Thursday, October 25, 2007

Family Dynamics, Part II

The Wicked Witch of The North

This is actually a name given to my mother's mother by my father, whose main goal in life is to stir up trouble. He never really liked her much, after she dropped his first-born (my older sister) during a party where copious imbibing was going on (basically any given party at my grandparents' house). In her defense, it was socially acceptable at the time, and I don't know that she would have been as heavy a drinker, if she hadn't been married to a raging alcoholic. Sort of the "If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em" school of thinking. Still, as a mother and a grandmother, she should have been more careful with her first grandchild.

My mother's relationship with her mother was difficult at best, and all the blame shouldn't rest on my grandmother's shoulders, though she did do her part (and in truth, don't we all?). A lot of the blame should go to my grandfather, who not only drank his life into the toilet, but along the way, dropped all of his responsibilities on other people. When my grandparents were first married, they lived with my grandfather's parents, which isn't that unusual for the 1930s, but when my mother was born (she was their first) my great grandparents took control of her. Why they did this, I don't really know - they were control freaks? My grandmother wasn't really happy about not having any autonomy over her own child, but she was alone in the house of her in-laws - her husband certainly wasn't going to say anything against his parents, who ran his life so well that he never really had to grow up. I think my grandmother's resentment towards her in-laws, once they were gone, manifested itself in being angry at the object of their affection (my mother), who I'm sure was quite the little bratty princess,
and used to getting her way. When I try to imagine having to live with MY in-laws, and having them make all the decisions about my life, my husband's life, and my child's life, I can see how that could warp a person. When my uncle was born, my grandmother grew a pair, so to speak, and declared that he "was her child", and her in-law's stranglehold of control was not allowed to touch him (It may also have helped that my grandparents finally moved into their own house around this time). I think my mother resents not being the "chosen one" with her mother, being the oldest, but she has never seemed to understand that it may not have been possible, having already been chosen by her grandparents, and her mother's conflicts with her were the product of their interventions.

My grandmother was an amazing seamstress. She made the most incredible clothes - never a seam or edge unfinished, never a plaid unmatched, never an inch of fabric wasted. I recently came across some pictures my grandmother took of clothes she had made for my mother, and, in fact, an entire scrapbook of pictures of just my mother that my grandmother had assembled. Is that the act of a mother who didn't care? I often wonder what she might have become in a different life, in a different time. There was nothing she couldn't sew, and she knew how to adapt any pattern, even combine patterns to make something else entirely. I like to picture her, in her alternate life, as a couture designer; she loved Edith Head, the Hollywood fashion designer, and Dior. In the pictures of her as a young woman, before she was married, she is always wearing clothes that are up to the minute fashionable (I know, because I love vintage fashions, and their history).

When my mother had her first child, at age 19, her mother had three kids, aged 4, 9, and 14 still living at home. I think it would be very hard to feel like a grandmother, when you're still in the throes of raising kids yourself, but my grandmother's un-grandmotherlyness (is that even a word?) was and has been a bone of contention for my mother ever since. Not having any other truly grandmotherly types in my life, it never occurred to me she was lacking. My grandfather, at that time, was also working at a job that was in Korea, so he was never home (not that he would have been much help if he had been), and my grandmother had the dual jobs of being a single mom, as well as having to be a working mom (was my grandfather drinking up his paycheck at this point? I can only speculate). When we moved to the south in 1969, my grandmother threw for us all an UnBirthday Party - it was to commemorate my father's birthday, but also to celebrate all of our upcoming birthdays, as we would be far away when they actually occurred. I thought it a novel thing then, and I still remember it fondly.

There was a point in my late teens and young adulthood that I was able to get to know my grandmother a little more fully. It required going to see her without my mother being there, as their perpetual conflicts made it hard for anyone else to interject themselves in between. She was a vastly different person without Mom around. She was more relaxed, funnier, less combative, and, at times, surprisingly unsure of herself. Not exactly the humorless control freak I had heard so many vilifying stories of. (but my mother's penchant for excessive embroidery is a separate story to relate another day, and oh! what a tangled web it is!) I can't say that she was ever the sweet and unconditionally ideal grandmother that other people have had, but I never felt angry at or betrayed by her, like I did when my other grandmother died (who, on the surface, was seemingly more the grandmotherly ideal). I was sorry that we didn't have more time, and I was sad that my brothers and sister had never seen the human side of her, and could not understand the wellspring of my grief.

I think of what it would be like, to live your life the best as you are capable of; the best you are equipped for it, and when you are gone, the only rememberances are for what you didn't do; what you weren't. Surely in every life, there are moments when even the strongest and seemingly, most impervious, have their dark night of doubts and regrets, just as there are moments when we shine, and no one sees it. Whether or not my grandmother was able to express that doubt and regret, or even those shining moments, to us ultimately doesn't matter - she will always be a part of us, and its a good part. When my sister creates a beautiful new doll, that is exquisitely sewn and constructed; when I whip up slipcovers, or insist on getting the facts straight in my research, those are things we inherit from her, whether she ever knew she bequeathed us those gifts or not.


Cynthia said...

That first picture blows me away!!! Resemble anyone you know...looked in the mirror lately!? And the second one is also marvelous, great stuff Beck!

we_be_toys said...

Thanks Cin! I have that first picture because of whom it resembles - it blew mw away when I saw it. The other picture may not be as fraught with tension as it appears, but then again, maybe it is! I liked it for the subject matter and it had an interesting composition as well. I'm thinking of using the one with Mary and Myrt for a painting. Was good to talk to you today - hope all is well.