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.