Granny made it very clear that she was disowning me because she thought I was a ‘sex maniac.’ Those were her exact words, conveyed with a contorted look of appropriate horror by my father.
I couldn’t stand her. She smelled like Eau d’Oldde Peoplle. And she made this weird little sucking-in warbley whistle sound whenever there was something she disapproved of, but wouldn’t speak about.
This image is how she appeared to me then. Looking back now, from the perspective of someone who is the same age she was then, I think I might understand more.
She wouldn’t speak up about things she didn’t like because my dad would shut her down. Never in front of us — always in another room. I heard him one time — it wasn’t pretty. So she communicated by sucky-whistle, or one of those high, wobbly hoity-toity voices as she asked us to do something we didn’t want to do. Her voice sounded like she was in one of those old-timey movies.
She was obese. I never realized how uncomfortable it is to be so overweight. You feel tired all the time, your knees hurt, you can’t bend properly in all the places that are supposed to bend. You’re always monstrously short of breath from the effort carrying around all that extra poundage.
And underneath it all, a heavy blanket of shame about how you’ve let your body get this way, woven in with threads of feeling helpless and hopeless because I-wish-I-could-lose-all-this-but-don’t-know-how.
She wore layer upon layer of old fashioned clothes — straight out of the 1940s — with white gloves and hats with veils — the whole (literal) 9 yards. She must have felt suffocatingly hot all the time.
As if that wasn’t enough, we, too had to wear white gloves, when we went to visit her — eating at the dinner table — set with finger bowls, and watching her use the little tinkly silver bell to call for for the maid — who was right there around the corner — oh gag.
The worst thing, though — well, to me, as a possessive little child — was that when she visited, my parents put her in MY bed. In MY room. I had to listen to her snore from the other, less comfy bed. Sawing boards makes less noise. I couldn’t wait for her to leave.
When I was 21, I rode across the U.S. with a boyfriend on his enormous BMW motorcycle. By the time we got to New York, Granny made it very clear that she was disowning me, because she thought I was a ‘sex maniac.’ Those were her exact words, conveyed with a contorted look of appropriate horror by my father.
And yet, after she died, I was told that out of all the things sent to her by all her grandchildren, mine were the only drawings and cards she kept. I don’t know if that was true, or some sad story my ma made up to make me feel bad — she knew I hated the woman.
She left me an art book in her will. One that was so outdated and spoiled with age I had to throw it out.
I also didn’t understand that she always seemed grumpy because she was the only one left out of her circle of friends by the time she was in her early 70s. She died at 86.
That made me feel bad — for about a second and a half. Then I thought, well, why didn’t she go out and make more friends? Sixteen years of being lonely when all she had to do was walk out the door and make an effort to meet new people?
The look of disbelief upon my mother’s face when I said that out loud said it all. Surprise, shock, disbelief, incredulity, inability to imagine the idea, laughter … we’re talking side-splitting laughter…
Poor Granny. How sad to live such a lonely life. She was elegantly, proudly, Bostonianly, uprightly lonely.
And now that I, too, carry an inordinate amount of extra flesh around on my own old body, I can see how awkward she must have felt, and how painful it was, just going up and down her stairs, never mind going out to meet and greet. It hurts to live, sometimes. It just hurts.
I’m betting the more she isolated, the more it became a gargantuan ordeal just to venture outside her beautiful dark red front doors. After having been so isolated with this covid BS, now I can relate.
Isn’t it amazing how the passage of time and accumulation of experiences allows us to see so much more than we ever thought we would?
Afterthought: I’m sure her heart wasn’t cold or stony — just hurt. I think of all the hard times she went through — WWI, WWII, the Depression and Great Crash of ‘29, the Korean War, her husband losing EVERYthing in the crash— stinking rich to losing it all overnight — how did she get through that? And yet she somehow kept going . . . .
I think I might have to adopt that as my own motto, because despite everything that has happened to me, I still just bulldoze on….
I like that. “Somehow she just kept going….”
Thanks so much for reading this. I hope it lit you up. Or maybe it inspired you, or gave you a new perspective with which to view and appreciate your own life. That’s my wish.
TRUSTED BY SMALL CRITTERS
Image: BUDDY: in the Light, Shadowed
text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2021–2
This story is from my book, INSIDE SECRETS, Stories I’ve Never Told Anyone. Volume I. Full color illustrations: all artwork by Angela Treat Lyon.
I drew this series of drawings in blue on a black background, and then drew over them white, which produced a unique glowing effect. If you’d like a print of this image, please contact me.
You can get all the books in this series in print on amazon, or get the Ebooks for $5 (or pay what you want) at atlyon.gumroad.com.
The Inside Secrets book series: Stories I’ve Never Told Anyone, Volumes I-VI, plus my audio books and a whole slew of free ebooks: https://atlyon.gumroad.com
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