Remembering my grandmothers
The woman at the retreat was right, you can only use what you have ….but what you do with it is up to you. And you’re doing great.
1) I practice estate planning and want all of my clients to read this. Emotions stick to things like a greasy residue, and people too often pass on curses in the guise of gifts.
2) The last thing my grandmother ever said to me - while holding my new baby - was "I never thought of you as a mother." My grandmother had multiple strokes. It was hard for her to say *anything*, and that's what she went out with. (100% in-character, though.)
3) “With all due respect...we don’t want to invite those bitches into this conversation" made me laugh so hard that the whole office stopped to ask WTH I was reading.
You are the best. Thank you.
As often happens for me with this newsletter, today's edition provides me with an opportunity to reflect on my own life. I do not know if I could be as fair to my elders as you are to your grandmothers, but I also hope they are free. And in my case I hope they will be, some day. Until then and forever after, I'll keep living in a way that works for me.
It's just so damn confusing when people who should be happy for you are mad at you. When people who told you your whole life that the world doesn't revolve around you expect it to revolve around them. When they can't understand why you might have a different perspective. And when you end up staying in contact only because you feel more pity for them than love.
My Grandmothers died before I was born. My parents had me when my dad was 54 and mom was 41. Yes, I was definitely a whoops baby. From what I’ve learned from my dad’s side it probably was a good thing I didn’t know his mother. She had a temper and was abusive. My mother’s mom was kind having had a difficult early life. I would have liked to have known her. She died in 1921 at the age of 30. It’s very difficult to come into your own and say you are a good person and are okay when all your life you've heard the opposite from family members. It takes a lot of inner strength to learn you are a good person and deserve to be treated well. The first step is to treat yourself well. Simple but, yes, a long journey. I’m almost 72, and it has taken me almost that long to come to that realization. Good for you, Lyz, for learning what took me a lifetime.
A superb piece of writing, Lyz. One of my favorite poems:
" This Be The Verse" By Philip Larkin
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
[The rest of the poem can be read at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48419/this-be-the-verse.]
Wow! This post brings up so many memories of my grandparents. But this is about you and not me. So I won't turn it into a measuring contest, though I'm certain you would likely win even as terrible as my grandparents were. I think I agree with your therapist. Most families are probably a wounded generation raising another wounded generation.
On one hand, I think maybe you can find someone who is starting over with nothing and give that china and silver to someone to make a part of their story. Though I'm almost certainly the wrong person to take advice from when it comes to sentimental things. I scorch the earth of all the reminders of the bad things. And in that spirit, I'm team target practice!
If you ever find yourself in KS, in the least serial killer way possible, you're welcome to bring your China with you. I have acreage and firearms, we can turn your china into a good time!
The Next Wounded Generation Trying To Break The Cycle
I loved my mother’s mother. I think she is why I survived past a fiery adolescence and twenties where I was determined to make every mistake. I learned from no one, certainly not my cold and critical mother.
But my grandmother had nothing tangible to give me—my maga cousin took care of her in the years before she died at 95, and he and his wife had already scavenged what was worth saving. Her homemade quilts, her cast iron pans, her antique (now) bedframes and buffets. It doesn’ matter. She took delight in me, as did her sister, whose sterling silver set I inherited when my mother died.
I don’t use that silver, never have. It’s ornate in a way that hasn’t been popular since at least the 50s. But you’ve persuaded me to take it out and make it everyday, to honor the great aunt who married rich but never acted like it, who told my mother, laughing, in front of me, when my mother scolded her for “spoiling” me, “I changed your shitty diapers. You can’t tell me nothing.” I hope I inherited a bit of her spunk and have laid down a bit of my mother’s anger. Thanks for this beautiful piece.
I appreciated this beautifully written essay, Lyz. I especially love that you're drinking whiskey from the teacups and putting the china in the dishwasher (I do the same, WTH, who wants to wash china by hand - meh, life is short).
I had a grandmother whose favorite saying was "you can be bitter or you can be better." (spoiler: she chose bitter.) I tell my husband I married him for his grandmothers. He laughs but he knows!
Just for the record, from what I see, you've certainly broken a venomous cycle and are living your best life with your wonderful children.
Good morning Liz! My parents had a friend named Barbara B - both her birth name and her married name started with B! That said, she was actually a nice person and godmother to one of my sisters. Her husband on the other hand....
I have to laugh at whiskey out of teacups - reminds me of the Baldwin sisters on the Waltons (1970's family television series) - these sisters in their later years spent most of their time making their father's recipe in the recipe room, and would always offer a cup of "the recipe" to all their guests. They didn't even understand why this was illegal! (In an episode in later years their still gets removed by the federal government.)
This is absolutely superb. "does wrapping paper around a curse make a difference?" " a betrayal in pretty paper" so beautifully written. I am glad that you didn't let their personal bitterness warp you and render you broken. You are free and thankfully sharing your words with us.
from an unbitter Barbara;)
This writing was a wonderful read. Got me thinking about my own family. Thank you for sharing this with us
Yes. I grew up in a family that was generationally alcoholic & violent - mostly on the women's side. My grandmother, my mother, etc. The fun part is that I was adopted so (1) I could tell myself "this is not in your gene pool" and (2) I can disappoint the hell out of pollyannas who say, sweetly, "Well, isn't it wonderful that someone wanted you." Depends on who and why. Meanwhile, I highly recommend Al-Anon - the cheapest therapy in the world.
Delicious. As tasty as two fingers of good whiskey in a china cup. I bought a subscription for my best friend and now I read your essays with her in my mind as well as myself. And I like it!
I know my parents got married at 18 to escape their parents but truthfully, my grandparents provided me with most of my happy childhood memories. My parents got married way too young, had me 11 months later and my sister 13 months after that. There were four of us and I'm not sure how they felt but I never felt like anything but a burden. Never. Thankfully age and distance gave me the basic and oh-so-important knowledge that Mom and Dad did the best they could with the skills they had.
Anyway, thanks, Lyz.
This may be one of the most beautiful and insightful things you have ever written. Thank you.
My comment - this was a wonderful piece. Delightfully written, poignant and funny and... nicely self-aware. Write an autobiography! Or maybe you already are. I explore my strange and horrible and wonderful (Iowa) childhood in screenplays.
*Once, at a spiritual retreat, a woman grabbed my hand and said, “Who are your ancestors?”* At my first job out of college, at my very first performance review, my manager started by asking me what my parents did for a living. That is not exactly the same thing that happened to you. But let me tell you, as the child of parents who did not make it to (in one case) or through (in the other) high school, I was pretty fucking angry that my upper-middle-class boss thought making small talk about my parents (hers were academics) was a fine way to start a performance review. I don't know who my ancestors were, and I don't care. Wounded people have been raising wounded people in my family for at least four generations. I don't know more than that and I don't need to. I'm just busy trying to minimise the damage, when possible, with the grandchildren. I am so sorry your grandmothers were so dismissive and hurtful, Lyz. That shit matters. I wish it had been different.