Monday, November 28, 2005

Lives To Work

It's been an interesting Thanksgiving break. We spent it in Ohio with my grandmother, who lives a mere six hundred fifty miles away. Our gas guzzling SUV still runs like a cheetah with over a 100K on the odometer, and the kids have become acclimated to these long trips.

My initial worry was telling my dad that we weren't staying with him. Never mind that his dog scared the shit out of us when he bit my littlest boy the last time, or that my step-brother, who drinks a continuous stream of beer to avoid withdrawal seizures, is living with them now and occupies one of the two rooms. Besides that, the master bedroom connects the rest of the house to the only bathroom, and to accommodate us the last time, my father hooked up a makeshift porta-potty by the guest bedroom, so that they were basically crapping in a bucket.

But dad took it well, but he did manage a stab of guilt, which missed any vital organs.

Beth got a full dose of Family Dynamics 101 this trip, which as it turns out lasted about one day too long. My closest ancestors and some of my living relatives rose from the hills of West Virginia, like the zombies of Michael Jackson's Thriller video. This is not a knock on a state I have never visited, only on the mentality of a people that haven't been exposed to modern social restrictions, which is good and bad.

I had to chastise my father once and grandma twice for using the n-word, which irritates me more because they know we don't allow it. We were watching Daddy Day Care with Eddie Murphy, and granny was laughing along with us. Then granny said, "That nigger sure is funny." My son was riveted on the television screen and hopefully didn't hear.

"Grandma, not in front of the kids."

"Well, what do you say then? Brown? Colored?"

"I try not to draw the distinction unless it's necessary. In this case I would refer to him as that guy, or that actor, or I would just call him Eddie Murphy."

She just grinned at me like I was a puppy doing a cute trick.

I asked questions. Lots of questions. I need to understand how dad came to be who he is, and of course, the key is my grandmother. She lives in a veritable clean room, and works like a machine. She hasn't a single interest, no hobbies, and doesn't watch television except for the news, nor does she go to the movies. When grandpa died, she had nobody to take care of, which is her sole function. Our visits give her someone to cook for and clean up after. There is a saying my dad coined: grab your plates, mom is done eating.

Her father died when she was two years old. He worked for Goodyear tire, like most of my Ohio family did. I plan to research this, but it happened in 1923 (or 1929). Something came loose and crushed him. The company paid my great-grandma five thousand dollars, which sounds small, but allowed for the house, which was only partially built, to be sealed up and livable. Great-grandma was six months pregnant, and had to go it alone raising three children in a two bedroom house, and so she slept in a bed with my grandma, and my great uncles shared a bed in the other room, which they continued to do until they were old enough to strike out on their own.

Since she was old enough to lend a hand, my grandma helped her mother clean offices and other people’s homes. I think her childhood was cut short, and it affected her in ways she cannot understand. To her, life is work. My great uncle, her brother, is nothing like her. His children are successful, one having played professional basketball in Italy, and now happily married and living in Switzerland. Grandma’s are miserable and sad. I asked my dad how his uncle raised his children. Dad said, "Like you do."


Mrs.T said...

"Like you do" - I'd like to know what that means to him.. You could make educated guesses... still I'd like to know what that means to him.

jenbeauty said...

The depression generation and the one that had to fight WWII is an amazing bunch. My Granny was a workaholic and lost her mother at the age of 3. Her father could not take care of 4 children and work so he farmed them out to various aunts. My Granny and her sister Evelyn got the worst and lived dirt poor. Same work ethic as your gradmother. I remember being in college and visiting my Granny. I had bought a Cosmo magazine and she was furious with me at being so frivolous.

She was lucky she married my Gramps. Gave her a different perspective on life, still hard as a farm wife marrying into a huge family, but it was a good different.

People handle their circumstances in different ways. Sounds like you are made of the same stuff as your uncle Scott. That is a good thing.

