In the previous entry, I described some of my grandmother’s unusual behaviors. This time, I take another look at a defining incident in my life, where the benevolent grandmother became a figure of fear.
A Party Without Slumber
At age five, as I described in more detail elsewhere, I spent the night at my paternal grandmother’s house, along with all my female cousins, and my sister. We ate a sugary-tasting mac-and-cheese, and within a few hours, were all of us ill. We suffered stomach cramping, vomiting, sweating, and what I can only describe as a fever-like state with pounding heart in my case. A few of my cousins described feeling similarly “hot” and “funny”.
We were very ill, all night, and my paternal grandmother cooed and cradled each of us. By morning, I was crying for my mother. My grandmother was extremely upset with me for that, saying that she could “take care of her babies”, and repeating that statement to my grandfather. His arguments to the contrary went unheard and unheeded.
By morning, overwhelmed by the chorus of wailing and vomiting, my paternal grandfather called our parents to come for us.
My mother, a registered nurse of broad experience, looked us over, heard us out, and then declared we were never eating at my paternal grandmother’s house again. Clearly, my mother knew something was amiss, as no adults in the house were at all ill. Only we children suffered.
Link In a Chain
That was the first time I heard the word ipecac, a substance my mother knew from her training as a nurse in the days when ipecac and cod liver oil were still commonly found in American households.
Over the years since that incident, my mother has said a few harsh things about my paternal grandmother. One of them was, “That (profanity) has to be the center of attention.”
My mother spoke those words a few weeks after my sister died, and my paternal grandmother had quite literally taken over the role of Chief Mourner. Upon hearing the news of my sister’s death, she fell down and screamed, “Oh my baby!” She did so in front of my mother. Until she became the one receiving the hugs and tissues, she did not quiet. I remember it with painful clarity.
The same occurred with my father’s death. His dying became “hers”. She arranged a religious service and pastoral visits for my father, as he lay dying of cancer, despite my father’s express wishes to have nothing of the kind. Her wails of, “Oh my baby’s dying!” at the hospital grew so loud and disruptive that her other children and the hospital personnel asked her to leave. His cancer was her drama, with herself as the star.
That “starring role” was, essentially, the role she assumed when we granddaughters were ill, or when her son with a chromosomal disorder encountered any medical issues. That last was rather puzzling, since issues of some kinds were to be expected, and did not come as surprises to anyone other than my paternal grandmother.
This paternal grandmother was our Savior. Our Caretaker. The Saint and Martyr.
And, I’ve come to accept, a Perpetrator.
When did you realize someone in your family was abusive? Please share your thoughts in our comment section!
images courtesy openclipartvectors, Romi and dannymoore via Pixabay