Thursday, April 24, 2008

All Fakes

About a year ago my grandmother died.

My whole life, GranNina portrayed herself as a rich lady. Ever since I can remember she has been a bejeweled, well coiffed and made-up, red fingernailed beauty. In grade school she gave me money for good grades (a great way to teach values don't you think?). Ten bucks for every A, five for a B and nothing for anything lower. This practice must have been a contributing factor to my, generally speaking, good grades. I still remember getting $50 for all A's a few times.

There were family stories about GranNina. How her father was the only doctor in town. How he actually bought some town in Arkansas. (My mom is going to get a big payoff from the sale of that land soon - some oil company wants it.) My GranNina used to ride with my great-grandfather in a horse and buggy to his house calls. Then they were the first family in town to have a car. Later, with children, GranNina's family was the first one in (a different) town to own a television.

For as long as I can remember she shopped at Nordstrom. She had a passion for St. John suits, few of which sell for under $1000. Her neck, arms and fingers were always draped with gold and jewels. GranNina was, to me, the epitome of high class wealth.

About ten years ago she showed me the letters my grandfather had written to her before they got married. Turns out, she was the "other woman" and stole him away from his first wife. Can you believe my mom didn't find out about that until she was staying with a family member on her own honeymoon? Yikes.

But the letters. Oh Boy. He was passionately in love with GranNina. It was almost wierd. He wrote over and over about how hard he would work to get her all the things she wanted. I wondered if she made it clear to him that she would need to be supported in the manner to which she was accustomed.

GranNina was always kind, but superficial. She was racist and bigoted, having grown up in the south. But she tried really hard to get over it when her children and grandchildren married, respectively, a Mormon, Mexican, Jew, Italian and a Catholic. Don't know how she wouldv'e managed if one of us had had the audacity to marry a black person.

She showed her love through buying and giving things to me. Sure, she always asked about my school, or work, or kids over the years. It never went much deeper than that. But she gave me some beautiful furniture years before she died, because she didn't need it anymore. And she endlessly crocheted blankets and quilted quilts for us grandkids. I still have and love them.

So, today I took all of the rings she left when she died to the local jeweler. Mostly I was trying to figure out if they were real and should be heirlooms for my girls some day, or whether to let my three year old play with them.

Glass. All glass. Not ONE of them was real. It was not my desire for valuable gems that went out the window today, it was my need for something from her to be authentic. I wanted the illusion she lived to be real. I wanted the fancy lady I knew growing up to be the real deal.

I am sad, but probably overreacting. Most likely lots of women wore costume jewelry in the 1920's and 30's. Guess it's just time to face the reality that GranNina was human; flawed and messed-up in her own special way, just like the rest of us. And truth be told, I'd been guessing about her need to portray an image of wealth and class since college.

It's just hard to see those sorts of things in grandma's. The desire to accept the illusion is pretty strong in all of us, I bet.


Anonymous said...

how hard it is to see the cracks in our older just would rather not know.
bless her.

Sue said...

Amen to that.