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In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

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Monday, January 15, 2007

A Veteran of the Psychic Wars

"Play the part of the leader. Either at home or in the outside world you can make a difference. Your inner wisdom and judgment is peaking, so assess long-term goals and objectives."-My Grandmother's horoscope for Sunday, January 14th, 2007
"Oh, happy day. Everyone seems cooperative and things run smoothly. You know just who you are and what brings you bliss. Contemplate important plans for the future."-My horoscope for the same day.

My maternal grandfather was a wife-abusing, child-molesting son-of-a-bitch who went back to ol' Virginny, after my Granny divorced him, and started up a whole other family. I never met him. His name was Ray, but they called him 'Buck'.
My paternal grandfather was known widely and liked by most who met him. He married his boss's daughter and started a dynasty of sorts, leaving behind a pretty large footprint in Oregon history. His name was Jesse, but they called him 'Bud'.
My maternal grandmother was perhaps the biggest influence on my young life. Her name was Ethel, but even people her own age called her 'Granny'. When she died, it was like the biggest tree on the property falling over, upending the better part of the pasture along with it.
The last surviving grandparent I had was named Eleanor, and even called herself that when speaking to me. She was known to me, at various times, as either Miz Ellie, or The Ice Queen.

She and I got in an argument in 1995 that painfully contorted our relationship for the rest of its time. Without going too far into it, she chose to begin this conversation by insulting my mother, which isn't a great way to begin any conversation, much less one where I honestly was trying to bury the damn hatchet. I ended it by verbally checkmating her in a way far meaner than I think I've been to anyone, much less an elderly woman.
She turned ninety years old last month, and we had a nice talk at her birthday. For the most part, as the years went by, we got back to at least respecting each other, if not exactly loving each other.

I pointed out to someone I loved once that in general, one does not necessarily love someone who is a member of my family, but you do respect them. I made it my mission, somewhat early on, to be someone that people loved, if not necessarily respected at all times.
I respected my grandmother for what she had done, but never overlooked the price it carried for her, or all the people in her life. She was too busy running a business to really love anyone, and lines, by necessity, were drawn.
She, for her part, had the Chief Pest In Charge thing going on, in that it was pretty well impossible to please her, and never let you forget it. Constant undermining with little comments was the order of the day, and my putting so much distance between myself and her irked her no doubt. It meant she couldn't give me as much shit as she wished, but also it genuinely perturbed her that I'd turned my back on the entire game of family.

My friends have always been my family, and it always makes me feel like shit on those occasions when genuine familial obligation takes me back to these people I'm related to, who spend their time doing for each other what my friends and I do for each other.
When the call came from my stepmom, two days ago, that my grandma had had a massive cerebral hemorrhage, I asked, "Are you alone?"
Nope. She was there with my cousin Susan (named after my paternal Great Grandmother, and Lieutenant Chief Pest In Charge), who was doing her best to be both histrionic and The Micromanager of You. She was in management mode, belied by her tears. Managing the relatives, managing the hospital staff, who were very indulgent. When she wasn't harrassing the staff, in fact, my aunt Brenda (current Chief Pest In Charge) or my cousin Kathryn (Chief Pest of My Generation, anyway) was on the phone, doing so. Again, the staff was very nice, but the fact remained the same: there was a mass of blood where a very important part of her brain had been, and she wouldn't be waking up again.

The ravages of time were especially cruel on my grandmother, who went blind about ten years ago. She loved to read, and the thought of spilling a bunch of food all down her front at a nice restaurant horrified her. She was always of an elegant cast of mind, and didn't wanna be no slob.
My dad, stepmom and I went to see "The Queen" yesterday. It's a pretty good movie about the current throne-holder of England, and how she dealt with the emotional outpouring following the death of the ex-Princess of Wales, Diana.
"Dealt", indeed, because emotion isn't Elizabeth's strong suit. She is England, you know, and considers it her duty to be Strong rather than Warm. "Did that sort of remind you of anyone?" my dad asked afterward.
Yes, my grandma (and her sister, the other Ice Twin) had the same sort of assumed superiority and generalized disapproval going on. Why this should be is a mystery for the ages. Elizabeth, it is shown in the movie, took the advice of the absurdly grinning Tony Blair and played England's Gramma, just long enough to show that they weren't complete monsters over there in Buckingham.

My grandma, I noted at several times did wish that she could have been warmer, but whenever she tried, it went badly. Also: she'd just been to the doctor last week, and after a CAT scan, said that she felt like she'd "lost three days". I imagine that this was a minor stroke she had, and the hemorrhage ultimately resulted from it.
We tend to keep our minds, in my family, until the day we die. This means that we get to be completely coherent as our bodies fall apart around us. Looking at her there in that bed, breathing in a highly labored manner, blood on her tongue where she'd clearly bit it, I felt glad that she was asleep. It would have mortified her to look that way.
Noting that vigils of the sort we were keeping were pointless, my stepmother suggested dinner. On the way out, I paused to say one last something to Miz Ellie.
"Well, we're going to get some dinner, and it sounds like they're going to be giving you morphine, so we probably won't get to talk again tonight. Know that I love you, and we'll continue this conversation on the other side."
Highly disingenuous of me: I don't believe in an other side, and I don't think she did either. Death brings out the sentiment in people though; the hardest part is watching other people grieving.

She died later that night, and I was sitting at the bar with th' Gringa and the Tulsa Kid. We raised our glasses, and I said, "To Eleanor: Gawd knows what you would have been if you'd been born in a different decade."
True enough. Women of her power, intellect and drive mostly didn't get to use it, in the decades that she was the business end of our newspaper dynasty. I can truly only wonder what she'd have been like if she was born in 1960, say.

Beyond here, it all gets ugly. The mellow side of the Bachelors, as represented by my dad, are tired of fighting with one another, and the other side, captained by my uncle, are grasping and acquisitive as ever. I removed myself from their shit long ago, as much to protect them as myself. Still though, insecure, rigid freaks like them don't rest easy, and I'm sure even worse plans are being hatched.
Besides, one way or the other, that's it for the upper tiers of my family. We're all getting older, and that's pretty much that. I didn't expect to not get old, and mortality and I have been acquainted for a good long while. You just sort of hope that people would get wiser, nicer, smarter, and that's not always the case.

You gotta give it up to Miz Ellie though: she taught me my first lessons in the use of words as weapons, and the specifics of psychic warfare, if only by example.



Blogger Shari said...

This reminds me of my Grandma Willa Dale. She lived her life quoting anything quotable and correcting everyone's grammar - and died of a stroke after suffering a few weeks of concious thought without the ability to speak.

8:10 PM  

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