Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Deconstructing G'ma

When I was little, she was soft and cuddly. When she lost weight for Brother 's Bar Mitzvah there wasn't enough of her to hug. I told her so.

That's the sum of it. She spent her life trying to meet everyone's expectations. I never knew what her expectations for her own self might have been. I never thought to ask.

She was President of every PTA at every school every one of her children attended. She was District President. She was asked to run for New York State PTA President and she declined. I was so proud that she'd been asked, thrilled that she'd be in Albany and meet legislators and influence policy. She wondered who'd take care of the kids while she was gallivanting around New York State.

That was what she told us. I wonder if there was something else holding her back.

I never remember her sitting at the kitchen table, talking with a friend. I don't remember her going to the movies, or out to a regular lunch date, or playing Scrabble with girlfriends. I always blamed Daddooooo's behavior for her lack of friends, but now, thinking about it, I imagine that the responsibility lies more on her shoulders than his.

Was it harder in the 1950's and '60's for a woman to have a life separate and apart from her husband? I leave TBG home alone all day, and I don't feel a scintilla of guilt. Part of that is his outlook - Go! Have a great time! Just don't make me leave the house! - and part of it is self-preservation on my part. He's a home body and I need outside stimulation. We've made our differences work for us.

Did G'ma need others? Taking her life as a whole, I wonder. She had a best friend, Gladys, growing up. They lived next door to one another. They went to college together. They traveled to California together. Gladys introduced her to Daddooooo. Everyone married and the relationship faded away.

She never replaced Gladys. I'd be hard pressed to name someone with whom she was close.

She was a talented kindergarten teacher who refused continued offers of employment. When we were young it was "Why should I take care of other people's children all day when I have my own at home to care for?" When Daddooooo's business failed and her kids were nearly grown (only Sister was still at home) the reason changed. "I don't have enough energy to keep up with them all day," was the reason she turned down the more lucrative teaching gig for a spot in the District Office, managing transportation and scheduling needs.

But I wonder, now, if she was less confident about her abilities than I thought. I wonder why she would be unwilling to stretch herself, to make a new path forward.

She said she was "lazy," but I never believed it. She always had a project at hand - crocheting, knitting, crewel work, a novel waiting on the kitchen table to keep her company while she had lunch. The house was immaculate, the laundry folded and put away, dinner on the table at 6 every night. These are not the actions of a lazy woman.

As she aged, she didn't change. She was very happy to sit on her couch, the tv murmuring in the corner, reading the paper or a book, doing a word search puzzle, no other humans around to disturb her. She moved to Independent Living and made no friends (though the Alzheimers probably had a lot to do with that). In Assisted Living she enjoyed the totally deaf woman at her table, and the wandering resident who occasionally sat on her couch (uninvited but warmly greeted), but was closest to the Russian born Recreation Aide who sought her out, loving her stories about America in the 20th century..

That is the piece that makes the most sense to me. She responded warmly to Olga's approach. She never rebuffed an offer to go someplace or do something. She was not an initiator. She needed to be asked.

I know she wanted to join the WACs in WWII, but Bubba put the kibosh on that. "Isn't it enough that I have to worry about your brother in the Army?" was enough to quash her plans. Standing up for her own desires was not in the cards.

Her parents emigrated from Russia, crossing the ocean to a country where they didn't speak the language and knew almost no one, and made a life for themselves. She got straight A's, graduated from college, got married, had kids, bought a house in the suburbs.

The marriage was troubled, but she stayed. Finances were an issue, but she figured it out. Where was SHE in all of this? I'm not sure I ever knew.

Do we reveal ourselves, our real, true, honest selves, to our children? Do we keep them in the dark about our aches and sorrows? Do we present the face we want them to see, rather than the face hiding behind layers of Good Parenting? 

Do my kids really know me? Do we ever really know one another? Does it matter?


  1. Now that I'm older I'm fascinated about some of the choices my Mom and Grandma made (or didn't make). Unfortunately, neither of them are around to ask about the background information.

    1. I know. I know. Writing The Burrow brings that up to me quite often. The "why's" haunt me....

  2. I don't feel like I knew either parent. We did not have conversations, it was more like "do your homework" or "unload the dishwasher." Even when I was older and married and out of the house, we did not really talk. Can't asked why that was because they're all gone.

    1. We were (and are) a family of talkers. Getting them to talk about the past was difficult, asking the questions was risky (I'd have to deal with the answers!) but G'ma's dementia was a blessing in that regard. She's answer me. Briefly, but it was an answer.
      Can't ask bc they're gone has to be one of the saddest sentences.


Talk back to me! Word Verification is gone!