This week my aunt asked me for a favor. At first I thought, oh crap, something else on my plate, that’s what I need. But this is my aunt that babysits for me often, for free. She doesn’t make me ask either, she just offers to come over after she’s worked all day and let my husband and I go to dinner. So, I will pretty much fly to the moon if she asks me to.
What she wanted was for me to scan photos from an old album. The pictures are all black and white and old. Most are of my grandparents, my mother’s parents, just after they were married. The photos would have been taken in 1944.
My grandparents were young when these photos were taken. The album was made by my mother for my grandparent’s 50th anniversary party (given in 1994). Both of my grandparents have since passed away; my grandmother only died this year at 84, with a blood disease.
So I look at the photos knowing a lifetime of information. That’s what makes them so special and strange at the same time. I know what went down. And by down, I mean down hill. From those happy times of being young and in love they had a lifetime of hardship and I know it.
I have started this post a few times only to close the file for another day. I have done this for one reason and one reason only. How do I tactfully say that my grandfather beat his family – beat them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He beat them any way he could.
Granddaddy was a man outnumbered by women in his family. He and my grandmother had five children, all girls. Later those five girls had six more girls. Then those six girls had three more girls. Only two boys have made it into our family, unless you consider that one of the six girls turned herself into a boy.
So, granddaddy was outnumbered big-time. Is this what made him so angry? He was a drinker, but one of the worst stories floating around the family happened when he wasn’t drunk. My mom has told me that when granddaddy was a boy his father often beat him mercilessly. She said it happened because his sister told on him all the time for things – normal sibling rivalry, but my grandfather would be beat for them. Sometimes granddaddy’s sister even made stuff up to get him beaten. If true, I firmly believe this gave him a sore spot for women.
So what if that is the reason though? I still look at the pictures of my beautiful grandmother; her head thrown back in a laugh, so much like my own mouth, my own face, and I know that she was grossly abused. Beaten down so that in later pictures, there’s no smile there; especially in her eyes. She became angry. Granddaddy cleaned up his act later in life, but grandma could never overcome her anger as long as my grandfather was alive. When she was with him, she was mean to him. And it was hard to be around. How could we blame her though?
Growing up in my family we all compared my grandmother to an ostrich. We said she buried her head in the sand when she saw a problem coming. Then we all grew up a little bit and we said she was a survivor. And when she died, at her funeral we heard the words, “lived her life with grace,” a good bit. How hard it would have been for her to face up to having five girls to clothe, feed, care for and support after having been trampled on. How hard it must have been for her to watch day in and day out and to be so afraid for herself and her children.
The pictures are a beautiful reminder of her soul – the person she was meant to be. Seeing her in this light gives me every reason to try my best to live a life of “carpe diem.” I seize the day because I can. Because there is no one standing over me saying I can’t.
I have read before that we carry the DNA of our ancestors. When something happens to them, a piece of it lingers, passing down generations so that every person feels the pain and happiness of those that preceded them. If this is true, then I consider it my mission in my life to change for my future generations that hurt which my grandmother, my mom and my aunts felt (and probably still feels).
As a note, I have to say something nice about my grandfather. He might have been a mean ass drunk of a man that beat his family, but he was also one of the smartest, most creative men I have ever met. At 13, he asked if he could drive a car that was in the yard of the family home. His parents said if he could make it run, he could drive it. So he did. He completely took apart and rebuilt the engine and he made it run.
One of his brothers tells a story where they were out fishing and my grandfather was drunk, passed out on the boat when it stalled and would not run. His brothers could not figure out how to get the boat to run so they woke my granddaddy up and told him. He got up and, drunk, took an oil can, put a hole in it and did whatever else to rig the motor and got the boat running. Then he lay back down and passed back out.
My grandfather was a carpenter, he wrote poetry, he drew beautifully and he could tell a great story. He called me (and my cousin) “Doodlebug.” For all the meanness, there was a warm heart in there. He too had a soul of the person he was meant to be. Possibly someone beat that out of him, just like he, in turn, beat it out of his family.
And for all the hell they had put in the front end of their lives, like too many children do, my mom and my aunts are such wonderful, strong women. If my grandfather was a fighter, then the women he was fighting came out swinging. They swung with all their might and today are women of strength and grace and courage and hopefully, a piece of happiness.
My grandmother died happily, remarried. Her smile returned. She sparkled and shined and had a bright ending to her life. I know today she forgives. She’s back to her soul state in forgiveness and compassion and she lives happily.