The business of living and dying - Part 1 — Family
I've never had a close relationship with my grandfather. We loved each other, no doubt about it, but I think we also annoyed each other and that got in the way of our being friends. My sister and I, and our cousins Bobby and Billy, spent a lot of time with our grandparents when we were kids. They lived in a house on Bennett lake in Michigan and we would spend weekends there or sometimes entire weeks, either during summer vacation or a holiday or sometimes just when our parents needed a break or a vacation by themselves. My cousin Bobby (my mother's brother's youngest son) was about my age and we were both the younger siblings of our respective sister and brother. From the time we were babies we were inseparable. He was the brother I never had, my best friend, my partner in crime, my champion, my cousin. I loved adventure but was wary of all things creepy and crawly, dank and dark, gory and gross. But Bobby was fearless and he shared his bravery like bubblegum, forging ahead when I hesitated to prove that I had nothing to fear (or proving that I had everything to fear). When we were both staying at the lake house he and I used to take the paddleboat out into the channel and go fishing and catch turtles and frogs. We would spend entire days in the water sitting in that faded red plastic paddleboat, wet and dirty and smelling of swamp water and of everything that lived in it. They were days to be unrivaled by anything else in our young lives.
When my parents and aunt and uncle were there, when it was the ten of us, we would take the pontoon out and spend the day on the lake swimming and tubing and eating salami sandwiches while the men drank beer and my grandmother smoked herself into an early grave. Back at the house we would play a game of Wiffle Ball, BBQ on the deck, ride our Big Wheels down the hill, play with the Weebles Tree House, and spend even more hours in the channel in front of their house.
I've always been a curious person and the same was true when I was a kid. I explored every crack and crevice and needed to know what was where and why. I took things apart to see how they were put together. I climbed trees and houses to see the view from the top. I dug through drawers and closets and garages and sheds and under beds and in cars and in boxes and closed off rooms. I suppose some would call that being a snoop but I've always had this intense desire to discover things and short of being an anthropologist, this was what it manifested into. I think my grandfather found this trait somewhat bothersome. He would yell at me for being in his garage or going into his shed or accidentally breaking something that I took apart. He would yell at me when I tried to climb up the antenna tower and onto the roof, or when I tried to climb the apple tree in the backyard. He thought I was mean to my sister (which I was) and my mood swings and grumpy disposition rubbed him the wrong way. He didn't think my pouting was cute and the times when I got angry and shut myself away with my toys and books and refused to speak to anyone really used to piss him off. On my upswings I was wild and adventurous and a constant clown. He used to say, "That girl is full of piss and vinegar!". My older sister on the other hand was sweet and meek and obedient. She was always at my grandparent's or my parent's side and never ever talked back. She was the grandparent's favorite and they called her Lovebug. My nickname? Pisspot. I'm not kidding.
As the years passed and my grandmother became somewhat ill and could no longer climb the stairs in the lake house, my grandfather bought a doublewide trailer on a large lot of land in a quaint little retirement community. My sister, cousins and I would still spend time at my grandparent's house on weekends but as we grew older they became less frequent. Our interests were still in exploration and adventure and about the time my grandparents moved into their retirement community, my family moved into a large house on 28 acres of land with a small private lake. Now the family cookouts and games of Wiffle Ball were played at our house, my cousins would spend their breaks with us and we would romp through the woods and cut paths through corn fields. We would ride our ten speed bikes down country roads and build forts out of branches and slosh around in the swamp. And we would spend the nights playing The Legend of Zelda on Nintendo or Advanced Dungeons and Dragons on Intellivision or playing Hide & Seek in the dark in the basement.
The years with my grandparents were both blissful and tumultuous. I loved my grandmother intensely. I would sit at the kitchen table and watch her do crossword puzzles and drink Pepsi while she let me eat all the Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies and Swiss Cake Rolls I wanted. When it would rain at night she would sit in the sunroom in the dark, the only light burning was the red cherry of her cigarette as she listened to old country music on the radio and the raindrops made their own rhythm as they hit the tin roof above. I would sit there with her and we would talk about music and the past and the weather. We would watch the lightening across the lake and when it would thunder she would say, "God is moving furniture! Oh, that one was a couch! There goes the dresser!" She always stuck up for me when my grandfather grumbled about something I did or said, would always be on my side when I felt alone and plotted against.
As I grew older and more invested in the emotional state of my parents I began to notice the times my mother would sit on her bed in the dark and cry while talking on the phone. I would hear whispers of my parents talking after those phone calls and I knew that family drama was unfolding between my grandpa and my mom. I never knew what was said on the calls but I knew that my grandfather made my mother cry a lot and I began to hate him for it.
Things continued this way for most of my life. I loved my grandfather very much, he was funny and caring and would do anything for you and I was always happy to see him, but he was also gruff and sharp and could be unkind, and as a child those more abrasive qualities never won brownie points with me.
My grandmother died in the winter of my senior year of high school. Not long after that my mother and sister and I had dinner with my grandfather one night. As per his usual banter he was being somewhat racist about something or other and started harping on my mother about the Native American lifestyle that she lived and breathed. He was being cruel to her and she became sullen and silent and as he made his last digs I had decided enough was enough. After years of hating my grandfather's cruel side I stood up from the table, said something to him to make him feel as shitty as he was making my mother feel, and I stormed out. It would be 15 years until I spoke to or saw him again. A few months after that night my mother filed for divorce from my father. She and my sister then moved 550 miles north and my father and I were left alone, a broken half of a once perfect circle.
Life moved forward after that. I left Michigan less than a year later and lost touch with the cousins, aunt and uncle who had been such a huge part of my life and of my growing up. I remained close with my parents and sister but it was like everyone else in my family no longer existed. I assumed they hated me for cutting my grandfather out of my life. I assumed they hated me for never calling them up when I visited home. I assumed they hated me just because I felt like I was easy to hate.
Fifteen years later and a little thing called Facebook swept the nation. One boring day at work, while searching for everyone I've ever known, I looked for my cousin Bobby Miller, now called Robert. I found him, smiling and surrounded by four gorgeous children, and sent him a friend request hoping that he would accept it after all these years of me being MIA. And much to my relief, he did. Robert and I reconnected and slowly began to build a bridge between our two lives once again.
I love finding similarities in odd snippets from the past. I did much the same thing with my Grandmother after my Grandpa died. I got us COMPLETELY kicked out of the family and didn't speak to anyone on my mom's side for 10 years. My Grandma treated my Mother like shit and I was frustrated with that kind of emotional abuse. I wasn't really allowed to talk to anyone on my Dad's side once he left. I've since been picking and choosing and cobbling together an odd family of sorts that I'm still a stranger in and kind of uncomfortable with. PISSPOT! Nice! You *are* a surly little thing, but certainly not in a bad way. I look forward to reading more tomorrow...
Going down memory lane can be a bit painful and funny at times....but all in all our family is loving and cares deeply for each other. Some things in the past need to be forgiven and move on.....I've done that myself years ago...when the going gets tough,the family pulls in together and thru strength and love and respect for each other....we go on with ours heads held high and know that we are indeed a Family.....Your trip home was awesome in so many....reaching out to each other was the best for all.....on the wings of the Eagle ...I send you love,respect and prayers have been answered. Miigwetch
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