My Grandma lived alone. My Grandpa lived with a dark haired woman.
My Grandma was a bit mentally ill, but functional. She taught me how to separate eggs, and let me stand on the stool while she made pancakes or corn chowder. The rice in her pantry was rice she held onto all the way from the time of the bomb shelter in New England. All of her cabinets smelled like moth balls. She hung her underwear out on clothes-lines in the backyard. Dad would say, “There blows the kites in the wind, kids.”
She had renters live with her on few occasions. We even lived in her basement for a little while. The one renter I remember was a skinny tobacco smelling man named Randy. He was untrustworthy but friendly and scrubbed the top of our heads with his palm gingerly like you would do to a puppy.
My Grandpa’s house was on the other side of town, by the Biltmore Estate, but you had to drive a ways on weaving roads to get there. His neighbor owned cows and sometimes they would escape and show up in his front yard. He used to sit on his porch in the mornings and watch the birds gather at the feeder and when a cow showed up he would watch the cow.
Grandpa loved Christmas. He would grow his beard out exceptionally long and dress up like Santa Claus. He would pass out the presents and say, “Ho, Ho, Ho” in pretense. My step-Grandma would bring out sausage and popcorn and shortbread cookies while we played. Every year the tree would get bigger. Last year Grandpa hired the Guatemalan’s to find him the biggest tree “imaginable”. It was towering and had to bend over some inches once it hit the ceiling.
Kirsten and I once argued over who’s Grandparents’ had the best house. It was a true fight.
I passionately defended my grandpa’s yard: I described it to her in my own childlike diction. How magical it was! The fish pond and the frog pond. The long stone wall. Above the wall was Frances’s garden, which was just lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. There was however, a potted kumquat tree and one bountiful cherry tree.
Then there was the bridge that Grandpa built. Across the bridge was space to run, a couple tool sheds and Grandpa’s white truck. If you didn’t cross the bridge and followed the creek “up” instead, you soon found yourself inside a round and continuous wood: as silent as an empty church, but for the murmuring sounds of cows or crickets and the moving stream.
I brought Kirsten over once and she said to me: “It’s not that great, Mikaela. It’s not as great as you described it.” But to me, his house was a sanctuary.
When Grandma sold her little yellow house in Oakley and moved into a trailer park., we still visited her just as much. She still lived on the opposite side of town as Grandpa. When I spent days with her in that trailer, she told me stories about the nature of men. She sat me down on the couch as a 7 year old girl and told me that men only wanted something from me.
Grandma never had much. She bought her food from discount grocery stores and always made it last for a long time. She told me that Wally took her to court after he divorced her to “get every penny he could.” He put an ad in the paper for a wife while they were still married. I remember hearing the hurt and jealousy come through her voice when she asked me once about Frances.
“Don’t worry, your the best Grandma in the world.” I told her.
My grandparents met at a bar during Wally’s drunken Navy days. They weren’t really a good match, and I’m not sure if they ever really loved each other, but I suppose I have to recognize some amount of sovereignty in their decision to marry. It was an unfortunate marriage and a divorce from hell, (from my Grandma’s viewpoint) but somehow I exist through it.
The beautiful thing about being a granddaughter though is that you belong to that person in a way that is typically very detached from all of their wrongdoings. What can your grandparents do for you but love you? They don’t have the responsibility of rearing you, and it seems more or less they have more than enough time to spend on you.
Being a granddaughter to Wally was untainted. He treated me kindly, he treated me well. There was nothing in me that couldn’t receive him, nor him me. No judgment, no awareness of my guilt, no knowledge of my flaws, no hindrance that kept me from being his “darling”, and I too, failed to see him as the betrayer of marriage. He was only ever my Grandpa.
In 2015 I saw him for the first time after coming out of the religious group. (idealogically at least). It had been about 6 years since I’d seen him and I hadn’t talked to him for most of that duration.
I was with the Bakers on one of their trips. They needed a place to stay the night and we were passing by Asheville, so we all stayed with Randy for the night. (Grandma’s old renter). They dropped me off at Grandpa’s the next morning because I had asked if I could see him.
When Kim text me and said they were in the driveway and had to get back on the road, something of horror seemed to strike. I’m not sure what exactly hit me, but I remember that visit so well. Frances made eggs and toast and then went back into the bedroom so it was just me and him in the kitchen. It’s not that we talked about anything special it was just that he was still there, and still being my Grandpa.
When I had to go back into the van with Mike and Kim and all the boys, something in me broke. I looked out the window and tears were streaming down my face. I didn’t want to be in that van, I wanted to be back in that kitchen with my Grandpa.