Sometimes when I look at old pictures, I wonder what happened to her to make her so mean. She was so bitter. I wonder now, was she always that way? Was there ever a time when she was young when she was sweet or carefree? Did something happen to her?
I never think of her as "grandma" or even really as my grandmother. She was so different from my maternal grandmother, my oma, who spoiled me rotten. The closest I can get to her is "my father's mother". Even that chokes in my throat. She is DNA, not family.
I remember on one of my rare visits to her house when I was a little girl how she told me, "You have eyes just like your father's. They always could stare a hole through a brick wall." Maybe it was guilt that made her remember. Whatever it was, she seemed to disapprove of me, because I looked like him. My dad didn't talk about his childhood much, but I remember once when I was older he told a story about how she'd punished him for something. When he'd finished, my mom said "today that would be considered child abuse". His response was to look sad and quietly say, "It would have then too."
He had left home at a young age to get away from her. I don't think she ever forgave him for that. I was just guilty by association. Even worse, I was the spawn of a woman she insisted on referring to as "the foreigner".
And that's why it feels more comfortable to keep the distance of at least a generation between myself and that bitter, old woman who seemed to hate everyone. Even though she lived only a few miles away, I only saw her a handful of times when I was growing up. The last time was when I was in my teens. I had gotten a part-time job. I don't remember why, but I took it into my head to spend my sad little paycheck on a present for her, because I thought she might be lonely after her second husband died. As it turned out, a neighbor was visiting when I got there. This gave the old lady an audience to complain to about how most of her family was worthless and to make pointed remarks about how she'd be lost without my uncle, even though I knew my father regularly offered his assistance as well. Looking back, I am not sure why he did. I suppose as nasty as she was, some part of him wanted her approval.
She never saw, but I went home crying that day. After my father heard what happened, he decided that if she couldn't accept and be kind to his family, he didn't need her either, but I know it hurt him. In some ways, though, I'm grateful for having experienced her. She shaped my ideas about family. Without her I might have never known that family is not necessarily the people who carry or blood, but the people we love and who love us back. I wonder if I would have ever really understood that, if it hadn't been for her.