Saturday, January 20, 2018

Grandma Weil

I never knew my grandfather on my father's side. He died of an aneurysm when I was a young boy. He left a sizable fortune to my grandmother, but my father got nothing. He hated him for that, and he once told me that when his father died he didn't give two shits.

I never really knew my grandmother either. She never sent birthday cards, she never called on Christmas, but once a year, she sent everybody in the family a sizable check, and all she wanted in return was a thank you, and if it didn't come fast enough, you heard about it from my father.

We only saw her on Thanksgiving. This was a compulsory event. Every Thanksgiving we went up to Rochester, New York, where she lived in a stately home on East Avenue, just a few blocks down from the George Eastman Museum. The Rochester Planetarium was also within walking distance.

Her house was one of the few on East Avenue that hadn't been subdivided into apartments or multi-family homes. It was built in 1929, and everything in the house, with the exception of the dishwasher, was still original. I always loved the old-fashion refrigerator, with all the little doors that opened from the kitchen or the pantry, which was on the other side. If you opened a door in the kitchen, and the corresponding door was opened in the pantry, you could see right through and have a conversation with whoever was standing in the other room. I was always fascinated by this.

The one thing that was constant about my grandmother's house was that nothing ever changed. Everything had its place. Every picture, every knick-knack, and every book remained exactly where it was put, year after year.

My grandmother had hired help. She would never deign to clean her own house. Everything in that house was spic and span. The basement was spotless. The kitchen, despite it's antiquities, still looked brand new. The attic looked like it was cleaned on a regular basis, and the only thing up there were racks of old, expensive clothes, that were neatly sealed in plastic bags and were pungent with moth balls.

Thanksgiving was a formal affair. Jackets and ties for the men, and formal dresses for the women. Extra help was brought in to help with the serving and the cooking. My father always carved the turkey, and the food was sumptuous. My father had a younger sister, and her husband and three children were in attendance too.

As time went on, and my cousins and I had children of our own, Thanksgiving dinner became more elaborate. Years ago, when I first wrote Harmony House, I sent a copy to my grandmother in the hopes that she would intervene with the insanity that was going on in my family. I never heard from her, and I didn't dare ask about it.

The years went on, and nothing changed. The family got bigger, but that's about it. Finally, my grandmother announced that she would no longer be hosting Thanksgiving. In a way, I was disappointed, but I was also glad. Being around my entire family was more than I could take.

On our last Thanksgiving, my grandmother invited me and my youngest sister to tea at a little bistro in downtown Rochester. I told them a story about when I was a kid in Switzerland. During heavy blizzards, the snow drifts would reach as high as the second-story windows. The windows were large, and they opened sideways. Sometimes, we'd sneak into a room, open the window, and the kid who was closest, we'd tilt up the end of his bed, and he'd slide out of his sheets and comforter into the snow. It was hysterical.

My grandmother looked at me and simply said, "I don't believe you. It reminds me of that short story you sent me. I didn't believe that either."

I was in shock! She waited all these years to tell me now? How could she not believe it? How could I make up something so horrific? I was only 18 when I sent it to her. But I held my tongue. My sister, Margo, took her fair share of abuse as well. She didn't say anything either. I was so angry I could spit.

Later, I had a talk with Margo about it. She rationalized the situation by simply saying, "What do you expect? She's an old woman. She doesn't want to know what a bastard her son is." Well, that only made me more angry. Why does my father get a free pass for what he did to us as children, and continued with his abusiveness all the way into adulthood?

The day after Thanksgiving, extra staff were brought in to clean the kitchen. A middle-aged woman was on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor, while my grandmother stood over her and screamed at her for doing a lousy job. This poor woman was beside herself, and my grandmother's eyes were feral with rage, as she continued berating this woman.

At last I couldn't take it anymore, so I reached into my front pocket and pulled out my money clip, handed the woman $100.00, and told her to go home and enjoy her family. She took the money and bolted out of there. My grandmother was so incensed with me for interfering with her affairs, she wrapped her bony hands around my neck and tried to throttle me. 

She wasn't strong enough to leave even the slightest mark, so I just stood there, waiting for her temper tantrum to subside. After that, I could't wait to leave, knowing I would never see this old bitch ever again.

My grandmother was known for her philanthropic endeavors. She was a major contributor to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and was an advocate for mental health, something I am certain she knew absolutely nothing about.

She lived in a sanitary glass bubble, where nothing could touch her. She went on two music cruises per year, where she consorted with famous opera singers, conductors and musicians. She always sat at the captain's table. All my sisters were invited on her cruises, but I was excluded. I guess I didn't live up to her expectations.

She died at age 99. No doubt, her longevity was attributed to her pampered lifestyle. Over the years, I somehow collected several pictures of her holding my children, or of me washing her car while she smiled in the background.

I took all those pictures and burned them in the kitchen sink. She was a woman without substance. And as our family matriarch, she was a miserable failure.

Love to all!

James M. Weil

No comments:

Post a Comment