Monday, September 3, 2007

Saturday, September 3, 1977

Psalm 96

Got up medium. Dressed. I slightly stuffy. Papa T. came over. We had a nice re-union. But it didn't last long. Papa T. left. Watched TV. Aunt Irvena went out. Mom prepared lunch. (We had Sabbath School before Papa T. came.) Then trouble came. Mamabelle and + Papa T didn't want us in Aunt Irvena's house. Things happened, and then Pop and Papa T. fought. Slept. Then went to the Zanzibar Motel--it had colour tv. thank you, Mr. O, Thank you.


"Things happened" was definitely an understatement.

The night before, when we'd gotten in, Poppy had attempted to cook fritters, and since we were all used to a real roaring fire and heavy pots, Poppy turned up the flame on the stove and broke out the heavy frying pans. The kitchen... the whole house, filled with smoke. And I remember Aunt Irvena's two story home (she was a widow) being very beige. I'm betting there was a conversation between Grandmother and Irvena, and knowing what I know now, I'm sure Grandma was mortified.

When my Grandfather had come over earlier, it was pleasant. The Professor didn't know him at all... but I had fond memories of him coming to Jamaica in '70 or so, and taking me to the pharmacy for ice cream, and buying me anything I wanted. I remember him telling us about his gout that day and then I guess he went to get Grandma.

I don't remember her coming, specifically, but I remember the feeling of her sweeping in. Not only was she not pleased that we were there, she was not at ALL pleased that we were staying with her friend. Never mind the fact that an offer to stay with her wasn't even a remote possibility, but we couldn't stay there. "Irvena is MY friend" I remember her saying "and I don't want you to stay with her." I don't remember Irvena saying much of anything. I remember there was lots of yelling, all of us standing in Irvena's kitchen. The main animosity was between my grandmother and my father, who must have had some angry retort to something fake my grandmother said. My Grandfather took it upon himself to defend his wife, and went to throw a punch at Poppy. Poppy had been leaning against one of the kitchen counters with his arms folded, and next thing I knew he put his head down, and head-butted my grandfather across the room.

The Professor had had enough, and started screaming about how she hated everyone and never wanted to come here anyway, and ran out the back door crying, trying to get away.

As a kid, nothing broke me down faster than seeing my sister cry. And it always made me feel so helpless, particularly when it was something I couldn't defend her against. I couldn't make her feel any better, there was no where we could go... I ran after her and realized with a sigh of relief that at least the backyard was enclosed so she couldn't go far... but at the same time I felt unbelievably trapped. We stood there hugging and crying. My grandmother came out and tried to comfort us, which incensed my father: "You don't have the right to comfort them" he said.

After that, I don't remember much; we may have taken a nap. I do know it was decided that there was a motel the grandparents would put us up in and so we stood outside on Irvena's little stone doorstep, waiting for a cab. The cab never came. It was early evening when we first went outside, and I remember it getting gradually darker and more chilly.

My grandmother stayed inside the whole time, drinking a bottle of champagne. At one point, she called the Professor and I inside and asked us "You know your grandmother loves you, don't you?" "Yes" I shook my head, holding my sister's hand, but inside of me the brand new metal gates had already slid into place, and a well-oiled "click" had locked my Grandmother out. "If you love us so much" I thought to myself, "why are we standing on the porch?" I think she tried to hug us, but she certainly never relented enough to speak to her daughter or make any kind of a peace.

It got dark out, and the cab never showed. Finally, my grandfather drove us to the Zanzibar Motel in his big LTD car. I don't remember him apologizing for anything... but then again, my Grandfather lived his entire life never apologizing for a damn thing and so over time I got to understand that was just his way. He just "lived;" wreaking havoc everywhere, and when he died, he died the same way... unapologetically. He left no money, no will, no insurance, and whatever he'd had he'd given to some chippie God-Knows-Why, but he also left no debt, either. No trace of him at all, except for the autobiography of his life.

I don't even want to know why Grandpa knew about the Zanzibar Motel, a semi-seedy "no-tell motel." It had two double beds, a color TV and a little bathroom off to the side. On one of our last trips out to Chicago--my grandfather's memorial service in fact--we passed the Motel on the way from the airport. It was still there.

