Thursday, April 21, 2005

We'll Always Have the Irish Festival...

Last night I was hanging out with a group of people I know, with one of them talking about the death of her grandfather this past weekend. She spoke about it step-by-step, and it really opened up some old feelings I have about my own grandfather.

We'll call my grandfather JP (that's what he was known by...John Parker...I usually called him Grandpa "insert my last name here"...sorry, I'm not comfortable with all y'all knowing my last name).

JP was not a kind man, not a gentle man, and certainly not someone I would wish upon my future kids for a grandfather. He was a business man, a narcisist, a father, a grandfather, and an alcoholic (that was always up for me, this dude was an many people go to treatment for 6 months and aren't).

He treated everyone in his life as though they were his personal servants or kicking bags. He belittled my father regularly (in front of us, his children), he made disparaging comments about our shortcomings (one of his favorite topics was my weight), he harrassed/degraded servers in restaurants, and pitted his kids against each other...he created some very real rifts between his family members.

When I started thinking about my friend who lost her grandfather, I became really sad. When I think of JP, with all of his flaws, character defects, and mistakes, I also think of a very sad, lonely, little man. He was very powerful and intimidating when he was young, but became withered, frail, sickly, and vulnerable in later years.

Shortly before his death, at a Christmas party (his annual party that was mandatory), while eating a deviled egg (half of which was on his navy blazer), he mumbled about nobody loving him. He explained to my sister and I that nobody cared whether he were present or not. We tried to laugh it off, "oh, come on grandpa, you know that's not true". It was true.

When the idea of JP comes up, I have to focus pretty hard to remember all the bad stuff. I'm not sure why, but I always go back to a particular experience I had with him. Though he wasn't my favorite person, it always broke my heart when I heard about him driving to Florida by himself, or going to watch fireworks on his own. When I was home from college one summer, my parents told me he was going to the Irish Festival in my town. "Who's he going with?" I asked. "He's going alone, like he does to most things". My heart broke into pieces, and still does when I think of that.

I called JP, and I asked him if he wanted some company. I expected him to say no. He said yes. He came and picked me up in his big blue Caddy, wearing plaid golf pants, Kangol hat, wing tips, and a pink polo shirt with his country club logo on it. His leather interior was stained with coffee spills and littered with old newspapers. We arrived at the festival and walked around together. We listened to music, watched dancers, and ate huge sausages (he left with mustard on his pink shirt...he had spots on all his shirts). He had a few beers, but I was shy about both my grandfather seeing me drink (I had just turned 21), as well as him spending more money on me. He laughed, talked about his childhood, told me about my father's childhood, and asked about me. This may be the only time we ever spent together alone, and I had a fabulous time. I felt like he liked me, that I was someone he wanted to spend time with.

I could continue with stories about how he went right back to his normal crusty self...because he did. He was unbearable as he spent his last few months in and out of the hospital. I'm choosing not to go back to those times. Ultimately, he died suddenly while putting on his socks in the morning on the day I was supposed to take him for a spin in my new car. I had planned this as a way to corner him and confront all his bad behavior. I wanted him to know that I had a drinking problem too, but that I was choosing to deal with it and end all the abuse I had already inflicted on those around me. That talk never happened, and I realize now that it wasn't supposed to.

For a day, at the Irish Festival, my grandfather was kind and thoughtful. He's been gone several years now. By carrying those resentments with me, it doesn't change the reality of the situation, it doesn't even make me feel better. By thinking of the Irish Festival, I'm carrying with me a precious memory of a flawed man that searched his whole life for love and acceptance. That day, I loved and accepted him...and I felt he loved and accepted me. That's enough.


Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

This is a very moving story. My partner had a very ambiguous relationship with her grandfather, who shaped her for good and for ill in many respects. So the story resonates with me for personal reasons.

The story speaks very highly of you, although I don't think that was your intent. You have many negative memories, but the dominant memory is the one day of unadulterated happiness you and your grandfather shared. That one day is "enough" for you. This makes you a very generous person (charitable, in the older sense of the word).

The story demonstrates an admirable balance between two things which stand in uneasy tension. On the one hand, you look objectively at your grandfather and you acknowledge his faults honestly. (No denial going on here.) On the other hand, you still love him, it seems.

This is very difficult for children to do, with respect to the adults who are responsible for them. Children (not unreasonably) expect adults to care for them. Children who come from unhappy families tend either to gloss over the faults of those who raised them, or to resent them bitterly for their faults. Somehow, you have escaped falling into either trap.

It probably helps that he was a grandfather, not a parent. Nonetheless, as I've already said, it speaks well of you.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Wow, I found your comment to be very moving. I felt a weight lifted after I wrote the post, glad it didn't come across as a deranged rambling.

9:39 AM  

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