First- I know I have become a ghost of a writer, but people keep dying and life has been so hard this past year that I feel like a walking bruise. Imagine if you used a peach for batting practice, that's me. Putting words down in this state can be dangerous, I loose the snark and let out a little bit of stuff that is more personal than I should.
But like I said, people keep dying. In the last few days it’s been both my grandmother and Jerry Falwell. The first left me sobbing like a baby at my work for an entire afternoon on Monday. The second, I am almost ashamed to say, made me smile. For anyone keeping track, that means 5 people in my life have died in the last year- not including Falwell of course. While that is not on the scale of the Virginia Tech shootings or the Iraq War, it’s a bit much for a girl to deal with. And since it has always been the rule of threes when it comes to deaths in my life, I am wondering who not so lucky number six is going to be and how the hell I am going to deal with it.
I don’t believe in idealizing the dead. I hope that when I die my friends and family will say that I could be a serious bitch sometimes who had no tolerance for those who choose ignorance as a lifestyle, that sometimes I was flaky and that I never seem to finish projects, that I was horrible at making money and fabulous at throwing tantrums. Hopefully they will also say that I was always more loyal to people I love than to cute shoes or vodka and that no one else can drown a turkey in a bottle of wine like I could.
So when it comes to Grandma, I will say she was an angry woman. She was a poor single mom from the South raising 3 kids in Detroit by herself in the 1950s. She did a number on her kids, including my mom. I have limited first hand knowledge of that, having seen my Grandma only a few times as an adult. But I know the stories, and I have seen myself what she created. My mother is her bitter, angry, emotional doppelganger and her parenting style is a carbon copy- viscous manipulation might be the phrase one would use. Without having to get too detailed but to give you an example, I once was in a session with my therapist and I was just explaining the what I thought were innocuous details of a childhood event. The therapist made an audible gasp and started stuttering and apologizing to me for what I had been through. She was almost teary eyed and she said that she had never heard anything so awful, and she did child protective services work for years before being in private practice.
While I have all sorts of damage from my mother, I can see my Grandma’s life from a farther distance and I have no direct pain from her. I know it’s all a horrible spiral, but each parent is responsible for how they raise their child and I am working damn hard to break the pattern. Mom could recognize the hurt the Grandma caused her, but not the hurt she caused her own kids. I don’t pretend to be a perfect mom, far from it. I only hope that my greatest skill is in the ability to recognize screw ups and admit them.
I do have some fond memories though from when I was little. My mother, who was an odd, flannel wearing, no make-up, sexist in 70’s braless feminist clothing, couldn’t understand me. I was a frilly pink girl who wanted to wear dresses and patent leather shoes in four foot snow drifts. But Grandma got it. She was the one who introduced me to Sunday afternoons of girly lunches and shopping for pretty shoes, even if it was a trade off for going to church with her in the morning. I also have my genetic ability to fry chicken (or fish for that matter) from Grandma. There may be some dispute as to which Grandma gets to claim my cooking skills. I have been told my cooking skills are Hungarian, which would come from my other Grandma, but neither of them taught me how to cook and my mother thinks all food is made with some form of canned soup, so she didn’t teach me either. I learned to cook early as a form of self-defense. There are only so many nights a week you can eat something made with Lipton golden mushroom soup. Maybe both grandmas can share the genetic claim to cooking skills.
So what the hell does this have to do with Jerry Falwell anyways?
Jerry Falwell was the product of the same kind southern, bootlegging, violent sort of upbringing that my Grandmother was. For those of you who haven’t read it- I would suggest Fox Butterfield’s All God’s Children as a fantastic book on understanding the southern states’ relationship to violence and honor and booze. I think it nails down a lot of the psychology pretty well. My Grandmother didn’t break those patterns, but she didn’t glorify or intensify them either. Jerry Falwell took brutality and wrapped in the book jacket of a bible that I am not sure he read or understood.
Falwell and my Grandmother were both angry people who were sure that someday all their paranoid fantasies would be proven true, but my Grandmother never wished entire populations to suffer horrible deaths. Grandma never inspired people like Eric Rudolf to go out and kill people, but Jerry Falwell did. Grandma never bilked millions of poor people out of money better spent on medicines or mortgages, but Falwell did. Grandma never blamed me, or people like me for the worst act of terrorism to hit American soil or inspire the kind of terrorism we don't talk about, the home grown Oklahoma City Angry White Guy kind, but Falwell did. My Grandmother may have inspired anger and caused hurt to her family, but she never intentionally set out to be a hatemonger. Grandma may have been an angry woman who could have done much better by her children, but Falwell was an angry man who left this world worse for his being in it. The kindest thing that can be said of his demise is that I hope he receives as much compassion in his death as he has dished out in his life.