Thursday, December 5, 2013


December 5: Thinking this morning about my grandmother, a woman I never met. 

Oh, sure, I spent time with her: every other summer we'd fly to Sacramento to stay in my grandparents' dark, low-slung duplex.  I remember walking outside and feeling the heat slap me in the face.  Even the grass seemed cowed.  At night, my grandfather, a fearsomely toupeed Southern Baptist Minister, would read us bible stories in a tight, urgent growl.  We were heathen, unbaptized, wild: he had limited time.

My grandmother in these memories is background noise: a clanging in the kitchen or a humming from down the hall. Children don't wonder: they don't question, or probe, and by the time I was a teenager, old enough to want to understand my grandmother for who she was, rather than what she did for me, she'd slipped into dementia.

But I know my father loved her, and fiercely.  He wept when she died -I'd almost never seen him cry- though by that time my grandmother was a decade into Alzheimer's, unable to speak or eat or recognize her son.   Most of what I know about her comes from my father: she was a thrifty woman, a calm woman, and, above all, a pragmatist. Wherever she found herself -and she found herself in town after town; my grandfather was a restless soul- she did what worked.

Today, as a new parent, I desperately need her model.  There are so many BARS TO RISE TO; so many ways to DO THE BEST THING FOR YOUR CHILD.  There are implicit capital letters everywhere in modern parenthood:  THE STAKES ARE HIGH, and you have to get child rearing EXACTLY RIGHT or you are selfish and lazy, and have basically consigned your child to life as a homeless obese schizoid methhead.  Upper-middle-class parenthood has become fraught and perilous and urgent, my grandfather thrusting bible after bible into my hands.

I wish I'd met my grandmother, really met her, but I have my father's stories.   How she put my profligate grandfather on an allowance, my busy father on a leash.  That time my father ran full tilt toward the edge of a roof and, instead of screaming, she sat down and stared at the shingles.  "Look!" she exclaimed, pointing at nothing until my father trotted back to see what the fuss was about.

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