Anna was my German maternal grandmother in honor of whom I received my middle name “Ann“. I never liked the spelling “A-n-n” and wanted to legally change the spelling to “A-n-n-e” but my grandmother wouldn’t hear of it. She said “You were named after me and by God my name is not Annie.” I could not convince her that “Anne” was not pronounced “Annie” so out of respect to her, I never changed the spelling.
She called a refrigerator a “Fridgidare”, the sink was a “zinc”, and the hide-a-bed was a “do-fold”. She crocheted doilies with those tiny crochet needles and loved to embroidery. When I spent a week with her once, she taught me how to embroider my initial on a handkerchief. I loved that handkerchief. My brother used it for a grease rag when he worked on his bicycle. I cried.
My grandparents lived in Galveston where I was born. They lived in a two bedroom shotgun house on stilts as many houses are built in Galveston to prevent flooding from hurricanes. In a shotgun house, you go through bedrooms to get to another room. For instance, you may go through a bedroom to get to the bathroom or kitchen. In my grandmother’s house, you went through the second bedroom to get from my grandparents bedroom and from the kitchen/living room area to the bathroom. There was no air-conditioning and only a gas heater in the living room. The house was very small. Its hard for me to believe that they raised five children in that house. As I understand it the kids all slept across one bed in the second bedroom. I don’t know how many kids were in the bed at one time but there were three boys and two girls in the family.
I can see my grandmother walking to work at the corner store with her “pocketbook” over her arm and wearing a thin cotton shirtwaist dress with a thin patent leather belt around her large girth. She wore a long black wool coat with large round buttons and a patterned scarf on her head. She was a caregiver for the invalid wife of the store owner in their home above the store. My mother, sister and I would visit the store with my grandmother most likely to collect her pay. I remember looking up at a shelf high up on the wall where there were dolls that to me at the time appeared almost life-size. There was a bride doll that I would look up at wistfully, so pretty in her white dress with lace and pretty veil. My grandmother told me that she would buy me that doll if I would stop sucking my thumb and I ended up as the proud owner of that doll. Looking back I realize that she could ill afford to buy it for me or even have the money taken out of her pay. My grandparents were and always had been very poor. My grandfather was an alcoholic and had difficulty keeping jobs though I was not aware of that as I was growing up.
One of the things that bothered me as a child but I find funny now is that my grandparents cursed, a habit that embarrassed me as I was growing up. My paternal grandmother was very religious and my siblings and I were so paranoid for the two grandmothers to be around each other which didn’t happen very often. We were afraid my maternal grandparents would curse in front of my paternal grandmother. My mother’s family and my father’s family were total opposites so there were no joint family gatherings except for wedding, baby showers and funerals. My mother’s family was German and Czech and loved to party and my father’s family was Church of Christ and there was no partying.
My grandmother would best be described as “jovial“. She laughed a lot. My mother says that my grandmother was just a “big kid”. Mom would tell me stories of the pranks and play fights she and her siblings would get into and I would ask what her mother did when she was aware of their “free-for-alls”. She said her mother was “right in the big middle of it”, throwing eggs right along with them. I can still see her laughing as my mother, aunt and their oldest brother would get into water fights at family gatherings. Some things never change.
After my grandfather died of cancer from smoking hand rolled cigarettes, my grandmother would stay with her sister a lot on her ranch. She loved and was loved by my rancher great-uncle and would help with the cooking and serving of lunch to the men working the cattle. For payment, my great-uncle Kiddo would gift her with a calf that he would eventually slaughter, sell the meat and give her the money. I always thought that arrangement was much kinder to my grandmother than paying her in cash. Once a year, my Aunt Emma and Uncle Kiddo would have a big Texas barbecue on their ranch for the men who helped with the round-up and branding of cattle. They would invite the whole town along with family and friends. There was always so much food since the guests would each bring covered dishes with my uncle furnishing the meat. I always dreaded getting to the meat section of the wooden tables holding the food because there was always an assortment of meat that was not always readily identifiable. There was usually someone serving it up who would tell you what it was but I was embarrassed to ask knowing I wouldn’t be able to hide my grimace. There would be beef, rabbit, pork, goat, rattlesnake and whatever else they could come up with. While it was fun to tell your friends about, I was always afraid that I was going to end up with barbecued rat or some gross thing because these people were fun-loving pranksters.
The band would play Country-Western, German and Bohemian (Czech) music for dancing the Two-Step, Waltz, Polka and Schottische. My mother never really learned the folk dances oddly enough though she was exposed to them when her parents took her and her siblings to the dance halls and bars that were called “beer joints”. Back then it was a family thing for the German and Czech families to go out drinking and dancing. My mother didn’t drink back then because of her father’s alcoholism. She didn’t drink at all until she was in her twenties and married. My aunts and uncles would take their kids to the dance halls so my cousins learned to dance country-western which included the German and Czech folk dances. My mother didn’t take us with her and my father when they went out with friends and relatives. At first they didn’t go because they were heavily involved in my Dad’s family religion that did not believe in dancing or drinking. They began drinking and dancing when I was about 7 or 8. I don’t think my mother wanted a repeat of her childhood through her children. I did learn the German inspired dances when I got into Country-Western dancing in my single days. Anyway, the cowboys would always dance with my grandmother and make her laugh, they all loved her. She would tease and laugh with her older grandchildren as well. When I look back, I would have to say she was very child-like in a fun way.
