Our family always lived in a different state from my maternal grandparents, so the only glimpses that I had of my maternal grandmother were when we visited in Illinois. She had pale blue eyes, fine red curly hair, clear skin with freckles, and was of average height for a woman at the time. She probably had a good figure hidden under her girth. She moved easily, but she did not move often. She favored bright, floral dresses and always look crisp and clean. As a child, I remember being impressed, scandalized, and confused by her peep-toed shoes because my mother disapproved of them but my grandmother flaunted them to her. When my maternal grandmother grew old her legs became very swollen, then she wore comfortable shoes and thick nude-colored support stockings rolled below her knees to fit, which was how they managed one-size fits all back then. She had worked for a while as a nursing aide, and standing on her feet hurt her. She wore a small crucifix, and every Sunday she covered her head with something pretty, and was driven to Catholic mass, usually by my gay uncle Edward who lived with her for all of her life. He died a year or so after she died. Uncle Edward could be depended upon to take her wherever she needed to go, to pick her up, and to bring her home safely; and he gave her the care that she needed to live her entire life in her own home. She never drove a car. When it rained, she wore a clear plastic head scarf to keep her curls dry. She always had a pretty lace or floral handkerchief about her person. My maternal grandmother kept either a thin cat or a small yap-yap dog in her home, usually she had both, and she would warn us when we visited that her unkempt animals would scratch and bite. They did.
When I was an adult, I asked my mother if my maternal grandmother was “retarded” because she had never talked to me. I carefully modulated my voice to my mother so as not to give further offense than such an outrageous question might naturally engender; but she took it in stride. She thought for a moment while her face filled with a sour smile, then said, “She knows better than to instigate a conversation.” I did not see any point to try prying anything more out of my highly deceptive, and closed-lipped mother. There is no way to know how much truth there was in what she said. I remember once when my maternal grandmother had spontaneously whimpered, “He threw A CHAIR at me!”, and I asked, “What?” because I did not know if she was talking to me, or what. She did not say anything else. My maternal grandmother did not drink or take drugs so I cannot account for what she said, other than she must have been remembering when someone threw a chair at her, and when the thought made her cry out, I happened to be in the room. It seemed to me that she was complaining about my grandfather.
As I said, I never had a conversation with my maternal grandmother. I tried several times in life, but she stuttered and sputtered, and then she gave up without communicating a single thought to me. That may sound funny, but it was frightening to me as a child. I once tried to sing her a song, it had her name in the lyrics, but she became angry with me, so I stopped. My mother hand-signaled that I should leave her alone, and get out of her kitchen. I was always hungry at my maternal grandmother’s house, I always seemed to miss the meals, or maybe there were no meals. I remember a neighbor asking if I was hungry, and when I admitted that yes I was hungry, she took me into her kitchen and fried a baloney sandwich for me. It was delicious, I wanted more but did not ask. Somehow my maternal grandmother found out and she was so furious with me that I thought she might hit me, but she just tersely said I should never get food from neighbors again. When we came to visit she hid the cookies and bananas that she usually had in the cupboard, so there literally was nothing to prepared to eat in her house. I was a skinny child, some adult should have seen that, and done something about it. Other than one fried baloney sandwich, no one ever did.
I never saw my maternal grandmother relating to any of her numerous other grandchildren either, not even my siblings when we all visited. My uncle Edward used to run off my cousins who lived just up the street, saying that they could not come in the house because they had “sticky fingers” (stole things). I do not know about that, but I do know that those kids would have liked very much to come inside their grandmother’s house, and I always felt awkward because I and my siblings were allowed in whenever our parents brought us from out-of-state for a visit, and my cousins were never let in.
For my entire life I saw my maternal grandmother sit in one place, and in one place only, in her recliner in the little patched-together house that my maternal grandfather built at the sorry edge of town. She was always reading one of her ubiquitous romance novels. As far as I know she never read anything else, although maybe I saw her flip through a newspaper once or twice looking for coupons. I have looked through a couple of romance novels since then, and my impression is that if you read one then you have read them all, same old, same old, juvenile. I once saw her cooking a pan of bacon and was hopeful that I would get some, but my uncle Edward whispered that it was just for her and I should leave her kitchen. When I smelled that she had burned it, I did not care. The only other time that I saw her preparing to cook was when my maternal grandfather came in from hunting with bourbon whiskey on his breath and a mess of dead squirrels to fry. Neither of them spoke to me. The gun, the bloody little bodies, the rejection of my grandparents made me leave her kitchen. I do not know anything else about my maternal grandmother, not where she was born, where she met my grandfather and married at age fifteen, how she raised her five children, what working a low-level, poorly paid job was like for her, what her hopes and dreams had been. It was not because I did not try. She would not talk to me. This account may seem prosaic, but with all due respect, so was she. When she saw our family arrive for a visit, her smile toward me was a grimace, she never hugged or kissed me, she never fed me, she once gave me a hankie that she did not like but nothing more ever, she did not love me.
I am aware that while not having those ties that bind leaves my life cold and precarious, it also leaves me free to explore interesting ideas that others do not: today I created this artwork that has no reference to my life nor to the life of anyone else, other than to cause speculation and amusement.
Caption: Invasion Somewhere Else, by Annmarie Throckmorton 2017.
(Sobriquet: They Came Disguised As Blue Moon Pies.)