While I’ve come to associate two words with my grandfather, perseverance and loyalty, with my grandmother it has always been bitterness, and disappointment. How these polar opposites lived together for so many years as they did in apparent happiness, if not guarded complacency, has long been a mystery to me, the answers to which have been sought in garbled accounts and conversations scattered across a generation and a half of intermittent intersection in the lives of myself and my immediate predecessors.

With an attitude I’ve come to recognise as peculiar to our own New Zealand petite bourgeoisie, my grandmother descended to expect privilege.  Her adoration of her father, the picture of the Colonial son made good among the opportunities of the new land, is likely what attracted her to my grandfather.  So with an increasingly rapid lurch into poverty following the public humiliation of his bankruptcy, the depth of her self-denial and attempts to mask any acceptance of what her picture of life may have become are now well established as  my personal measure for cognitive dissonance.

A mother of five,born to a generation of women trapped in the suburban hell of the hyper-medicated atomic-age sterilisation of the 1950s, her expectation of financial comfort to provide a buffer to the boredom and crushing social expectation looking like a Disprin in a glass of gin, she foreshadowed the counter-culture by embracing sedatives with a passion akin to obsessive compulsion. Yet that her children should chose to mirror her behaviour once they themselves became autonomous? A mystery to her, however obvious it seems to us in this more sophisticated day. Indeed, she would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those pesky kids.

Her behaviour became… “erratic” as the decade developed and transformed into ‘the ’60s’. My uncle tell a story of her manifesting in the doorway to his room, her greying hair in rollers and net, housecoat on, horn rim spectacles, torch grasped in hand and extended like a talisman. He’s groggy with sleep and it is barely dawn but she sweeps into the room, throws back the covers to his bed and rolls him over, whipping down his pyjamas in the smooth movement of the experienced mother, and ignoring his howls of protest, with the torch she inspects his anus, “for worms”.

I think it was not long thereafter that he stood on a stool, hidden by the doorframe between the kitchen and the living room, and smacked her on the head with a frying-pan as she entered the room. He later checked out on the Scooby Bus, big-time.

F,FLP

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