I’ve long known my Grandmother to be responsible for the fracturing of my mother’s nuclear family, but exactly how and why remains a mystery to me. Considering herself a matriarch, but one without money, means, or power, her rapidly diverging expectations of life and its reality seem to have pushed her into a bitterness that long ago taught me never to emphasise want.

I know that my youngest uncle was encouraged at a very young age to leave Te Aroha for Auckland and a private school, and it was his explanation of this encouragement that initially made me think that he may well have been gifted the chance to escape her. In fact, this impression was strong enough to make me think that education was the means by which I myself could make good an escape from my own, culturally restricted and oppressive, home town.

This view of her negative role in my uncles’ lives is reinforced by the manner in which they each, including my mother, left the nest as soon as possible. In some part this departure was a product of the age, hippy kids didn’t live at home with old squares, but her increasingly erratic and drug-addled behaviour must have been an impetus. And so keen to get away were they that even today they live overseas. I spent near-all of my adolescence in Mount Maunganui watching them each in turn attempt to return to New Zealand and live, only to have the reality of the limitations of small-town New Zealand sink in and push them again off-shore.

New Zealand is, as they say in the vernacular, a bit shit.

But also, that bitterness. While I don’t entirely blame my grandmother for their departure, I’ve long thought that her diminished social adaptability made strong contribution to their need to get away again. Throughout our joint lives together I never knew her to have a friend. Certainly she interacted with people, and was friendly, but whereas my grandfather was wholly gregarious, she was one part sullen and one part sanctimonious, an air of self-righteous Catholicism sweeping along in her wake like so much cold air. It did little to endear her to her own peers. Peers who saw her failings, and her fakings, for what they really were.

And this atmosphere she brought to her interactions with her one remaining child, the one stuck with her, cornered as it were by we three grandchildren. It was a Mexican stand-off as it happens, my mother needed my grandfather, but was forced to endure my grandmother, and my grandmother needed her grandchildren, and was forced to endure the endless shame my mother represented. In the immortal words of the consummate 80s Ocker, “dysfunctional? Now THIS is dysfunctional.”

So it was that she came to sit in the corner of my childhood, a prim, blue-haired biddy who loved us desperately, but who was forced by no rational means to emotionally torment my mother at every opportunity.And so torment she did.

Strap yourselves in people, from here on in this story becomes something of a rollercoaster.

F,FLP

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