Grannies Once Were Women.
Or: The Social Myth of the Grandmother (capital G).
In many of the books we read, and the movies we watch, Grannies tend to be amazing, although secondary, characters. Witty, funny, endearing. Far from smelling of naphtaline, they smell of cookies, of potpourri and of the perfume they once sprayed on themselves, getting ready to walk down the avenue — bright, young, hopeful.
In these movies, they also tend to be excellent counselors and confidants and, if the main character is a woman, then the latter will undoubtedly get a better grasp of Life under the wise and crypto-feministic influence of her granny.
These books and movies make me feel terrible, because that’s not at all what my grandmothers were for me, nor — as far as I know — for any of their grandchildren. My grannies didn’t counsel. They didn’t confide nor receive confidences.
Both my grandmothers, especially on my mother’s side, came from a poor family and received minimal education. They both married early to my grandfathers, both of which were a bit of the macho type. Not — as far as I know — the abusive macho type, but rather the old-style macho type: conscious of their maleness, not as educated as they seemed to think, and exhibiting, to paraphrase Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, the emotional range of a teaspoon.
My mother’s mother died ten years ago and I rarely see my other grandmother. We never had an intimate discussion. They both didn’t know anything about me, my doubts, dreams, lusts, turmoils, inner life. They knew nothing except the obvious, or what was “public matter” within the family circle.
It’s the same the other way around: they never told me about them nor did they tell — as far as I know — any of their grandchildren. It’s as if they had made a choice (did they feel compelled to make that choice?) to be, well, grandmothers. A social status consisting in cooking, engaging in small talk, keeping their grandchildren when it is convenient for their children.
Now that I am an adult, this is not what bothers me. What bothers me is the obliterated woman. The crypted “she.” The silent female with all her doubts, dreams, lusts, turmoils, inner life. The one who turned into a grandmother, the spouse of my grandfather, the small-talker, the official provider of cookies in the inconvenient working hours that lie every day between the end of school and dinner.
I’ll never get to know my mother’s mother: it is too late. Besides, my mother does not seem to believe in the necessity to explore (living) family members. And it’s not just my mother: for many people of my acquaintance, it’s as if family members are not persons but, well, family members.
Therefore, anything (question, inquiry, blog post) that may remind us all of how my grandmother is also a Person (doubts; dreams; lusts; turmoils; inner life) would be embarrassing: it is something that will need to be dealt with, it is something that makes people uncomfortable. What is exposed humanity for me is like exposed genitalia for them.
But then there’s still my father’s mother. She’s been ill recently. My grandfather was helpless (“but, what about lunch?” he wondered childishly, tearfully, when she was brought to the hospital), so my father had to deal with everything. My grandmother is better now, but she is definitely getting old, and she might die at some point that is closer to now than ever before.
Despite this feeling of urgency, I’m finding myself unable to ask; to reach out for the woman inside. I’m watching the closeted — it can’t be completely obliterated, can it? — inner life of this sister female soul slipping through my fingers.
I could throw a desperate look at members of my family, I could call them for help and, in fact, her dear Life. But there they all are: nobody seems to care or rather — which is worse — wonder about the woman she once were. By some mysterious, tacit, social decree, she is a grandmother. The woman inside, with her doubts, dreams, lusts, turmoils, is gone.
I’m looking at her and wonder how she feels about this. Were the doubts and turmoils appeased? Were the dreams and lusts satisfied?
(Upon publishing this, Medium automatically proposed the tags “Family” and “Memoir”…
…I kept “Family” but changed “Memoir” into “Women” and “Feminism”.)
aka CARRIE SPEAKING,
Travel Writer, Blogger.
Visit my blog @ http://carriespeaking.com