Grandma loved to go to Wresting Matches or watch them on television. She called it “wrastling”. I thought it was really silly when I saw it on television because of their silly costumes. The one that sticks in my mind was a woman dressed like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Grandma also loved to play the card game “Canasta” and later “Bingo”. She played cards with her neighbors which she called by their last name like Faulk or Emby without even a Mr. or Mrs. I remember playing a card game with her and my mom as a young adult and I made a winning play that she didn’t pick up on right away. When she discovered it, she said “Bullshit” and I spewed my ice cream across the table cracking up. Her car was taken away from her because her driving had become so bad that she went the wrong way on a one-way street and hit another car head-on. She ended up in the hospital and cried because she couldn’t play bingo any more. She didn’t play for money, she played for food and proudly won a bottle of ketchup for me to use at her house because she knew I loved ketchup.
As a German, my grandmother expected you to kiss her on the lips and if you turned your cheek, she would playfully slap you and say “Don’t you turn your cheek to me.” We grandchildren weren’t thrilled to kiss her on the mouth because she had these thin, wet lips so you would wipe your mouth off afterward. She always laughed at this which made us laugh. It is one of those things we all bring up when we talk about Grandma.
I don’t remember her as that storybook grandmother who is there when you need a shoulder to cry on. When I was around seven, I became very sick and my mother had to work so she asked my grandmother to take me to the doctor. Not only was I very sick but whenever I smelled the odor of ether at the clinic, I would get dizzy. I laid down in a vinyl straight backed chair with my head in her lap. She never touched me or comforted me in any way. It was like she was being put out by having to take me to the doctor. I wonder if she was tired of raising kids after having five or if it was just the stoic German way. When I talked to my mom about this, she said “Yeah, she never was a very good grandmother.” I never thought of her as not being a good grandmother because she was more affectionate than my paternal grandmother who I distanced myself from somewhat due to her religious expectations.
I sometimes don’t know what to feel about my grandmother Anna. She was married to an alcoholic and pedophile (back then they were called “child molesters”). If she knew and I’m not convinced that she didn’t, she didn’t protect her daughters or her granddaughters. My grandparents called each other “the old man” and “the old lady”. I once asked them to call each other by their first names and they used the old world pronunciations of Anna and Emil, “Ahnna and Ahmeel”
I was the oldest granddaughter and I have apparently blocked my memories of my grandfather molesting me. The safety net of blocking out details was a pattern in my childhood. You see, there were others and the memories begin prior to the act and afterwards but I have no details of the actual act. I can even remember telling my mother about the others but cannot remember the specifics of that conversation. My mother also blocked out details of her life so she can’t tell me what I told her only that I did tell her. Anyway, I remember sleeping on the hide-a-bed with my younger sister one night at my grandparents. My grandfather came in from the beer joint drunk. He sat down on our bed and my grandmother came in and told him to “leave those kids alone” and he told her to go back to bed and she did. I have no memory of what happened after that. My sister and one of my younger cousins both remember details of being molested by my grandfather.
After my grandfather died, a conversation took place between my mother, her sister and my grandmother in my presence. I was in early adulthood and pretty open to discussions of sex. I have no idea what started the conversation but my grandmother said she had never had an orgasm. My mother and aunt were shocked that she would say that especially in front of me. I was a little shocked at her flat tone and her being so matter of fact about it. According to a conversation I had previously with my aunt when she called me drunk one night, my grandfather molested my aunt and she asked to go live with family to get away from him. I don’t know if she told my grandmother but she told my mother who didn’t want to hear it. My mother told me that one of my grandmother’s sisters told my mom before she died that my grandmother said she never knew about his molesting children. I’ve wondered how she found out though I do know that he was arrested for molesting a child though the judge dismissed the charge. I try not to push my mom too hard when it comes to the past because she loved her father so much. The reason none of the granddaughters told their parents about being molested by their grandfather is that we didn’t want to hurt our parents who loved him. Its a whole other story how it came out to my mom but suffice it to say it was not comfortable even though he and my grandmother were both deceased at the time.
My grandmother broke her hip at an advanced age and when she went into the hospital, whether from being drugged or out of her comfort zone but she lost touch with reality. sShe ended up in a nursing home and I began to grieve that very day because she was never the same. Before she died, there was nothing left of the grandma I knew. The last time I saw her alive, she was slumped in a wheelchair drooling and asking if the old man was still in the bathroom. He was a common theme of her ramblings from her telling me about his coming up there on a motor cycle to his bringing balloons that he tied on the bed. I have no idea whether she even knew who I was.
When she went into the nursing home, Anna told my mother and aunt that she wanted me to have her cedar chest. She also told me she wanted me to have the old hand framed picture of her family. When I look back, I can see that she loved me for all that I did for her which wasn’t enough in my opinion. She treasured the cards from me and kept every one just as I have kept the ones she sent to me. I was going through a box of keepsakes not too long ago and found a $1 bill in a birthday card from her. Until we were young adults, all her grandchildren got a one dollar bill tucked into a card for our birthdays. We knew it was all she could afford and it meant a lot to us.
I have learned that life is not black and/or white as I once believed but is made up of dark and light colors blended by each of us based on our beliefs, judgements and acceptance or non-acceptance of our life experiences. The result is a shade that colors who and what we are today. Should I throw away all the good memories because of the bad? I choose to love my grandmother’s memory and believe that she did the best she could with the cards she was dealt. There were a lot of factors that went into who she was. With regard to my grandfather, I don’t think I hate him because I don’t normally hate or hold a grudge. I honestly don’t think I feel anything and don’t recall ever having felt anything for him.