Monday, July 24, 2006

Legacy

For anyone who reads Fringes' blog, you may know that her grandmother passed away recently. If you haven't already, please stop by and let her know you're thinking of her. A couple of days ago, she put up a post asking her readers to share a story or memory of their grandmother. This is mine.

There are a lot of stories I could tell you about my grandmother. I could tell you how she was born at the beginning of the Depression and grew up in the most extreme poverty. I could tell you how she got married at thirteen, how she had the first of ten children at fourteen. I could tell you how one of those children, a girl, died at the age of nine, and how she never spoke of her again. I could tell you how her hands moved when she sat on the front porch shucking corn or what the sound of her laugh was like. I could tell you how once when I was little, I opened the car door while we were moving and she reached out with one hand and pulled me back. I could tell you how her breath always smelled like whiskey, that sweet sour flavor of mash. I could tell you how a few years ago, she found Jesus and shed that other version of herself like a second skin. I could tell you how when I call her now, it takes her a minute to place me, to remember which of her 30 or so grandchildren I am. Or I could tell you about the way she loved, and what it's taught me not to do.

When it came to love, my grandmother didn't believe in rules. Or really, she only believed in the rules as they applied to other people. One of my favorite stories she used to tell me was how she caught her first husband cheating on her. She could have just divorced him but she didn't. Instead, she shot him. Or at him, I'm not really sure if she ever hit him or not. She used to tell that story with this served-him-right smile on her face, remembering his fear of her. She had shown him, for better or worse, who he was really dealing with.

She married her second husband, my grandfather, and watched him go off to war. There were more children, more years of hard living, more being poor, being drunk, being miserable. At some point, she started seeing another man, a man she eventually became obsessed with. She used to drive by his house every day, silently wishing death to his wife, who knew about the affair but refused to divorce him. When she did finally die, my grandmother found out that she wasn't the only woman he had on the side. My mother told me that when she found out, she threatened to kill him and they had to stop her from leaving the house.

This is what her legacy has turned out to be: pure, unadulterated craziness. It's a specific kind of craziness, the kind that only seems to apply to love. It's a disease among the women in my family, and once the fever takes hold, there's no shaking it. When we love, we love hard and fast and desperately. We love like there is no tomorrow, like the rug is going to be pulled out from under us at any minute and all we want is one last taste. We love the wrong men, the ones who will beat us, steal from us, cheat on us. We love the men who don't really want us to begin with, the ones that we are determined to have, come hell or high water. My mother is an expert at this, at choosing the exact opposite of what she should want. We love to the point of obsession, until we've worn ourselves down to nothing from the sheer effort of it. We love with a vengeance and when the relationship goes sour, we hate with a vengeance too.

This is not the only thing my grandmother taught me but it's the thing that's stuck with me the longest. I'm afraid that one day, I'll be swallowed up by love and turn into someone I no longer recognize. I'm afraid it's happening already, that the face in the mirror is changing, becoming unrecognizable. It's this gradual disappearing that I'm trying to avoid, this slow un-becoming. I'm fighting this history, this legacy, and I'm determined to win. I just wish I knew what it was I might be losing in the process.

6 Comments:

Blogger Justin Evans said...

You really need to start concentrating on your non-fiction. You need to read 10x the essays you are currently reading. I mean tat. You have a sense of rhythm born for the non-fiction essay. Move. Stop reading this and start reading essays. Go. Now.

7/25/2006 6:37 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Your granny is quite the character, brought to life by quite a stunning array of remembrances. It's hard to break away from what we've learned. I try every day not to be my father.

7/25/2006 7:43 AM  
Anonymous fringes said...

Rebecca, you are writing about yourself and your family in a way I never can. Thanks for the thoughts on my grandmother. Thanks for sharing the thoughts about your own. You're a good girl.

7/25/2006 1:12 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Justin, I'm not really trying to write essays, I'm just writing. Am I doing something wrong?

Scott, she was and still is a character, although I must say her resurgent interest in Jesus has dampened the fun factor just a little.

Fringes, I am not a good girl. But thank you for saying so.

7/25/2006 8:48 PM  
Blogger Southern Writer said...

That was beautiful. Here I am again, telling you about another book. It's called At Grandmother's Table, edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley, but it's written by a number of women. Although it's technically a cookbook, each recipe comes with a remembrance of the author's grandmother, and often with a picture of the grandmother when she was young. It's a beaufiful book.

Don't give yourself less credit than you deserve. Your grandmother was obviously a colorful and strong woman, and you undoubtedly inherited some of that from her, too.

7/31/2006 11:51 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

I'm always open to book suggestions any time. It sounds really good.

I don't know what I inherited from her, other than a big mouth but I guess I'll have to make do with that. :P

7/31/2006 11:53 PM  

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