It’s true that loving parents don’t desert their children—even for a year. Concerned grandmothers don’t act the way Grandma Ready did.
I do not seek to excuse them for their seemingly thoughtless, inappropriate actions. Still, I would like to explain what I have come to believe might be the reasons for these actions. Of course, this is speculation on my part based on my own experience of becoming more fully human. My understanding of my own life prompts my three musings this week.
Let’s begin with my father’s mother.
Grandma Ready tied her four children to her apron strings. All of them stayed close throughout their lives. They never left the Kansas City metropolitan area. She was, in many ways, an autocrat. She sat on her Queen Anne chair as if she, too, were a queen and it her throne. From that throne she daily handed down her edicts. She was a bully.
She reigned supreme. I can remember her once telling me that neighbors came to see her; she didn’t go visit them. And yet, I also remember her taking me one day down the street to visit her oldest friend. She was, as are we all, a compendium of contradictions. Like Walt Whitman her inner voice asked, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
And I believe she did. But everyone in her family was so afraid of her censure and judgment that no one ever explored the multitudes within her. And so she lived and died a discontented woman. A conundrum. Self-absorbed to the end.
But why was she so bitter? What emotional baggage did she carry that made her disgruntled with all those who populated her life? Why did she live in such disharmony?
Those eternal “whys,” “whats,” and “wherefores” beset us here, and there is no clear answer except perhaps that every generation leaves its mark on the next. And perhaps we have no clear answer to the "why" of a person because each of us, not just my grandmother, is an enigma. We are, I believe, as mysterious to ourselves as we are to others.
From the way she treated my Great Aunt Pearl, I think Grandma was jealous of the attention her father gave to her stepsister, his first-born. Aunt Pearl offered kindness to everyone. Her gentle smile assured acceptance of each person she met. This must have threatened Grandma who was so absorbed in herself that she couldn’t look beyond her needs to see the needs of others. But the question is: Why was she so needy within herself?
She didn’t ask for love from her family members. She asked for the willingness to let her make decisions and direct their lives. Only someone truly insecure could demand such fidelity from others. She wanted always to be the center of everyone else’s existence.
Because of my own insecurity, which I described in my most recent posting—I, too, wanted to be the center of everyone’s attention and concern. My own life and my own struggle to become fully human help me understand my grandmother. Not only understand her, but also empathize with her.
Who in the generation before her failed to give her the love she needed to feel secure? I don’t know. But in the past year I’ve explored all my memories of her and I find myself thinking that, like myself, she, too, felt abandoned as a child. And I wish—I so wish—that before she died, she and I could have shared our inner lives and come to an appreciation of one another.
Grandma in her early seventies.
She died in 1962 when I was in the convent and couldn’t come home for her funeral. She had become the linchpin in her children’s life. They were bereft without her. Especially my father. It is their relationship, I think, that led to my parents going to Parsons in August 1941.
On Thursday, I’ll begin to explain my understanding on my parents’ actions during this time. They, too, are a compendium of conflicting needs.
(. . . continued on Thursday)