Grandma M.G. was my father’s mother. She wore a make up and a wig and smelled of Chanel #5.
She was glamorous. Always and forever. When I was little she would arrive in Puerto Rico, where the weather was 85F pretty well year round in a gorgeous designer wool suit with a fur stole.
She then shed these “traveling clothes” for her resort wear. Also chic. Also perfectly appointed and considered outfits. With matching head scarves and colorful jewelry and sandals that matched her outfit’s color to perfection. Much luggage was necessary.
Every morning I would sneak into her room and watch her put on her “face”. She had a very ritualistic and precise process of make up. It was artistry and magic to me.
Grandma M.G. was born in South Africa, the daughter of an Englishman who worked in the Ministry of Agriculture. Her mother was French. Her uncle was a big game hunter. When you are 10 years old these things all seem very glamorous and exotic. When you are 18 the reality of it begins to dawn on you. When you are in college in the 1980s and there are demonstration in the U.S. against Apartheid in South Africa, it makes the glamour turn to shame.
When you are 50 years old, you realize that humans live in their time and place. I don’t know if my great grandfather did anything overtly horrible or just worked in a system that treated humans like garbage under foot. Or if he treated the people he met with dignity regardless of race.
I will never know and it won’t ultimately have any impact on my life. Which is odd, since I carry his DNA in me. But his actions may still have some unknown effect on the people who live in South Africa. In the same way that they say a butterfly beating its wings in the Amazon will cause a typhoon in the South Pacific. Each action spawns others and those new actions spawn more and more… And now it’s impossible to say what the outcomes of a man who lived 100 years ago are.
Which is an accurate summary of human existence everywhere and we would do well to remember it. Your genetic inheritance may affect your health and appearance, but it’s unlikely that it will ever have the large long term impact of your actions. The long term effects may not be predictable but the short term ones are predictable enough. And kindness and helpfulness are always positive.
My grandmother left South Africa when she was 18, but I don’t think she ever let go of the conviction than race mattered. I was in college when I realized that she thought the caucasian race was inherently superior. It’s a terrible thing to know about someone you love so dearly.
Grandma M.G. was in almost everything the opposite of Grandma Allen, who never wore make up and was practical in all things, especially clothing. Neat, practical and durable pretty well epitomized Grandma Allen. But Grandma Allen was also a racist. She was also born in a time of racism but in the state of Missouri. But Grandma Allen did not die a racist. She changed. I don’t know if that is true of Grandma M.G.
Grandma Allen died surrounded by family and is mourned to this day by her children and grandchildren. She mattered to so many people in her family and out. Grandma M.G. did not inspire that level of love in so many people. She was glamorous but not generous of herself. She was was funny and charming but ultimately a bit selfish. She was not alone when she died because Grandma Allen raised my mother, who cared for Grandma MG until her death. My mom was always kind to her despite not being very fond of her.
I had two grandmothers, whom I loved very much. But in the end, I want to be like Grandma Allen. She lived a deeply successful life. I’m afraid I’m more like Grandma M.G. who probably suffered from depression in later life. She became reclusive and didn’t leave her room.
I wonder why knowing the path isn’t the same as walking it. I want to walk the Path Grandma Allen took. But I’m probably wandering around on Grandma M.G’s path. The paths are marked on a map, but somehow the map isn’t the territory.
6 thoughts on “Have I ever told you about Grandma M.G.?”
This is a tough post to write, when you realize the frailties of loved ones. In the south racism was alive because it was tolerated and promoted by a white culture in power, just like in South Africa. If whites stepped out of line to be non-racist, they were ostracized.
I was watching a documentary about the freedom school students that came down to teach in Mississippi. When a white family invited these kids, white and black, to have dinner there was a knock on the door within ten minutes of arrival asking the family what they were doing. When they refused to make their guests leave, they were so ostracized they had to leave the state. It did not matter their daughter was the reigning Miss Mississippi. They had to leave.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yes. We always have to remember that we judge the past through the lens of the present. And while I abhor this idea that people I loved had this disgusting part of their psyche, I’m encouraged by the fact that my Grandma A changed. That people learn. And over the arch of history people do see to improve.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thank you very much for sharing this. It’s a wonderful story. I was never very close to any of my family members except my parents. I just didn’t seem to have any real connection with them, knew very little about any of them. They always seemed a bit standoffish, distant. I felt like an outsider. When I got older I attributed this to my not being a biological member of the family. And as I got older still, and learned of the family feuds, petty arguments and other nonsense that they were engaged in a lot of the time, I was rather glad I hadn’t been included and thus was spared being dragged into it.
But enough of that. Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this. I very much enjoy your blog and I’m very glad I discovered it. You’re one of the best writers of short essays I’ve encountered.
LikeLiked by 1 person
🙂 Thank You!
I think sometimes family is an odd thing. I don’t know most of them, including my sisters, as well as I know my friends, and yet I am more closely connected with them. We are more deeply hurt by the slights and feuds in a family than those of our friends. And perhaps less willing to forget those things.
What a great post. It made me stop and think about what will people think of us 25-50-100 years from now? What will they judge us on? Will my grandchildren or great-grandchildren think I destroyed their planet with my lawn chemicals or that I hated Muslims and Middle Easterners just because of the time I live in? We can look at the map but in the end I think we just have to walk the path we choose but carrying some baggage from our pasts. It is what makes us who we are no matter if we like it or not.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is so true. Also, what do I think is totally normal but will later to recognized as not right. Maybe it will be meat or maybe it will be keeping a pet or maybe it will be having more than one child.
What do I actually abhor but history will gloss over my views in favor of the loudest and ugliest views present at this time in history?
We can only live in the present. And do the best with the information we have.
LikeLiked by 1 person