That first night, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of my father cursing out my grandmother under his breath. I'd never heard him use language like that before, but as I fell back to sleep I remember a sense of satisfaction... cuz if I had known words like that at the time, I would have used them, too. She deserved them.

For the two weeks or so that we stayed there, to my knowledge we never heard from Grandma, and I think we saw my Grandfather once.

Yesterday, talking with sis about that day she said in her usual flat-out way "That's why I didn't shed a tear when the bitch died, and I took ALL her fur coats". Me... I didn't even want anything of hers... I have one gold medallion I always wear, and a pearl bracelet I never wear. When Grandpa died some of the other tchockes she had came home with us... but because we had gotten to know Grandpa without her, I sort of associate those things with visiting him, and not with her.

She was a fake bitch. Time has given me some understanding of her and I know that she had a miserable childhood; her mother died early, her father's new wife didn't want her or her sister, and so they were raised on a farm in Idlewild where she was repeatedly sexually abused by an uncle. She married a white man, who paid her way through school, but who forced her to have an abortion when she got pregnant. So she divorced him and my grandfather, who was a few years younger than she, was her divorce lawyer. On her own, my grandmother had no name or credit, but my grandfather was already known and came from a distinguished family. He was her instant pass to celebrity status, and married to him she was suddenly "fabulous." She was very, very fair skinned, with a hooked nose and straight hair, and had impeccable taste. But Grandpa, as I said, lived his life doing whatever he wanted including having numerous lady friends--he was good looking guy. When my mother was born she was very happy for few months, but then her beloved sister died and I think it all snapped.

When Grandma died, is when I really began to understand how unhappy she was, because I found all sorts of scribblings of hers... and divorce papers she'd tried to file. But for appearances, she stayed with him, and also probably because if she'd had divorced him, she wouldn't have gotten a whole lot as Grandpa was a notorious spender.

But she never redeemed herself to me, the way Grandpa did. As she went slowly senile, my father would joke that they had the best (though short) conversations ever, because by then she'd forgotten who he was. She had also conveniently forgotten the existence of the Professor and I, asking my mother once "how come you never had any children, dear?" Despite repeated pleadings, my Grandfather never put her in a nursing home, and took care of her, with the help of only a housekeeper, until she died. And she wreaked havoc... being senile was her best revenge on him and he accepted it.

My sister refused to go the memorial service, a decision I understood and supported. I only went to support my mother, and my Grandfather asked me to sing at her service. I sang Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable". Up at the podium, when I got to the part "That's why darling/it's incredible/that someone so unforgettable/thinks that I am/Unforgettable too" I distinctly heard my Grandmother's voice in my right ear say "Yes, you are, dear". It unnerved me so much that I almost lost it.

My mother spoke at the service as well... she spoke of how much she loved her and how close they were, which was a damn lie. As my mother stepped down off the podium she slipped and twisted her ankle. We joked that Grandmother had pushed her... but in all seriousness I firmly believe my Grandmother's spirit was there, enjoying her party and all her fake friends coming in the their long fur coats to pay homage to her. She was finally the star of the show.

2 comments:

professor said...

yup, I hated the bitch...she was fake, phoney and never had a nice thing to say about me...I had to many "mannerism" that need to be addressed before she would take me in "public"...she was not nice to bigbear and make her feel small and stupid for chosing and loving her family...
grandpa was not much better...he never redeemed himself to me...we had fun, and he got to "know" me, and respected me for driving back and forth to chitown, but not leaving bigbear anything or even acknowledging her as his daughter is unforegivable...

The Bear Maiden said...

True.. but on the other hand he didn't leave her any debt and drama. There were no "loose ends". Sometimes that crap can last for years, and given the way he lived his life, and the people he um, associated with, I'm amazed he walked away "clean". And he did acknowledge her as his daughter... certainly more than he did his wife. Or even chippie who took his money. Cuz we don't know anything about her--still. So it's not that he acknowledged her... she just happened to get to him first.