In the interest of fairness, I am writing this, because I can't just let my own nasty comments slide. Sigh. It's not an easy thing to write, so if it's a bit rough around the edges, I hope you'll forgive me...or perhaps you could just skip this post and go on to the one about cilantro (http://kyddryn.blogspot.com/2008/01/cilantro.html) or cinnamon rolls (http://kyddryn.blogspot.com/2008/01/cinnamon-rolls-long-reprint-with.html) or something. I could skip writing it...but then, I wouldn't be me with my need for fairness, balance, perspective, truth, and all that crap.
So here's a little bit about Mimi, the grandmother I seem to blame for so much.
I give a little history, here, because it helps explain so much. She is from France. Her family, before WWII, was well off, successful, ran a hotel or resort or something - the details are hazy to me because getting her story from her was like prying teeth from chickens. Anyway, they did something in the pre-WWII tourist industry in France, and did very well at it. She had a good education, and excellent life. Then along came the Nazis, who decided that they should just help themselves to whatever was nice in the world and screw the rest of us. WWII in brief, huh? Mimi (not her real name, but what I called her growing up, so it'll do) was still a young woman, in her teens I believe. Her family lost pretty much everything but a flat in Paris, where they all crammed in and did their best to ride out the war. They heated the place with sawdust packed into the wood stove, one coal dropped down into a hollow in the center. It had to last all night. Water left in a glass by the bed would freeze solid, it got so cold at night. She wore whatever shoes they could find, usually several sizes too small, and to this day her feet are all squashed looking. They survived.
When the war was over, she came to the States looking for something more than the life of a recovering nation. She wanted vibrancy, I imagine, and solidity, and comfort. Can you blame her? I've seen pictures of her from then. Whoa. She was a hottie, by any standards. Audrey Hepburn beauty, no kidding. That was a shocker for me, because I grew up with her looking more like an angry fireplug. With flawless hair, nails, and clothing. She came over here looking for a future, and she found a husband. He wasn't much of a husband, though, from what I gathered. Remember, I don't know a lot about her past, so all I can give you my patchy best. He was something of an ignorant redneck who thought women should be happy in the home...so NOT Mimi's style. She was vibrant, alive, brilliant, and she wasn't hiding her light under a bushel basket. She ditched the dodo and went out west. California, look out!!
In California, in no particular order, she ran a little restaurant/cabaret where she sang, cooked, and rubbed elbows with some of the famous folks of the time. She had a small regular menu that never changed and a few nightly specials that did, and I suppose she did well. She didn't cook often when I was growing up, but when she did, it was....well...pretty darned amazing, truth be told, even if it was maybe a bit rich for the palate of a child. She raced cars...Porsches, I believe. I have no idea if she did that while running the restaurant or another time. Still, it explains why we were all terrified to ride in the car with her - the woman was (maybe still is) a speed demon of the highest order. I blame her for my love of going fast on curvy roads. Yeah.
She met my grandfather in Florida. I have no idea how she got from California to Florida. But she met him there. I have no idea what she was doing, but he was being a playboy - something that suited him. I've seen pictures of him when he was young, and..well...yowza. No wonder he stopped her in her tracks. He didn't tell her we was wealthy. Heh. Back then, you had to have an occupation on your driver's license, so he told the DMV he was a water-skiing instructor. Heh. Heh...hahahah!!!!! Sorry. I always get a kick out of that, especially because I was his greatest failure at that sport. The skis kept falling off my feet!! Hee, hee, hee.
Ahem. Back to the story. Mimi and Papa must have been in love, back then, because why else would they marry? She was a hot young thing, with bright prospects. The world was her oyster. Papa was a dashing fellow with a number of divorces behind him and no reason to shackle himself down again. He had three kids from two wives, and all the tangles that go with that. So there had to be something.
My mum was sixteen when Mimi and Papa married. They were on their way out to California when mum's mum died. Mum was all of sixteen, I believe. Needless to say (but I'm saying it anyway), their plans had to change. Their leisurely cross-country meander came to a halt. They were married in Vegas (but not, thank all the gods who ever were, by Elvis!!), a tiny ceremony that wasn't exactly what Mimi had hoped for. She also wasn't really expecting to inherit a half-grown woman, but mum had to live with someone. I'll leave that bit of saga for mum to tell, if she decides she wants to. Suffice it to say that Mimi sucked it up and did her best...which, as I believe I mentioned, wasn't very good...but then, she had no idea how to raise a kid. Her own childhood was hardly a shining example of the art.
Fast forward through some fun with the IRS (maybe some day I'll tell you about their cross-country flight from the IRS goon-squad, family Xmas in motels, and living out of suitcases for a while), sending mum to boarding school in Gstad (oh, the pain) and a few trips through Europe. Papa's kid Mum is now a grown woman, Mimi and Papa are older and more settled in their lives, one might dare say happy. Papa's kids are all married, some for the second time, and muddling through their lives. Mum divorced my dad but stayed in New England to be near her family. We visited Mimi and Papa often, as did much of the family. We would converge on their house for weekends, go out on Papa's boat, play, and generally do family things. Mimi was strict about manners, dress, comportment, all that, but we kids managed despite being kids, and therefor heathens by nature.
When I was in my very early teens, mum needed a break. She had been raising two brilliant wonderful quiet well-mannered evil little brats on her own for years, and she was worn slap out. Since my father wasn't exactly available - I think he was in Alaska at that time, doing his supply boat thing, or maybe it was Woods Hole Oceanographic, working on the Alvin0Lulu? He moved around a lot, but almost always on boats, so it's safe to say he was on the water - she was on her own and ready to do something drastic. I think she was lonely, too. It's hard enough getting a date when you are single and in your thirties...try adding two kids to the mix. Not exactly man-bait. She needed some time to screw her head back on in the right direction, and maybe take care of her needs for a bit, so she asked for help. I can't imagine how much that sucked.
