This is not my story. I am telling it for someone else.
I used to love to visit my grandparents – both sets of them! My mother’s parents lived in a big house and my grandma would almost always take me shopping when I spent a night or weekend with them. She would take me out to lunch and we would look at girly stuff all day. I treasure those times with my grandma. My grandfather loved to read and we would read all of the Harry Potter books together each time one came out. Now, by together I mean that he would challenge me to beat him and then he would be finished before I got to chapter 4! I loved reading those books with him and feeling that kinship with my grandpa who could be distant and even angry much of the time.
My parents were very conservative and traditional Christians when I was very young. This meant that they were also Republicans and that drove my grandfather crazy. It was normal for him to attack my mother almost everytime we got together about how evil her republican candidates were, as well as Christians, in general. Usually my mother would try to explain to him that she didn’t want to discuss this with him and that it was okay to disagree with each other. He yelled a lot about this stuff. I didn’t really understand it. I was 9 years old.
It was summer time and I was going to spend the whole weekend with my maternal grandparents. They came to pick me up. My grandpa immediately started giving my mom and dad a hard time about President Bush, and they made light of it while my grandma and I talked about what we were going to do the next day. We went out to eat on our way home and then I got to watch a movie before going to sleep that night.
My grandma used to always buy me instant strawberry oatmeal in the little envelopes. I felt loved because she would do that just for me. I think she had ALL of her grandchildren’s favorite breakfast food in her house at all times! After breakfast and after I got ready to go shopping with my grandma, I was in the living room watching television with my grandpa. I remember a campaign commercial for George W. came on. My grandpa began telling me how wrong my parents were for voting for him. He told me a bunch of things about him that were supposed to be horrible, I guess, but I was 9, so I didn’t really understand what most of it meant. Finally, at the end of his rant, he told me that George W. Bush was Satan! Now that one I kind of understood, at least in a literal way, and I was horrified.
I sat on that for a few days, when for some reason, and I don’t remember why, I finally told my mom what happened at my grandparents’ home. My mom was very upset. She talked to my dad and then came to me and informed me that she would be discussing this with my grandpa when we went over there next. Unfortunately, that was just a day or two later.
My siblings and I were at the other end of the house playing in the playroom when I heard my mom’s voice raised, telling my grandpa, “I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell our children that the President is satan.” I also remember her asking him to respect their right to raise their children with their values, just as he raised his children with his. It got a bit heated and at one point my grandpa was denying that he said anything about Bush being satan. My mom responded that a 9-year old would not just fabricate such a thing and that to a child raised in a Christian home, being told by her grandfather that the President whom her parents were planning to vote for is satan was a HUGE deal and simply NOT okay. My grandma finally went into the room where they were arguing and told my grandpa that he should not tell his grandchildren such things and then told my mother that she was sure he didn’t mean anything by it.
I guess that meant that the discussion was over…
When we left a bit later that afternoon and I attempted to tell my grandpa good-bye, he stiffened up, and pulled back when I tried to hug and kiss him. He said not a word. I remember feeling like I wished I never would’ve told my mom what happened and coming to the realization that I had done something really wrong when I did.
A week and a half later we were all heading to my grandparents’ house to celebrate my grandma’s birthday. I was excited to see my cousins who lived a couple of hours away and knew they would be there because they came for Grandma’s birthday, even though they never came for anyone else’s in the family. When we arrived, half of the family was already there and one of my cousins ran up to tell me that grandpa was going to give us rides on his “cadillac” golfcart. I said, “Hi, Grandpa,” but he didn’t respond. Then I asked him if I could ride with the other kids and he ignored me, again. I asked him a few times and each time he ignored me. I knew my grandpa would lash out if I asked him too many times, so after he loaded all of the other kids up and announced there was no more room, I waited for the next trip to ask him again. When I did, he told me that there might be room on the next one, but not this time. Several of my cousins were riding for the second time. I decided to go in the house and use the bathroom. Once in there I began to cry. I was heartbroken and mad at myself for even saying anything about Bush being satan! One of my uncles knocked on the door, so I wiped away my tears and tried to sneak out the door. My uncle asked if I was okay. I said, “Yeah,” and then I went out the front door as soon as I could, crawled into the roasting hot back seat of my parents’ car and cried my eyes out. I knew I couldn’t let anyone know that I was upset, because if my grandpa could be that angry and cruel to me over the other incident, I didn’t want to see what would happen if my mom found out this time and confronted him again.
My mom was inside and was watching the rides with grandpa. She tells me she knew how upset he still was, so she was watching to see if he’d let me ride or not. When he drove by the second time without me on there, she began looking for me. By the time he drove by with the third bunch of grandkids and I was still not on, she was in full mama-bear mode and was looking everywhere for me.
Suddenly the car door swung open and my mom found me, crying and sweating in the back seat crouched down on the floor. She was so full of emotion, I felt scared. She asked me what had happened and why I was crying. I told her that I was sorry I had tattled on grandpa. I told her I wouldn’t do it again. I told her repeatedly that it was all my fault that he was leaving me out and I begged her not to say anything… She was shaking as she told me to wait there and she would be right back. Minutes later I heard her voice and my grandma’s voice pleading with my mom just before the door opened and my siblings all piled into the car. My mom told her that we were leaving and she was not going to discuss why. They hugged good-bye and we pulled out of the driveway and headed home.
My mother was livid. She kept reassuring me that this was not my fault. She was crying, but I understood even then that the tears were not for her, but for me. She apologized for allowing that to happen. And the one thing I remember most is that she turned around, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Your grandfather is an asshole. You did NOTHING wrong and no grandfather should EVER treat his grandchild the way you were treated today.” My parents were very old fashioned about respect, so this made a HUGE impression on me.
Years later my mom apologized to me for all of this. She said her one regret was that she didn’t confront her father that day or at some point. She felt as if she didn’t really protect me because after a short time, we began visiting again and nothing was ever resolved. In all of the emotion of that day, she felt that she was protecting me because I had begged her not to say anything, but later it felt like it was too much to confront, so instead she just kept a more watchful eye on her children, but kept silent about it. Looking back, it’s telling to me that my grandparents never asked my mother what happened that afternoon when we all rushed off before the celebration was ever started.
I realize now that I just accepted that as normal when I was young. My grandfather regularly got angry with his children and grandchildren and rejected them and then they just moved on. It was a common occurence for my grandpa to become angry and kick someone out when we had a family gathering. It was normal to be manipulated into feeling bad if you spoke out against such treatment and we were supposed to internalize our pain and not tell other people. Making waves, confronting bad behavior did not fare well in this sweep everything under the rug community. It took my mom a long time to break away from that way of thinking, but she did because she wanted us to have healthier and more honest lives. She still struggles with being real at times and she still has moments when she tries to run back to what was “normal” for most of her life. I don’t struggle with it. I refuse to live in that because I’ve seen the pain that comes from it. I still carry it with me…