I loved my grandfather, and he loved me. The man adored all his grandchildren, but especially his granddaughters. Something about little girls delighted him. He used to sit on the porch-swing with my grandmother and two or three of my girl cousins and myself and say, “I’m surrounded by beautiful women.” And he’d smile at us. We’d all laugh because we weren’t even teenagers yet. Grandma would laugh too, and Grandpa would hold her hand.
Grandpa made a ceder chest for as many of his granddaughters as he could and gave it to them when they graduated from high school. Mine was the last he made, but he was too old for the work at that point, and was embarrassed by how it turned out. I never got to see it. Admittedly, I was a little hurt that I didn’t get it, but I didn’t learn til later just why that was. Because of the way politics work in my dad’s family, I’m used to being ignored and belittled by the rest of the family. I just thought that not getting a ceder chest was an extension of that. I can’t say how glad I am that my Grandpa didn’t care about that at all, that he still wanted to give me something even though it was beyond his ability at the time.
I’m still working on forgiving the uncles who cleaned out Grandpa’s shop, found that sad attempt at a chest for me, and broke it up. I wouldn’t have cared how rough the thing was. I’d have done whatever work it took to finish it, but they took that option away from me.
The grandpa I knew was not the father that my dad, aunts, and uncles grew up under. Their father was a hard, damaged man who’d grown up in the care of much older sisters who’d been told most of their lives that their daddy only really wanted a boy. When their mother died of asthma related complications, they took charge of my grandpa so their dad could keep working and, eventually, drink himself to death.
Grandpa never learned a healthy way to express love, and all the damage that had been done to him as a child, he passed on to his own children. This means that my dad’s family (consisting of fifteen children) is extremely dysfunctional. My dad is the third youngest. He was born prematurely and nearly didn’t make it, so he got a lot more attention from my grandmother, who had a special place in her heart for him, and that led to a lot of resentment from some of the older kids who still take it out on my family to this day.
Despite the way my grandfather treated his kids, he really did love them. And that’s where the hardest knots in the family’s emotional tangles come from. None of them can separate the fact that he looked out for them, clothed and fed them, made sure they all went through school, from the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse they took. Not all the kids got the same level of physical abuse.
Grandpa didn’t hit the girls. Being excused from that aspect of their family’s problems didn’t make my aunts any more normal than the other kids. They just have a different set of problems since they were indirectly complicit with the person abusing their brothers. Grandpa didn’t beat his youngest five kids, he did hit them from time to time, but not like his older boys. This is because his three oldest kids took him out behind the house and beat him up right before they moved out of the house, and told him that they’d do it again if he treated the little kids like he’d treated them.
Having grandkids really changed my grandpa. He didn’t have such a big stake in our lives that his affection got tangle up with his anxiety and protectiveness and turned into anger. He began to learn how to express his love in ways that weren’t harmful for all involved. He learned guilt for what he’d done to his own children.
For some of my aunts and uncles, that was enough to gain him a measure of forgiveness. Others haven’t been able to lay their bitterness aside even now. I worry for them. Grandpa’s not here for them to confront. What will they do with themselves?
I miss my granddad. I tremble for the effects his death is having on the extended family. I pray that God will intervene and keep the peace between us. I also pray that he helps me forgive some of my uncles for the things they’ve done as revenge against their dad that have really hurt some of us grandkids.
I’m writing about this because my dad’s family history is closely tied to my own story. How could it not be? I’m working my way up to telling it all.