Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Grandpa

Don't worry about getting your Kleenex for this post. Because while I am telling you about my Grandpa, I will probably not describe him as "loving" or "caring" or even "nice".

No, it's not riddled with stories about abuse or neglect or hateful words, it is simply the recollections of a young girl with fragile emotions, and an old man in declining health with stubborn German roots.

My Grandpa was an old man by the time I was born. I guess by today's standards he wouldn't have been that old (57 years old) but the adage "You are as old as you feel" really applied to him. He smoked a couple of packs of cigarettes every day for his whole life. Marlboro Reds.

When I was a kid, my grandparents had already retired to a little house out in the country, about 2 hours south of St. Louis. Going to their house to visit them was about as fun as falling into a cactus bush. The most exciting thing to do at their house was climb on top of the propane tank. My older brother used to love telling me that it was the septic tank and if I wasn't careful, I'd tip it over and all the contents of everyone's bowels would spill out onto me. Good times. They lived far enough away from St. Louis that any TV reception was fuzzy, at best, and of course these were the days before cable or satellite. There were no Gameboys, no board games to play, and Old Maid could only hold my attention for so long.

I would be so bored on every trip to see them. And, do you know what my Grandpa would say to me? "Go on, git. Let the adults talk." So nice. When I'd try to play the organ, doing my very best to perform the latest song I learned on piano, he'd say, "With the fingers, Gretchen. With the fingers." (meaning, it sounded like I was using my feet to play). Here's the icing on the cake: He had a cute little nickname for me. No, it wasn't Princess or Sweetie Pie. It was Monster. Yes, Monster. Every time he saw me it was "Well, here's the Monster."

Still, to this day, I tell my mom that I don't believe he loved me. My mom thinks I'm silly and says, "You have to understand, he was old and sick." Maybe so. But maybe he was just raised in a different time. He was raised to believe that children were to be seen and not heard (another phrase commonly used in their house). Children were to be obedient and if they weren't, they were MADE to be obedient. My grandmother, his wife, on the other hand was tender and sweet and never once raised her voice to me ever. She loved me until the day she died. When I came to their house and SHE saw me, she got this look on her face like, "At last! I get to see you! Come here quick!!!"

I often wonder how my Grandma could have stayed married to my Grandpa all those 50+ years. Well, I guess divorce wasn't really a popular solution back then. But I guess if nothing else, it teaches me that every relationship is unique and can't be judged from the outside. I don't know what the glue was that kept them together, but I do know that my Grandma loved my Grandpa very much. To deserve her love, he must have had something good inside of him. I wish I knew what it was.

My Grandpa died when I was 17. I remember feeling kinda like, "So what?" I know that is harsh and horrible. But this man was not close to me. He was not even kind to me. I didn't have a single good memory of him. I remember feeling sad because I wanted to mourn him. I wanted to feel a loss for him. But truthfully? What was I losing? And even now as an adult with more mature thoughts and feelings, I still can't say that I miss him. I probably have some deep-seated resentment for him. All those years we came to visit him, he never wanted anything to do with me. The only thing he ever wanted me to do was leave him alone or fetch his cigarettes.

And, the very scary part about it now: I see my own dad becoming his father. I see my dad in declining health and becoming the man who wants to be left alone, not bothered, with no chaos or kids running around. I am really hoping and praying that he does not turn into my Grandpa. I want my children to have good memories of my father, ones that don't leave them with the kind of memories I have.

This post is part of MamaKat's weekly Writing Workshop. C'Mon, join in! It's Fun!


Wendy said...

Obviously a man who didn't think about the legacy he was leaving behind.

I practically worshipped my grandfather. He was the one point of kindness, love, and generosity in a childhood that for me was terrifying & abusive. Until my grandmother became emotionally abusive to me when I was living in her home. I had moved to live with them after child protective services finally threatened to get involved & take us if we didn't leave my dad's house. She threatened every single day to kick me out & let me be homeless over such heinous infractions as closing a drawer too loudly or using too much hot water. As she did this, he was completely silent. He didn't even try to defend me. When my sister was sent to live with our mother, which was like a death sentence for her because our mother was a fierce alcoholic, he said & did nothing. When my grandmother finally did kick me out my senior year of high school & I spent the whole school year moving between various friends' houses just to have somewhere to sleep at night, he remained completely silent about the whole affair.

As he got very sick near the end of his life, he started trying to pick fights with me, bringing up topics he knew would bother me, trying to bait me. Maybe he sensed my disappointment & my drawing away, and he was angry, too. Maybe being married to the most hateful and resentful woman on the planet finally changed him too much.

The only thing I know is that we either become what we grew up with, repeat it with similar people... or we learn from it and do something different. Option #3 is extremely hard, but very worth it.

Have you ever mentioned to your dad, "you remind me so much of your own father, how he was towards the end of his life." Or would it hurt him too much? Or would he just get angry - or not even know what you meant?

Jen said...

thats hard. I am so glad that my Dad is the kind of Grandpa that gets down on the floor and plays with the kids. Its awesome.

Jennifer said...

I think a lot of people have/had grandparents like this and it was mostly a generational thing. It is sad though that you can't think of any good memories with him.

June Freaking Cleaver said...

I think you can learn lessons from every family member - and for some, it's what NOT to become. I'm sure you'll be more like your own grandma when you have grandkids. And would won't tolerate anyone treating your kids like you were treated.

kimmers said...

I'm glad someone posted a grandfather story that had a little bite to it. My Dad's father was a wonderful man, and I think I would have been close to him, but he died when I was only 4. I do have a lot of (very hazy) happy memories of times spent with him, but I've always regretted that I didn't get the opportunity for more. I would have loved for my (future) kids to get to meet him.

My Mom's father, on the other hand. What can I say without feeling like a terrible person? He's a hard, bitter, selfish old man. He skipped my college graduation and then teased me about it. He doesn't acknowledge my birthday or Christmas. He has a fortune in the bank but he will die before he gives a dime of it to anyone and in fact, he consistently "borrows" twenty or fifty bucks from my Mom and doesn't pay it back. He's always hated my Dad and he's never tried to hide it. He's hateful to everyone and verbally abusive to my grandmother. The good memories I have of him are from so far back that they've mostly been overshadowed by the bad memories of the last ten years especially.

I wish things could be different but some of the things that he's done are unforgivable to me. I've come to accept that as far as relationships with grandfathers go, my ship has pretty much sailed.

Bridgett said...

You wanted to mourn.

That is exactly how I felt when my dad's dad died. But I couldn't fake it; I didn't even go to the funeral (and there, again, it wasn't like an abusive situation or crazy or anything like that. There was just...nothing).

Anna See said...

Wow. Great writing, Texan Mama.

The Redhead Riter said...

Stopping by from SITS to give a little blog ♥


"Don't make me get all Texan" Sounds just like my Texan daughter...giddy up!

Emily said...

Wow. That's hard. I loved and was so close to both my grandfathers. I think it's hard not to turn into our parents, but I hope your dad will treasure and try to make the most of his relationship with his grandchildren.