Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Mom Vs. Grandma

There's a famous cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd.  Bugs and Daffy argue over who should get shot by Elmer.

"It's rabbit season."

"It's duck season."

"Rabbit season."

"Duck season."

"Rabbit season!"

"Duck season!"

So, it's Mother's Day and who should I honor today in the Sunday Memory Drawer?

"Mother's Day."

"Grandmother's Day."

"Mother's Day."

"Grandmother's Day."

I'll take the safe route.  And write about both of them.  Specifically the relationship that my mother had with her mother-in-law.  

My grandmother.

You see the three of us in the photo above and everybody looks reasonably happy.  Well, you can't really discern my mood since I couldn't bother facing my dad's Argus Technicolor camera.  But Mom and Grandma, at some family gathering, appear to be enjoying themselves.

This had to be taken with a fast lens.  These moments were infrequent.

Admittedly, they were both in a no win situation.  Let's face it, we lived together in the same house owned by my grandparents.  Grandma and Grandpa lived downstairs.  We were in the apartment upstairs.  Such close proximity is never easy.  Just ask North and South Vietnam.  

Or any two women forced to live together for familial purposes.

And the two of them weren't shy about sharing their "opinions" about each other.  

With me.

"Your grandmother can be so cheap sometimes."

"Your mother flies off the handle too quickly."

"Grandma needs to keep her comments to herself."

"Your mother needs to keep her comments to herself."

"She's a pain in my ass."

"She's a pain in my ass."

Indeed, in later years, I would learn that most of my mother's ill feelings were a result of how she felt my grandmother treated my father.  Mom seemed to think that Grandma favored his other two living brothers over him.  I never noticed this, but my mother, for some reason, thought this slight was real.  Years later, I would ask her why she simply didn't discuss this with Grandma.  Of course, I got the obvious response when subjects needed to change.

"Oh, every family was like that."

Maybe they were.  But we could have enjoyed a more peaceful holiday dining room had there been a little bit more detente.

Take, for instance, one delightful scene I witnessed on Thanksgiving.  The big family dinner was being held in our house.  And this necessitated my mother and grandmother uncomfortably sharing the cooking chores.  In Grandma's kitchen, no less.  I was parked on the kitchen stool, doing my best to stay out of the way.  And you could tell there was going to be some cannon fire.    Grandma was being particularly bossy this morning.

"Pat, stir the potatoes."

"Pat, don't put too much butter on the string beans."

"Pat, the gravy's getting lumpy."

I could see my mother's temperature boil.  Like one of those cartoon thermometers where all the mercury shoots out of the top.  Grandma was standing at the stove with her back to my mom.  My mother picked up one of those Pillsbury bread rolls and raised it over my grandmother's head.

I gasped.  Mom is going to whack Grandma in the head.

Of course, she didn't.  But the emotion was there.  And, maybe for a split second, so was the intent.

The most predominant battle between my mother and grandmother always came during the wintertime.  Over a simple item that has provoked fights between landlords and tenants down through the years.

The heat.

My mother upstairs was always cold.  And, since the thermostat for the whole house was in my grandmother's toasty living room downstairs, temperature control in my house was always another world war.

"Go down and tell your grandmother to send up some heat."

I would traipse down the stairs and relay the message to Grandma.

"The thermostat is on 72.  It's fine."

Back upstairs.

Minutes later, my mother would pull out her own thermometer and show me the reading.

"It's 66 up here!!!"

Back downstairs with the revised information.

"Okay, okay, I'll put it up to 75.  Jesus crimsey."

Not Christ.  Crimsey.

Eventually, you would hear the radiators kick in.   And another volcanic eruption was narrowly averted.

This went out like a perfected vaudeville routine for years.  Every single winter.  You would think that eventually both women would come to basic realizations.  It was a big house.  There were doors that separated the portions of the home and that prevented the thermostat from working accurately.

But, no.  

Things did change, though.  They had to.  I remember this as if it happened yesterday.  My grandfather had died earlier in the day.  I've told the story here before.  I was home sick from school.  Grandpa had slumped back in his favorite chair.  Grandma called me to get my mother who had just gone around the corner to do some grocery shopping.  Mom came home and coordinated all of the activity from the paramedics, etc..  Me?  I hid in the bathroom with my dog.

Long after all the relatives and firemen and undertakers had vacated the premises later that night, I went to bed.  But popped up an hour later when I heard my mother and father talking quietly in the kitchen.  I had come to know that, even though they didn't speak much in front of me, late nights in the kitchen were their moments of joint compassion and tenderness.  I eavesdropped as my mother consoled my father about Grandpa.  My father's brother had taken my grandmother to their home upstate for the evening, simply to give her a change of scenery on this life-altering day for her.

Suddenly, my mother broached a topic with my dad.  What happens if Grandma decides to go live with them permanently?  She may want to sell the house now.  We'd be out on our ass.

My father had a Henry Kissinger-like thought.

"Maybe you could start being nice to her."

There was a pause before my mother offered a soft response.


And pretty much she was.

Flash forward to almost two decades later.  Grandma has died at the age of 90.  My parents had long since divorced.  There would be one day of funeral parlor viewing.  My mother asked my father if she could come before the wake to pay her respects.  She wanted to be there when no one else was.

My dad and I met her at the funeral parlor and Mom saw Grandma for the last time.

"I always liked her."

I was now an adult and always looking to provoke some fun into any proceedings.  I turned to my mother with a quizzical look.

Really?  I reminded her playfully that, on one Thanksgiving, I saw her raise a Pillsbury bread dough roll and contemplate a swing at Grandma's head.   

My mother didn't know I saw that.  She smiled.

"Oh, that happens in every family."

Dinner last night:  Kobe beef hot dog at Blue Plate.

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