Colours hurt me
I’d rather see
Black and white
Wrong and right
Just how easy
My marriage replenished the staggering low number of my family members. Besides winning the smart and brave younger sister(-in-law) that I always wanted, I also got a silly younger brother(-in-law) and two complete sets of grandparents(-in-law) to replace those that I had lost to old age and death. I didn’t anticipate that I’d end up sharing one house with one of the pairs of grandparents, but now that it happened, I could very well use the opportunity for psychosociological research.
My husband’s and hence my adopted grandfather is easy-going, sociable and almost entirely deaf. He is too well-disposed to provide an interesting subject for analysis. A former caretaker, he makes it a point of pride to fix anything that breaks and improve anything that doesn’t. His upgrades admittedly work, but typically come with a health and/or life hazard due to things being different than fifty years ago, his increasing poor sight and decreasing fine motor skill.
The grandmother presents more of a puzzle in her complex combination of selflessness and self-centeredness, tolerance and judgmentalism, endurance and fragility. She bakes cakes to give away to family each week but demands to be praised for their exquisiteness to the skies. She ignores any fatal flaw in a family member but harshly criticises the neighbour for not mowing his lawn soon enough and good enough. She withstands physical ailment but breaks down at the smallest sign of family discord.
The grandmother apparently doesn’t function as an individual person outside of her family circle. She serves as an extension of the house, garden and yard. When she doesn’t attend to any of these, she stares at the telly. She watches reality shows and turns other people’s business into her business. She watches crime news, gossip news and teleshopping and believes everything that they say on air. She is limited in education and experience, but why would she lack common sense?
She puzzles me. She lives by a set of idiosyncratic rules that have long become her habit. She doesn’t cook on Mondays because it’s the day for finishing leftovers from the weekend. She cleans the bedroom on Thursdays and the living room on Fridays. She bakes on Saturdays and spends most of the week eating her superfluous produce. She mops the floors every day after lunch. She uses a wet rag and wipes also the carpets with this. I don’t dare to suggest the vacuum cleaner for the task.
She has answers for all things. When you want something, pray to Virgin Mary. When you’re gay, you’re not normal. When it’s weekend, you bake cake. When you have a letter to pick up at the post office, you do it now because what would the post employees say? When it’s holiday, you wash the windows because what would the neighbours think? When the husband makes a mess, you clean it because it has always been like this.
The grandmother strikes me as both admirable and pitiable. It is certainly a triumph of will and stamina that she keeps on repeating her learned rituals no matter what. She doesn’t swerve from her schedule for illness or injury, and she went on even with her hand broken. Sometimes I’m thinking if she just shuts down or disappears when she is not cleaning or baking. She is a hamster running on a wheel forever until it kills itself by exhaustion.
An image of warmth for chilly winter days in response to WordPress Photo Challenge: Warmth.
Happy love songs suck. Hence, here goes a selection of my favourite depressive love songs. They are actually so depressive that if I were unhappily in love, they would make me kill myself to terminate my suffering.
Snow Patrol: “Chasing Cars”
Chris Klein: “It Happens in Florida”
Ben Cocks: “So Cold”
Kill me now.
With pain or pleasure
The women in my family had it tough. As did and do most other women elsewhere. My female relatives led meagre lives during which they helped few and pleased none, least of all themselves. Generous people seek in their lives to be helpful, crooked people seek to be happy and ambitious people seek to leave something behind. I suspect my female family members fell outside these categories because they didn’t seem to seek anything. To compensate, and to fulfil my generously crooked ambitious self, I seek to help some, make most of all myself happy and leave much behind.
My maternal grandmother’s name was Rose, and this was the single most romantic thing about her life. Her life started and stopped when she was drafted in a labour camp in Nazi Germany during the war. She didn’t learn any German, besides the commands for lights off and take shelter used during air raids. After the war she had a brief glamorous stint of living and working in the country’s capital. When her sister died of pneumonia in her early twenties, leaving a widower and two small children behind, Rose was summoned home. She married the widower to supply a mother for the half-orphans, though neither of the new partners was overjoyed. The husband went on to hang himself, and the widow remarried.
My mother, Mary, was eighteen when the Soviet tanks came to Czechoslovakia in 1968. Hazardously, she went out in the fields to watch the occupants, not anticipating that they were to stay. Stay they did. Mother married the first man she met because there was no reason not to. So said my father’s family. Old photographs suggest that my father was not always bald, fat and bent; yet neither was he the tall handsome blue-eyed blonde as he liked to depict his young self. The couple first moved in with my father’s parents, who got however soon fed up with father’s budding alcoholism. The next stop was my mother’s parents. This was the terminal. My brother was born into a disrupted family, I was born into a broken one eleven years later. I was a lucky accident.
My paternal grandmother, Dana, remains for me in the haze of the Alzheimer’s. Nobody bothered to tell me that her first only occasionally erratic behaviour was caused by a disease. It was my paternal grand-grandmother, Benedicta, who left a singularly deep trace in my memory. She was a miner’s widow and as tough as the black coal that was providing her living. She saw the death of her husband in a mining accident, the death of her grandson at thirty-two in military action and the decline and death of her only daughter. She lived on with wistful sadness. She broke her leg in her late seventies and lay on the floor in her flat for a day before help came. She walked again. She died at eighty-four, a little shrunk figure with yellowish face framed by a chequered headscarf lying in the coffin.
Out of these women, only my mother stills lives. She has a record of being an abused wife, a loving but failing mother and now a lonely divorcee with little to hope for. Interestingly, she appears to blame herself more for the death of her mother rather than the harm she unwittingly caused to her children. She left her job when grandmother Rose stopped being self-sufficient in order to attend to her. She could hardly stop her from dying though. I saw no gratefulness in my grandmother for her daughter’s care and no peace in my mother even after she has done her best. I view the lives of the women in my family as cautionary tales, if anything. If I could pray, I would pray that I do good to others only by doing good to myself first.