Tuesday, May 27, 2008
My little grandma
My paternal grand-mother was a very influential figure in my life. It is because of her that I know the value of a hard days' work. It is because of her that I never drink alcohol (even though I occasionally joke that I like the gin)(because if I tried the gin? I would like the gin. It's genetically proven). It is because of her that I didn't marry until 31 years of age. She taught me more just by being than I can ever articulate.
Born in 1925 to a homemaker and a soldier, one of five children, she lived a hard life. Put to work at 10 years old, she would walk the dirt roads to be a maid/nanny/housekeeper to one of the wealthy families in town.
At 18 years old, she found herself in "a delicate situation" as it was referred to then. She put the baby up for adoption. Obviously not figuring out what caused the first "situation", she had another. This baby went to adoption also. We never spoke of these babies, her and I. I don't know if I have great aunts, uncles, or both that are unknown to me.
Married to a soldier at 22 years old, she chose poorly. Frank (we never called him by any other name) was a mean drunk. He didn't work and drank away any money she brought in. He abused her horribly, putting her in the hospital many times. These are stories that my father has told me. When he tells me these things, I picture him as a little boy, scared, hiding in a corner and I want to scoop him up and make it better. I want to protect him from the horrors that he sees. I don't want him to know that his father doused his mother with a kettle of boiling tea in a drunken rage, leaving her burned from waist to knees. I don't want him to see her on the kitchen floor with his father towering over her, one foot on her thigh while he twists her lower leg to break it. I don't want him to have to rush in with a bat at seven years old and try to save her, or put himself in the way thinking maybe he can take the blows meant for his mother.
After 1 year of marriage, Grandma gave birth to a son. He had a cleft palate, and was slightly mentally retarded. When this son was only two months old, she became pregnant with my father. Two years later came another son, a year after that, a daughter.
My grandmother ran a diner for an old Greek man. Her entire life was spent there, from 5am until 10pm every day. After work was drinking time. Any days off were drinking time. While Frank was a mean drunk, Grandma was a sad drunk. I learned at a very young age that if I came in the door and they were sitting around the table with their cards and beer and I didn't get away quick enough, I would be subjected to endless apologies and cries of regret. To this day I cannot stand a drunk. I don't drink because I'm terrified I'll become one. When one has four alcoholic grandparents, I'd say the odds are fairly stacked.
I'd like to add a caveat here for my friends who drink. When I say a drunk, I mean that person who has no desire to live differently, who is a slave to the drink. That person who takes and never gives back and expects more. The one who gets too close and hangs on you and gives you all of their problems so they don't have them anymore. I don't mean anyone who drinks socially or who is in recovery.
Later, I'd guess around 50 years old, she finally quit drinking. With Frank dead, her sons married and her daughter at home with her, she found some semblance of peace. She still worked every day, but a normal eight hours. When the diner closed for good and she had nothing to do with her time, I think she broke. After having no time to yourself your entire life, she didn't quite know what to do. I know the medical term is senile dementia. I know that the scans showed significant decrease in brain size and uncountable small strokes most likely attributable to the years of alcohol toxicity. But I think she just broke.
I was the first grandchild. The adored one. The moment she didn't recognize me will forever be the most heartbreaking of my life.
This little woman, with every odd in the world stacked against her, did the impossible. She raised four kind, caring, responsible contributing members of society. She bought and paid for land and a home by herself while supporting her children and husband. She never turned anyone away who needed something, even if she didn't have it to give. She made sure that her first and only granddaughter knew to respect herself enough to never tolerate being treated any less than she deserved, and then made sure that I knew I deserved the best. She made sure I knew to get an education, no matter what, so I wouldn't have to work like she did. And she told me that, for us, one drink is too many, a million never enough.
I miss her.