My grandmother died today. Well, she wasn’t my biological grandmother, but I was in my late twenties before I learned that fact. I’m feeling upset and disjointed, but it’s not the grief one feels at the death of a loved one. It’s more upset at being drawn back to a world that I really wonder rather have nothing to do with. I don’t want to talk to my family—my white family that is. I didn’t like them when I thought I was related to them and now that I know I’m not, the last bit of incentive to “stay in touch” has gone out of the window. Almost entirely. There’s enough left to make me feel guilty for wanting to walk away from them.
What do I remember about Margaret, my grandmother? The words violent, racist, bitter, and hateful spring to mind. When Brianna was born, Bryan and I took her to Florida to meet the family, including Margaret. I mostly remember feeling that I never wanted to subject my child to the environment inside that house, especially the people therein, ever again. I felt dirty, and not just because of the copious amount of cigarette smoke that filled the air.
We spent a day taking Brianna and her cousin Eric around Tarpon Springs. Eric was about 7 at the time, a spirited young boy out on a holiday with new cousins. Margaret went with us and I remembered what my childhood was like. Over the course of a couple of hours, Margaret hit him, swore at him, called him stupid, threated to pull his hair, and generally mistreated and abused the child. I saw him being beaten down the same way I and my brother were beaten down as children. Margaret truly believed in being and raising the lowest common denominator.
Of course, her virulent racism was never far from the surface. Black people were always “niggers”, others might be referred to as Pakis, or whatever racist slur seemed handy. We got a mini culture lesson on the Greeks, many of whom landed in Tarpon Springs to work in the sponge industry. And almost everything out of her mouth was negative, bitter, and offensive.
How I managed to emerge from this cesspool of a childhood as sane as I am is beyond me. Margaret was my primary caretaker from 2 weeks of age (my mom had to go back to work—there was no such thing as maternity leave) until I was 6 or 7. All day, every day.
We’ll just mention Margaret’s husband, George, in passing. That’s all the mention child molestors deserve.
And now she’s dead. She’ll be buried on Monday in a grave next to her eldest son, Bob, my dad. My uncle Richard told me he will put some flowers on my dad’s grave for me.
I really do want to let this stuff go, but phone calls from my relatives announcing her decline and demise have stirred up the shit of my childhood. She was 15 when she married George, who was 25. She cooked from scratch, every day, and despised McDonald’s. She taught me how to make Hungarian food. I spoke Hungarian when I was a child because of her. She lectured me with such memorable statements as:
- This is coffee. It’s black. This is cream. It’s white. When you mix the two together, you get brown, and that doesn’t go with anything.
- You don’t see the robins mating with the sparrows.
- If you ever bring a black man into my house, I will disown you.
- The one thing I’m grateful for is that you and your brother never crossed the colour line.
I found it highly ironic that I am the secret love child of a black man and my mother, and Margaret always referred to me as her “number one grandchild”. She also told me that I could get just as good of an education from my local community college as I could from attending MIT.
Margaret didn’t know me. And as I grew up, I basically had no use for her hateful blatherings. I haven’t spoken to her since we visited in Florida three years ago.
What I really wish for is now that she’s dead, her children will have no reason to contact me and I can just get on with my life and forget the cesspool of hatred and racism that I escaped so many years ago.
I’m glad she taught me how to cook. For that, I can say a sincere and heartfelt thank you. And I can say that I seriously hope that she finds the peace in death that so completely eluded her in life. But I’m not going to hold my breath for that one.
Maybe I am a bad granddaughter. Maybe I should be able to let go of all the evil and appreciate the good. But I’m not that capable. I hate the ongoing war she had with my mother and all the hateful things Margaret said about her. I loathe how she treated Eric and all of her children and grandchildren. I know she thought she loved me, but I don’t understand what that meant. I think she felt an obligation to me as her granddaughter, but she never had a fucking clue about who I really was inside, and I’m not just talking about my biracial heritage. I so did not, and do not, fit it with that family. I don’t think like them, value things like they do, or feel things the way they do. If we ever meet Martians, I’ll probably have as much in common with them as I do/did with Margaret’s clan.
So here’s to Margaret, who finally got her wish to be buried with her husband and her oldest son twenty years after they passed on. And here’s hoping that I’m not the only to escape her world—it is a dry, desolate place and the universe is far to beautiful, bounteous, and juicy to miss it.