12.02.2009

My grandmother, Act I

This entry is from a long Facebook message.  Some of that post is directly copied here, as I took my time to write that, and I don't have enough time to write this.

This is the first of what may be several posts about my paternal grandmother.  She died Oct. 27 at age 95.  The last few years of her life were spent at a nursing home; her Alzheimers had advanced to the point where she didn't know who my father was.

My grandmother had four sons; my dad is #3.  They grew up in northern New Jersey, near the Ramapo mountains, and from what I've heard about my father's childhood, it was everything a kid could want.  Grandma was an excellent cook and took care of the home/family realm to Stepford Wife/Mother Of The Year caliber while my grandfather, a pilot, was gone for weeks at a time.  My dad and his brothers were typical kids -- riding bikes, camping, forming No (Ugly) Girls Allowed clubs in the woods behind their parents' house.  They did everything together and were very close.  It was the 1950's, so when they did go off in the mountains somewhere, they had freedom from their parents; no one worried about getting sodomized and left for dead behind a rock.

They moved to Indiana in the mid-1960s.  My grandpa died in 1966, when my dad was 15.  Around that time, my oldest uncle was getting married, having kids and going to college; therefore, the next in line -- Paul -- became the man of the family.  My dad looked up to Paul.  My oldest uncle had been responsible and serious, but Paul was the "good looking" one, the "cool" one.  He was also Grandma's favorite.

Over the years, as my dad and his brothers grew up, got married and had kids, they remained close.  Nearly all of them started families in the '70s.  Paul's oldest, D, was only 13 months older than my brother (born 1974), and they were best buds as kids.  In maybe 5-6 years, Grandma went from having one grandchild to eight.  I imagine she was pretty euphoric.

The mid-1980s brought the "second wave" generation of grandchildren:  I was born ten years after my brother, and one of my uncles adopted two Korean children.  I never knew my older cousins very well... I always thought it was just because they were older and my uncles started moving out of town, so my cousins were these strange people that would show up for a holiday every once in a while with their parents, and they'd be in college and be super cool, but I never really knew them.  I'd get their names mixed up, forget which uncle was their father, etc.

By this time, Paul was divorcing his wife and -- unbeknownst to most of us -- slowly cutting his children out of his life.  He'd taken up with a flight attendant named Terri... occupational hazard for a pilot, I suppose... and she was a phony gold-digger who hated our family.  She thought we were low class.  I was too young, unfortunately, to defend my family and tell her that my parents already had post-grad degrees from Purdue by the time she was in "stewardess school."  They didn't go to my brother's wedding (1996) because they were having leaky windows or some shit... I was only 12 then, but I remember thinking, "can't they, like, hire someone to take care of that?" Terri wouldn't stay at Grandma's because she thought it was dirty, and she thought that we were a family of hicks. She'd walk into my parents house, sniff the air, breezily say, "Ooh, smells in here," and my mom would roll her eyes but say nothing, because everyone admired Paul somehow.

Almost five years ago, I began to see how low Paul and Terri were when Grandma went into a nursing home. At the time, Grandma lived next to my parents, where she'd lived for the past 5-7 years. They put her house on the market, which was within Paul's right as her power of attorney (again -- he doesn't live the closest, he isn't the oldest, he isn't the nicest, he isn't the most educated... he was just her favorite), but then they crept into town and threw away/auctioned off her belongings. ALL her belongings: baby pictures, birth certificates, etc... this includes everything that she'd had her relatives pick out (she'd taken us through her house and had us choose things we would like after she passed, and she painstakingly put our names on everything... he got rid of all of it). So someone, somewhere, has a china painting with "Kristy" painted on the back of it.

So, they did this at a time when my parents were splitting up, and my dad was living in an apartment, so he wasn't really around to know they were doing this. However, my mom did, and she called me; I got the name of the auction place and tried to buy everything back. I was a broke waitress at the time, so I only managed to get the piano... fortunately, I also managed to break into her house before the auction and steal a few china paintings and the faux Renoir she had hanging above the piano.  My dad also broke in and stole a bed, which is more impressive I think, so it's worth noting. Anyway, Paul changed the locks after that.

Since then, my father and I would get together with the other two uncles, and occasionally the topic of Paul would come up. We'd go on our rants about him, about him disrespecting Grandma's stuff, disrespecting us, being an asshole in general. My uncles were hesitant to join me and my father in fostering hatred against Paul, and they tried in vain to extend olive branches on several occasions.

I didn't know when the sudden shift was in Paul's personality -- to me, he was "mean" because he wouldn't talk to his now-adult children, but he only turned evil when he threw out all my grandmother's stuff.  I didn't know his children, I wasn't emotionally attached -- so hating him for not speaking to them seemed a little extreme.  Plus, I didn't know very much about it.  But, I heard bits and pieces -- I heard that his son was injured in combat and tried to contact Paul from a hospital in Germany, but he didn't allow it. I heard that his older daughter ran into him while grocery shopping, and his reaction at her after having to introduce herself to him made her not want to tell her own young daughter who he was. Paul's youngest was the first of the three that I became Facebook friends with, and I remember that she said earlier this year, "In May it will be 20 years since I've seen my dad." I remember thinking, on all of those occasions, "Well damn, what a dick," but there really wasn't anything I could do.

So when my grandma died Oct. 27, we had years of stories and experiences that have Paul as the center of this family drama.  We'd all had time to think... and we were pretty pissed.

So, my grandma passed away. Paul wrote her obituary, and it sucked. He left out his kids. He left out his own kids in the obituary, and he wrote that she had eight grandchildren. She has ten. Biological grandchildren - Paul's three kids + Terry's daughter from the marriage she initially fucked up but that Paul adopted = eight.

So, "damn, what a dick," right? Nah, this time I wrote a different obituary. Cost me like $300, but it was worth it.

So my new obituary ran. I posted it on Facebook. Then, Paul's kids started messaging me. They'd said things here and there when Grandma died, e.g., "I'm sorry for your loss," and my brother (who got those kinds of messages from them also) and I were like, "huh? It's your grandma too!" without knowing that they'd basically been kicked out of the family via Paul, and that Paul had told Grandma that they were basically terrible kids.

Long story short, Paul's oldest -- D -- and I started to talk. And talk. And talk.

Another long story short, D and I are now like two peas in a pod. He's visited me three times -- first, he drove all the way up here; the next two times, we met in the middle. And I'm going to see him again on Sunday, because he maaaaay find a job here. We still have a bit of anger over what happened: His father banned his own kids from the family. As a result, one of the best friends I've ever had was taken from me for over 20 years. As D wrote in a Facebook message,

"I know you don’t know me very well, but we have met before. Many times actually. Albeit you were 2 at the time. There was a time when we lived in [my town], and we were at your house almost every week. There was a time when your brother was my best friend in the world, and when you couldn’t go more than five minutes without spitting up on something =). Your parents were always my favorites, and even after 20 years, situations like this remind me how much it still hurts having half of my family taken from me.

I thank you for standing up to him, and doing what is right... From the bottom of my heart, you have made my year, and I thank you."

And shit, this was like the second message he'd ever sent me, so way before we were best buds.
So, a lot of good came out of it. I'm sure I'll post later on about this, but I needed to get some of it out somehow. G'night for now.

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