I went because I had to go, because they expected me to. Not because I wanted it or because I had any sort of need to be there. I never really understood the concept to be honest and I thought it a gruesome end to life. It was cold in there and it smelled like dust and old lady hair. I took the scents into my face and held them with my eyes closed.
She was never pleasant in life to me or my brothers or my family and if truth be told, I never cared. It didn’t occur to me when I was young that she was not all that a grandmother should be. She hated all of us, everyone I loved. And so to me she was junk. Even less than junk and we didn’t need her.
At the front of the room, the box was open and the top part of her body was raised, so everyone in the church could see her face. The stained glass windows cast colorful shapes onto her face and hands crossed over her chest. Men had always thought her attractive but she had always looked like a wicked witch to me minus the warts. I remember as a child thinking that she ate frogs to keep the warts from showing on her face. Or maybe that smelly stuff she always drank helped hide her true form. I never told anyone, even my oldest brother. I was afraid of what she might do to us if she knew that I knew.
One time when she lived next door to us in a green house she came into our kitchen where me and my brothers were sitting at the sturdy dining table in old wooden chairs that were scarred and solid. She pulled my head back by my hair and yelled at me because I had told my Uncle that he was really my Cousin. Her breath was like liquid lettuce and bug spray. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to. I just wanted him to know the truth. Not because I was a vindictive child or because I was trying to be mean. He always tried to tell us what to do because he was our younger Uncle and it made me mad because he wasn’t. So I just wanted him to know the truth of the situation so he would stop being mean. He grew up to be one of the meanest, most selfish people I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing. And now, I don’t know him.
My Mom always seemed sad around her. I remember thinking that Mom was always sad at one point in my life. Later I knew it was because her mother was not a Mommy. Her mother, of whom she had fond childhood memories, was not the woman you call as an adult when you need advice about poison oak or when your dog is vomiting non-stop on your new sofa. She wasn’t someone you called for anything really. I don’t think she ever said more than fifty words to me in my entire life and I couldn’t even tell you what those fifty words might have been. I never cared. I never missed her talking to me. All that ever came out of her mouth was mean.
She hated my father and I never forgave her for that. She thought he was never good enough for my Mom, but not in a protective, loving mother-in-law sort of way. In a you-could-have-married-someone-rich way. In a your-rich-husband-could-have-taken-care-of-me way.
We moved away from her when I was fairly young and I don’t remember anything about her for several years. I’m sure my Mom must have talked to her during those years, but I was never privy to any conversations that had taken place or news from my grandmother’s neck of the woods. I think she got married a few times. We never got cards or phone calls from her on birthdays or holidays and I never missed her and I never asked.
I grew older and realized that other people had grandmothers that liked them, that gave them presents and took them on trips. That bragged about their 4.0 GPAs and came to all their school plays. Through my resentment I wondered what I had done to not deserve a grandmother who loved me. But I didn’t dwell on it. It was just the way things were, the way she was and the way she made me be. I blamed her for it, thinking she could just be different that she could just decide to care and be a sweet old granny. She just chose not to and that made me mad. But not for me. I had all I needed.
My Mom and I went to her kitchen once. It was plain and small. She was frying zucchini in a blue pan. I looked into the pan and up at her. She just looked at me and looked away, her long brown and gray hair swinging slightly with her effort to not look at me. She had fried zucchini almost every day of her life my Mom said. Maybe that’s what made her so mean and angry. Maybe the fried zucchini was her witch medicine that hid her warts and gave her evil powers over men and my mother.
When I was a teenager, she had quadruple bypass surgery from all the fried zucchini she never shared. My Uncle Cousin who was supposed to take care of her went on a hunting trip and left her by herself. She had a stroke from which she never recovered and was placed in a nursing home. My Mom went to see her almost every day, cared for her, showered her, bought her things to make her more comfortable and put up with being called my mom’s sister who never came to care for her or to visit, ever. My Mom broke all over again during those months and I was glad when my grandmother died. At last my mother would be released from her spell.
At the gathering afterward, I sat at a table next to my mother. She was crying and I did my best teenage effort to comfort her. The air was thick with heat and forced emotion. I watched people milling around, taking bites and drinks, casting furtive glances. Someone brought us fried zucchini and I pushed the plate away.
~ Eileen 🙂