When I was about 7, I remember the day that my family was sitting in our car. The car was stopped at the side of the road, and I was thinking of how often we visited with my father’s family – yet we didn’t know my mother’s family at all. Speaking was an extreme rarity for me at the time: I was both too shy, and unable for the most part to form the connections to get the words out. On this day, however, I was able to get my thoughts and my words together to speak in a car full of people.
“Why don’t we ever visit your grandma (meaning mom),” I asked my mother.
I don’t remember the words that they spoke, but I do remember how uncomfortable my parents seemed in trying to explain the reason for this. It was many years before I got the real reason, but shortly after this, we began visiting my mother’s family again.
At the time, my maternal grandmother and my mom’s youngest sister, lived in a house below the “mountain” in Hamilton, Ontario. It was a Victorian style house, different from any that I had known. Everyone else I knew lived “on the mountain” (the way Hamiltonians describe the escarpment that splits the city in two) and there were no houses like that up there.
The house had a spiral staircase, and the only bathroom was at the top. It was such fun to slide down those spiral stairs, but the adults in the house felt that wasn’t safe, so we were always stopped.
It was in that house where I also met another aunt and the only cousin on that side that I had at the time. She was a year younger than myself, and I later found out that her mother was 16 when she was born, and my parents were asked to adopt her – but it was decided last minute that was wrong, and my mother’s family were upset with her for considering it (or something like that.) That was the reason that we had so little contact with them until that time.
The differences were set aside, though, and after that, we visited several times a year. We spent part of that Christmas in my maternal grandmother’s house, and I remember that year I was given a very large teddy bear. I named him “Bear.” Bear is gone now, and I don’t remember when he was lost. In fact, it was thoughts on Bear that inspired me to write this post.
Sometime shortly after, my grandmother and aunt moved to an apartment in the same area of town, and there they both stayed until my maternal grandmother died of lung cancer when I was 23.
My grandma liked to have the heat high in her apartment. We were always hot there, and so even when we went at Christmas, we would have the sliding doors to the balcony wide open, and we would spend time out there (without coats even.) She didn’t have toys, but she always had lots of scrap paper and some crayons that we would use to entertain ourselves.
My cousin and I often spent a lot of time in my aunt’s bedroom trying on her clothes. That was quite a lot of fun. Although I was very shy, and not really one to play with other children, my cousin was quite the opposite. She was loud, and bold, and quite pushy. She was also aggressive (she once punched my cabbage patch kid, and threw her across the room – I was horrified) and she swore! The kids I knew didn’t do that in those days.
Often the television would be on at my grandma’s house. She watched soap operas, and I never remember her talking about anything else. It always seemed strange to me that her conversations were always about fake people from the TV. Above that, I wasn’t allowed to watch soap operas. My mom told me they would poison my mind, and to this day I can’t watch them.
My grandma rarely left the house, and never went on vacation. Very different from my father’s family, who were always going places, and visiting, and traveling, and social. She sat in her living room, and would cook for us at Christmas (and the turkey was always pink, but her potatoes and gravy were the best!) She would watch her shows, and speak only of these, and when she died the only people at her funeral were her six children, three children in law (my mothers other three siblings were hermits… quite odd, and likely autistic as well) six of her eight grandchildren, and one neighbour that had lost touch with her years ago when she moved from the Victorian house.
Sixteen people at her funeral. Sixteen. It made me feel really sad. But that was my grandma. She kept her life private, and didn’t let people in. She wasn’t Autistic (or I don’t believe she was) but I can see where it came from. She was strange, and she was quiet, and she didn’t have any friends – but I loved her, and am glad that my family were able to put aside their differences so that I could know them.