loved that. As soon as we were done with the story, they got up and ran for the onset of their two hour daily limit on a device. That also was funny to me thinking how I did the same thing at their ages with TV and cartoons. Our days were unstructured. I had set aside these weeks with no other commitments. It was lovely and stress-free. We spent time every day planning our menus, swimming, and reading. I had a list of potential activities to be pulled out if I ever heard, “I’m bored” but I never did. We did a three day camping trip where the activity was just camping. It felt great not to cram the days full of activities and forced marches. I worried a little what was wrong with me––– I’m not usually this relaxed, but it felt so good to just hang out. I told them I was relishing this time, knowing when they got older they probably won’t want to be spending summers with me. They vehemently assured me they would ALWAYS want to be with me. I laughed and told them I loved they said that, but things change and there would never be any pressure. I was only relishing the moment we were in. I pictured them someday after I am gone, re-reading our summer stories, imagining their laughter, knowing it’s a fantasy and that’s okay.
Love to all,