Greetings! Oh, gosh, whenever I type that word it gives me a start, thinking of my Grandma Frances, and how later in life, she would walk into a room and say “Greetings and hallucinations!” I never found it funny because she was such a complicated character in my life. As a little girl, I adored her. She was clever, adventurous, generous, fun, funny, and let me stay up impossibly late to color with markers or talk and play King’s Corners and Concentration. She took me to the dime store where we bought shockingly red pistachios from the heat lamp carousel and shared Russel Stover salted nut rolls. She loved to take me to the movies, to the show as she would say.
As we both got older, I would meet her for the first time, meaning, her faults and idiosyncrasies came into full view.
My Grandmother was bipolar and likely a borderline personality, but it didn’t become fully evident to me until I was nine or ten, though there were plenty of signs. Like the fact that she reamed my Dad for not doing her bidding, or that she so fully believed, as an old enough to know better girl, in her ability to FLY, that she jumped off the roof of their house and broke her collarbone. Or that she had shock treatments. All of this, she told me as if it happened to everyone, all the time.
I have told you about my sister, the harsh words, the beatings, the fact that I had to have a lock installed on my bedroom door to keep her from me and stealing anything she felt she deserved more than I did – clothes, money, jewelry, trinkets. So, as you might imagine, any time away from my childhood home was a gift, where I could be guaranteed a day without my sister’s abuse, the loudness of my parents and brothers. Where I didn’t have to hide in my room to feel safe.
On the occasion I met Grandma Frances for the first time, I went her house for a weekend. She lived with my Great Grandma Tillie (her mother), and unbeknownst to me, they had hatched a plan for me to spend the time with my cousin Becky. Bless her heart, Becky was kind, but I only saw her as an awful interloper. She was nothing like me. I have no idea how she turned out, but at the time, I didn’t find her terribly bright or interesting or fun. A dud. She breathed heavily through her mouth and smelled funny. It feels cruel to type the words as an adult with hopes of all children getting along, but, through the lens of a little girl looking for escape from her family, my heart can’t help but break a little. No one ever asked me what I wanted or needed or felt. I was crushed. My time with Grandma was ours, special. That she would do this, however well intentioned, felt like a betrayal.
I asked my Grandma to take me home. Thankfully, she did, but oh, oh, oh, the litany of abuse I got during the car ride home. You’d think I’d committed a mortal sin. The twenty minute drive stretched into what seemed like hours.
And so, I became more guarded around her, made decisions that would make me safer from her vitriol and unpredictable moods. Which only became more erratic and cruel, her mind vacillating from what was mostly normal to the awful psychosis of bipolar disorder. She literally became crazier and crazier, hurling insults, believing impossible lies about friends and relatives, getting in trouble with the law, being institutionalized. It was a terrible time, especially considering all she had endured and accomplished.
She was widowed, quite tragically, at 32, but found the strength to raise three children and have great success working at Sears. A master at bridge and a devout Catholic, she did much for her local parish. A dear friend to many, driving just about everyone without a car wherever they needed to go. She loved music and parties and politics and volunteered for the Democrats. Her favorite drink, a Brandy Alexander. Her scent, White Shoulders. She chewed Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum (I do too!).
But her illness and her lack of belief in it, there was absolutely nothing wrong with her, destroyed our relationship. A death by a million cuts, from the moment I met her that first time, as a child. It is the greatest loss of my life.
And so this post, where I started with a cheerful picture of pie (delicious and wonderful cherry), and thought about that first word, greetings, turned so dramatically. A bit like life, I suppose.