The matriarch of my family died last week. My maternal grandmother was 91 and ailing and so she died. She in many ways is living on as I see so many traits in so many other family members. She was an interesting woman, strong and harsh. I can’t remember a time when she hugged me or read me a story but she’s always been the best grandmother I ever knew.
She called me Juel and always thought I should have been a fashion designer despite my lack of interest in fashion or talent for even looking good but I liked that she thought it. She knew more about pop stars than I ever did. She could ballroom dance and dressed appropriately for every occasion including shopping at the Big Banana and my sister’s wedding where she actually might have been over dressed. She gave me my appreciation for good food, taught my how to properly set a table and make a bed. She took me to the Bahamas and Disney World, Bonwit Teller and Saks Fifth Avenue. She bought me my first leather skirt. As far as I knew, she’d never worked a day in her life. She watched soap operas and talk shows. She Jazzercised, drove a Thunderbird and smoked cigarets only when she drank her cocktails. She played poker and served appetizers every night before dinner. She had lots of formal china silverware and a living room that we weren’t allowed in. She was mystery and had a story that will remain unknown, probably just what she wanted.
Despite the fond memories I have of her, I know she was hard and cold.. A survival mechanism I suppose. I don’t know much about her childhood, she never told stories of her youth but I suspect it was hard. She had been married when she was young to my mother’s father but that dissolved when my mother was a little girl and in a time when people stayed married regardless. She never talked about that life and neither does my mother. One of the first fractures of a family split into countless slivers. Over the years I saw how callous she could be, a family trait that we all posses yet few rarely see in themselves. It split the family and even the families within the family. There are uncles and cousins, father’s and daughter’s, sisters and brothers who no longer speak. There are hurt feelings and grudges in all of our shadows. It’s the way we are and from the little I know about the family history, it’s the way we’ve always been. She never changed that nor tried to break the pattern, instead she added to it as has every generation after her.
Her funeral is tomorrow and there will be just a handful of the family there. Even death doesn’t mend the fences of my family. I wonder when we will learn. So I sit here tonight wondering what to wear to her funeral tomorrow. I should pay her homage and dress to the nines, but I will probably just wear some black slacks and a sweater. I don’t know why she ever thought I could be a fashion designer but the thought makes me smile.