Saturday, December 16, 2006

Oh What A Week

My aunt was noisily leaving the inner church as my son and I arrived a tinsy bit late right on time for the funeral. Rather than proceed in, we stayed in the entry for her to howl on us, along with her aunt/cousin/somebody's wife/whomever. She wailed about her father and railed on her mother.

She said, "Oh Cricket, you would enjoy this. When we were in the hearse [I'm figuring that was a Freudian slip] on the way over, I heard Daddy's voice plain as day. He said, 'That is one mean ol' woman,'" referring to my grandmother. She said she had to bite her lip to not bust out laughing. It had been a very difficult morning.

Much later and after a particularly brutal outburst from my grandmother, who I now realize is well into the mean stage of Alzheimer's, I overheard my aunt telling her her daughter in the next room about it, so I took the liberty of telling a few family members about it where I was. My father piped up and quoted my grandfather from a month ago, Grandpa referencing his wife, "Her mean has mean." Classic. I believe I will borrow that line. Exponential mean.

My grandmother never was really mean to me; she was always very demanding of her kind, gentle husband. With me, she was more neglectful or dismissive with a dose of the opportunistic, taking advantage of my good nature. (Don't laugh. It's true.)

After the burial and me lying low for a few hours, when my son and I went back to my grandparents' house, I hung out in the living room, great room, and closed in back porch. There was not a single picture of me, my son, or my sister; there was one of my sister's daughter from about a decade ago. Just ask how many there were of my aunt, cousins, and father. Sorry, I lost count. At one point, I commented to my oldest cousin, the chosen male, that I didn't see any pictures of us around there and he kind of stammered that he does remember seeing one of my sister in her nurse's uniform, but he didn't see it then. Then he began to sort of look around; I said we should have to look so hard and he kind of got the point, one he had not noticed before.

Later, when I went back toward her bedroom, I saw the line of three pictures of my sister and I in the hallway over the long bookshelf. They've been there over thirty years, part of the annual series my mother would have professionally taken each Xmas. When I got to her bedroom, there was one I'd taken the weekend that my son was baptized (yes, he was baptized in my pre-heathen stage) - it is a wickedly cute picture of my sister's 3 yr old daughter holding my 2 mo old son, her flashing charming dimples in great satisfaction with herself.

So, my grandmother did remember us, just not like the ones she saw more often in kind of an inversely proportionate relational thing.

My aunt was full of surprises and full of herself. Her antics took the heat off of me and I was grateful. As we were preparing to leave, and know that getting out the door and down the driveway is a two hour process, she hugged my neck, as any good Southerner does not merely hug, but must hug the huggee's neck. She whispered in my ear. "Cricket, I know I love my family, but you were always special to me. So special. Maybe it was because you were my first. I was in the ninth grade when you were born; I got to start school late because of you. You were the first diaper I ever changed. I'd never even considered it before that, but I did it for you and never thought a thing about it. You were the first butt I wiped."

Okay, how bad a response could I give?

"Well, I still need the service just about every day."


I was absolutely shocked in a positive way at her comment, never expecting it as I didn't think she showed me favor, to her credit, I guess. My sister and she have the long legs/short torso/dark eyes from our grandfather and my sister earned her nickname "Little Aunt" just by being born. I'd considered them closer.

Her eldest has always been the chosen one by my grandmother, who favored boys anyway - funny both the Greek and the Southern sides of my family were so boy-focused and there was only one boy amongst them. Too smart for his own good, my only boy cousin skipped two grades in school. Now he's about 40 and has never been married - introverted, not gay, I'm pretty darn sure. He and his BIL were joking about being "Geeks, not Nerds" and I'm glad he has a sense of humor about it.

Regarding my sister, the source of some severe anxiety: for the first half of the day I steered clear of all mostly because of her and I didn't want a scene. She stayed clear of me, too. After the burial when 'the family' was in the little grave house receiving place, I hung outside on that beautiful day talking with my grandmother's nephew and his son, my second cousin. I always thought this cousin, a year or so my junior, was ever so cute. This week, I gather it was reciprocal, even though it's been twenty five years since we've seen each other. Good thing he's married although second cousins ARE legal. (I'm joking, but funerals are rumored for hooking up with cousins, as the joke goes.) We used to go to their town where my grandmother's family lived for a reunion of sorts the weekend before each holiday. I remember one year when I was probably 14 or so, we all went roller skating and Oh What A Night was a popular song then, hence the title of this post. He and his father seemed to enjoy it this week when I said that I always associated that song with him, skating, and that day.

Anyway, the three of us had a lively conversation in the unusually warm afternoon as we watched the grave diggers cover up my grandfather. During this time, my sister wandered the cemetery, but didn't come by and she'd spent just as much time with this cute cousin as I - he fell between us in age. She kept her distance.

Her 12yo daughter played with my son, so they were well occupied and very happy together.

My sister didn't talk to me until a few hours later. We were stuck in the backyard for the obligatory picture-taking of the grandchildren. She walked up to me and said, "We need to talk." I replied kind of in shock, "We do?" and she said, "Yes, we need to talk."

And that was it. She left perhaps an hour later, I don't really know, because she didn't say goodbye to me. I was still in the back. My son was playing in the front yard, so they goodbyed him.

Hmm, whatever. My optimistic side wants to think of it as the precursor to an apology, but I don't know. As it turned out, I learned after I got home that she emailed me the morning of the funeral from her daughter's email account, one her daughter must check at her dad's as my sister doesn't have a computer. It said:
my daughter's email address is xxx
Please send me some mail.

So I fear all is well in her head and I'm supposed to roll with it. I'm not usually very apology-oriented, but that's what I need - a direct and specific apology. I guess I will send some pictures to all of them when I get them downloaded to break the ice again.

All in all, after a stressful week and a lot of driving, I guess I am a little less spooked by my family. To put it succinctly, I think we all realize that none of us are monsters, mostly. (I still have my doubts about my step mother.) My grandfather had a lovely funeral; his daughter provided the drama for the funeral and his wife for the burial. I provided no drama, but was more like a Shakespearean character providing humor in the grave yard with some other cut ups. My son rolled around fields and yards, covered with grass stains which will be apt souvenirs.

I love my grandpa, but I am at peace. I think he finally is, too.


DD said...

I was starting to worry about you since it had been a while since your last post (for you, anyway).

I'm relieved that you came away from the experience as you did.

Anonymous said...

Glad things were strange but not awful. Welcome back.

Cricket said...

I neglected to say how much I appreciated everyone's comments. I appreciate folks coming by to send condolences. It really has meant a lot. His quick death was quite unexpected and I was angry that I didn't get to see him again.

brite69 said...

Sorry I haven't commented earlier. With all the crap that went on with Harley, I kinda got lost in myself.

I'm sorry to hear about your grandfather, but I'm glad you didn't have a horrible experience at the funeral. I can relate to A LOT of what you've said about your family, as it's pretty much the same in mine. And I'm still giggling over the comment about needing service every day.

Kellie said...

Crap. I'm sorry about your grandfather Cricket. Thankfully, your family didn't ruin the funeral for you.

Your sister sounds ever so delightful... Is she single? I have a single brother we could set her up with and maybe the two of them would run away to some far distant land... you know, the ones where the only communication is a message in a bottle?!

Ah... the joys of family.