Mimi and Papa agreed to take us in while mum sorted herself out. Once again, Mimi found herself raising unexpected spawn. And two, this time. She sucked it up and did her best, which I may have mentioned kinda sucked. She arranged for boarding schools for the two of us, paid for our travels when we went to visit mum or dad on vacations, and generally footed the bill (well, Papa really paid for it all, but who's counting??) for our upkeep.
When mum was better situated, on her feet, head more firmly (although not all the way) attached, we moved back with her. Whew, Mimi could relax! Or not. The family still descended like locusts on holidays, still visited and kept she and Papa in our tangle of lives. Then Papa started having health problems. Strokes, heart failure, kidneys...things started failing, sliding downhill faster and faster. When he finally dies, we were all a little relieved that his torture was done. We scattered his ashes, scattered ourselves back to our lives, and Mimi high-tailed it back to France, where she still (to my knowledge) lives.
That's the brief history. Now for a list of the good things Mimi did:
1. When I was a little girl, we would have High Tea at five-o'clock every day, with proper fancy china teacups, a silver tea service, toast and marmalade. I may be messed up in the head, but I could have tea with the Queen without embarassing myself. I still have the tea cups, and I treasure them and the GOOD memories they entail.
2. She took me to see the Nutcracker at the Boston Balet several times, just because it was beautiful and I enjoyed it. I think I was the only six-year-old girl to sit completely enraptured through the whole thing.
3. She took us to the circus, because that's where you take kids on an outing. I don't know if she enjoyed it, but I sure did.
4. She fostered and nurtured my loves for classical music and art with trips to symphonies, museums, and such.
5. She bought me easter dresses that were ridiculous, but I was a girl and I loved them. We also had the best Easter baskets ever, because that woman knew where to find real chocolate and wasn't afraid to use it, at least not when we were kids.
6. She did love us, even if sometimes she showed it in a completely fucked up way.
7. She got me piano lessons, and then recorder lessons, because I loved music. I sucked at the piano, but still play the recorder and flutes in a regular basis. Sometimes I would sing for an entire day, instead of speaking, and she laughingly called it my day at the opera. But she never told me to shut up, and she so could have.
8. She arranged riding lessons because I was horse crazy but inept in the saddle. That I later switched to Western and did rather well for myself must have stung her...but I did as well as I did because of the foundations layed in the English saddle. I was never as good as my cousin the Olympic alternate, but that's also another story.
9. She took me in when my mum needed her to. My in-her-fifties grandmother, a woman who never wanted kids, had no idea how to raise them, and wouldn't even bring up a puppy took in two half-grown, restless kids, one of whom was far more damaged than she'd been led to believe (because honestly, no one knew). She manned up (an obnoxious phrase, but somehow it fits, here) and dealt with us both, arranging therapy for the damaged one (that was another fiasco, but we'll talk about that another time, if at all), and tried. My grandfather didn't knwo how to deal with us, so he just let her handle it all and stayed the hell out of the way. Smart man, Papa.
10. She brought us to France to meet her family and maybe expose us to some culture. The trip sucked and turned me off the entire nation for life, but it was still a really cool thing for her to do. Her annual trips over the pond were her time to be calm, centered, herself, without worrying about kids and family and all our complications, and she gave that up to bring us along.
11. She always made sure that I had whatever I needed for boarding school...bicycle? Check. Clothes? Check. Shoes, boots, snow boots, slippers, and a million pairs of socks? Check. Skiis? Didn't have to have my own, but she wouldn't hear of me using rentals that weren't made for me, so check. Down hill and cross-country. Ski boots, too. The list goes on. She made sure we had the best. She made sure I had riding lessons in New Hampshire, too, because I was a girl. And girls? Are horse crazy.
12. When Papa started ailing, she stuck with him. She bought a house in Palm Beach because he wanted to go there in the winter. She hired (and fired nurses), never letting up on her high standards of care for him. She had a lift-chair installed in their hundred-plus-year-old house. And oxygen pumps. And special equipment in his bathroom. She stuck by him when she could have simply gone off and frolicked in the sun. She went through the doctors, procedures, moves, mortality scares, and legal heartburn attendant on a man's slow decline. And she didn't complain openly about he work or the strain. She took him on a cruise during what turned out to be his last days - he was a man of the sea, and he missed the water, so brought him, his nurses, and all their gear to the Bahamas and back - just so he could stand (something he hadn't done in years!) at the rail and watch the waves roll past.
She did many things to the good. I haven't forgotten them. Like my grandfather, I remember what I remember forever. I would say it's an eidetic memory, but it isn't. Much of my childhood, early teens, and even later years is gone. Not forgotten, gone. It was eaten but the medications I used to take. I often tell people I have a Swiss-cheese memory - full of holes. It's much better these last fifteen years or so, when I quite takin' the drug (prescription, honest!!) and just decided to muddle through on my own.
I often tell people about the negatives, but the truth is, she's a complicated part of my past. She planted the seeds of doubt, self-loathing, and fear in me but it's not her fault they grew so well. And she didn't start the fires, she just fanned the flames with carelessness, even ignorance. She's not the only one who should have had a clue and didn't, but she's the one who had custody of me when the fecal matter commenced to striking the oscillating blades, so she gets a lot of the blame.
There. I feel better. I don't feel so one-sided any more. Now I'm off to the bookstore to pick up my recently ordered copies of "Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay" and "Naptime is the New Happy Hour". Ta!