My grandmother was quite interesting to say the least. Well, not always. Sometimes I felt incredible hate toward her . . .
Despite my grandmother’s treacherous behavior and chronic lying, she was capable of expressing great warmth and generosity, making it impossible for anyone to believe she could be so devious. While my grandmother was in these wonderful shining moods, it was made possible for her family that knew her well to easily forgive her stints at least briefly until the next go around which was always inevitable.
She had limitless amounts of energy more often than not and not always the good kind. I still remember the strong scent of bleach lingering in the air as she flew past me in a frantic hurry to clean while screaming at the top of her lungs, name calling and belittling anyone in her path. Knowing there was one piece of soiled clothing left in the laundry basket would keep her up at night. Many times, she ran an entire wash load for just one item even in the middle of the night, if need be. She ironed everything from sheets, pillowcases, and my grandfather’s boxer shorts.
Mealtime was beyond stressful although my grandmother cooked wonderfully well. No sooner would my grandfather and I sit down to eat would she begin her usual high pitched screaming for us to hurry our meal so she could finish the dishes. She repeatedly wiped the table around us with her dish cloth until we finally surrendered our plates. In addition, she would drone on about how stupid she was to have ever married my grandfather in the first place especially since a young man from the Naval Academy was interested in her around the time she met my grandfather. “I should have married him instead.” she’d yell day after day.
While never calling him by his first name, “filthy old goat” would take its place. “You are good for nothing! I can’t stand you and never have!” she’d scream. Many times she would speak as though my grandfather were not in the room. Even on her calm days, my grandmother still managed to be abusive. She would say, “Your grandfather is such simpleton! How could I have ever married that. Just look at him!” as she laughed merrily.” You know, I am very lucky to have found someone to put up with me even though he sits in the corner with that stupid smile of his with no teeth!” He could gag a maggot!” was her famous line. Other times she would lean over the bar counter while we were having our meals and say to me, calmly “You are so stupid! Good thing you are pretty, otherwise you’d never get through life.” All throughout the day she would in some form or another beat us into the ground (other family members as well) about our own worthlessness, even better if there were a crowd around to witness her attacks.”
My return home from school was always filled with anxiety as I never knew what to expect when I got there. It was commonplace to find my clothes strewn all over the front yard for no apparent reason while knowing as soon as I entered her house, she would begin her usual yelling and name calling such as cunt, whore and pig, her other choice favorites. After these episodes, I always had to find a place to live for a few days, a week, at times longer depending on the severity of her mood. Never did a week go by without some type of horrendous drama although everyday was extremely stress filled just being in her presence without the name calling and abuse.
During her brief, calm and happy moments were spent sitting in her favorite green rocking chair. For many years, she would sit in this particular chair and the conversations would always be the same.
She would begin about some pleasant memory of her past, usually words of kindness about her mother. At times, she would tell me how pretty I was or how much joy I had brought into her life. Other times she spoke fondly of her brother during the short time they were together when she was young. Her brother later on had to live somewhere else according to my grandmother which seemed to have devastated her. The conversation would soon turn to her spineless mother who let her stepfather molest her when she was a child. During these crying sessions which occurred several times a week, she always told the story when she, at the age of eight, needing eyeglasses was told by her stepfather, “You were always ugly but with those glasses, you are really ugly!” At this point, she would begin her usual heart-wrenching sobs. I knew her anger would rear its ugly head soon enough. Despite this, I would still sit frozen to the same spot time and time again listening to her although I really wanted to run out the house! “You’re a pig! I hate you!”she’d scream as she whipped her head in my direction. Her behavior would then escalate into an out of control rage that would last for days. On her extremely depressed days, while laying on the basement sofa sobbing sometimes lasting up to a week or longer, my grandmother would eventually commit herself to the nearest psychiatric ward.
During my grandmother’s stay in the hospital, there was always peace at home. I recall a specific time when my grandfather did not pick her up from the hospital when scheduled, claiming he “forgot.” We had a good laugh over this on our way to the hospital but he never admitted to not showing up on purpose. Knowing him, he probably did forget. Of course, there would be hell to pay for this oversight no matter what the intention. He would say, “Klem, your grandmother walks hand in hand with the devil!” as he smiled brightly. I used to laugh when he called me, Klem, though I never knew why nor did I ask.
At the age of six, I remember the first time my grandmother told me I was ugly. When I would cry, depending on her mood, she would either hug me while telling me she was the only one who loved me or she would say, “No one loves you – especially not your worthless father!” She knew I had a special love for my father even though he left without a word for several years when I was older. My grandmother also knew how completely devastated I was over the fights between my mother and father and saw an opportunity to pounce.
This is the first painful event I remember with my grandmother. Of course, over the years her behavior only became more abusive. Whenever I was in my deepest despair or feeling like I was on the brink over a situation many times caused by her, she would mash me into the ground even further seemingly with great pleasure. She had a sixth sense when others were in pain or suffering from any kind of ailment whether physical or emotional, it did not matter. At times, she would jump in for the rescue which was always frightening while knowing there would be a huge price to pay in the end for her act of “kindness.”