31 January 2008


Last night, I lost the woman who most made me who I am today.

My grandmother's been slipping away from us for a while. She lost herself to dementia last summer, and it has been hit or miss whether we would see her lucid or see her in some decade long past when we'd visit.

We had a complicated relationship. She had very traditional views on what a girl or a woman should be. I fought against those at nearly every turn. While she and my mom were in the kitchen, cooking supper, I'd try to sneak out and go hang in the living room and talk politics with my grandpa.

She attempted to instill the "womanly" arts on my fellow female cousins and me. We were given embroidery kits for Christmas, and we were expected to learn how to do it. We were taught to quilt. We were taught to cook and how to maintain a garden during our week-long visits with her each summer.

Looking back, I loved the gardening and the cooking, heck, even the cleaning, but that embroidery still makes my fingers hurt. She'd make me pick out numerous stitches and insist I do it right.

She was very focused on what was right and proper. There was a *right* way to do things. That's part of why I think I'm so obsessive compulsive about things (especially cleaning) today. She taught me the *right* way; to me, that's the only way.

And yet . . .

I fought back against her ideas of how to be a woman at every turn. I didn't want to be relegated to the kitchen. I didn't want to sew. Heaven knows I hated every embroidery stitch.

It took me years to learn that in her world, the gossip with her friends over coffee that I so disdained was her way of consolidating power and keeping control of her world. My grandmother was a bit Machiavellian, honestly.

I love her, and yet . . . I rejected her at every turn, because what she wanted me to be I just couldn't be. I had to get away. I was stifled by living in a place where everyone not only knew everyone else but also knew every family scandal going back five generations, back to freaking Prussia, and carrying those grudges and stereotypes and misperceptions through the generations. I turned my back on that, and opened up to other people from other places, other backgrounds.

When I married someone who wasn't Catholic, you would have thought I'd completely rocked their worlds. Maybe, in a way, I had.

I was the first to go away to college.

I was the first to marry (and no, none of us saw that coming). The fact that I married a Methodist took them some getting used to.

I was the first to keep working outside the home once my kids were born.

She made me that way. As much as she tried to force me into her mold, I'd fight back so hard to do the exact opposite.

Neither of us were right. There are different ways for different people. That's a lesson I've learned, and she was the one who, inadvertently perhaps, taught it.


Joan said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, but this is a beautiful tribute. Sending prayers and cyberhugs your way...

Cissy said...


I'm so sorry. Losing someone is never easy. Hugs.

Sherrie said...

Thanks guys.

You know, I think I'm okay. She was 91. She lived a good, long life. Her end surely wasn't easy, and I'd like to think she's at peace now. After months of the mental torture her mind put her through, I'm glad she's free.

Honestly, that's what I dread: I've now watched several family members slowly lose their minds to dementia, and I know that is probably coming my way someday. I'm not sure I can handle it when it happens to me.

Please help my kids understand the crud I mutter 50 years from now, okay? When I start talking about Sharon H. or Nelson Peltz, you guys have to be there to explain to my kids what the heck I'm talking about.