P.S. You were in Ohio and didn't let me know!!! I know I know busy time for all...but I would have loved to meet you, your wife and children. You must let me know next time.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Ahh the sweet taste of family dysfunction, racism, and seasonal awkwardness.

Where would we be without it?

Sadie Lou said...

Oh man, the "n" word. *shuddering* My grandfather was like that when I was growing up.
My grandpa made no effort to conceal the fact that he didn't approve of my mom allowing us girls to watch The Cosby Show.
If we turned it on while we were in his house, my mom would quickly get us to do something else to spare us the "n" word.
I can hear your discomfort from here, Scott.

Beth said...

Oh boy, the n-word dilemma. I had it for the first couple years of my children's lives. Maybe longer. Strange thing is it's almost exact same scenario as yours. We're watching a comedy on TV, someone black is in the comedy, and my dad would laugh and said, "That nigger is crazy."

I'd stand up, get the kids' jackets on, and out the door I'd go. I think it took about 4 times until I never heard the word out of my family's mouths again. It wasn't easy. Especially when I lived across state. LOL

Jada's Gigi said...

My dad was from the DEEP SOUTH so the n-word was a natural for him and so was racism. He once disowned his best friend for marrying a black woman and never allowed him in his home again.....I imagine he is turning over in his grave at the idea of my Jadabear. tee hee :) I certainly hope so!
I agree that the depression and WWII generations are amazing. I hope I got some of their stamina and work ethic.

Scott said...

All - Sorry I've taken so long to reply. I really haven't been back yet to spend the proper time to reply and visit your blogs. As they say in Jamaica -- or did anyway -- Soon come mon!

Mrs T - To my dad this means to have the patience of Job, which is to say that we tolerate a little back talk. By tolerate he means we don't whack him every five minutes, or yell. We take them aside and talk, that kind of thing. He thinks it's admirable, and compares it to his own upbringing and finds his own sorely lacking and feels good about my children's chances.

Jen - Wow. Again we have so much in common. I can't even imagine what they had to live through, our grandparents. It's hard to judge them so harshly when you know our own lives have been so easy in comparison.

I would be honored to introduce you to my family, and I'll let you know when we come again.

Toast - I'm not sure, but it cracks me up. I'm also happy when it's time to go home again.

Sadie - That's so funny that you mention the Cosby Show. My father HATED that show, and the n-word was thrown around quite liberally when it was on.

Beth - Wow. Good for you. I'm impressed. I couldn't quite become that indignant, as I grew up with it. But when my children are exposed it makes me think to get out. I will come unglued if my son says it at school and his teachers think I taught him.

Gigi - If I had brought a black woman to my house in Ohio, there would have been a shit storm. With my dad however, I think he would have dealt with it just fine. He is a kind of hipocrite, talking a big game. But he never met a person of any color that he didn't like.

Eve said...

My father was one of 13 children - both of his parents lived to an old age, but they were tenant farmers and only the last 3 graduated from high school - maybe even Jr/Middle high. He was of that depression generation. Dad used to say the n word, but not from racism, that's just what they called them when he was growing up - he didn't use it later in life. He judged people by their work ethic - hard workers were good, slackers were no good. I did have to battle with him when he would refer to black men as "boy" no matter their age - once again, it was his generation, not to be mean. He had nothing against living next to black people, going to church with them (one of his favorite ministers was black and they would go fishing together)and even having family members marrying them - but he drew the line at his daughters. But it was my mother who gave me my tolerance of others - thank God - dad would allow people to use the n word around us, but not my mother. Her mother refused to join the DAR because they refused to allow Marian Anderson to sing at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. (I don't remember the year). I find that kind of ironic since it was my grandmother's gr-grandfather who died in the Confederate Army in the Civil War and who owned, at least, two slaves. (They were from Virginia, in fact, one of my ancestors helped establish some county in what is now W. Virginia).
I haven't been blogging today, so I didn't notice that you had been late. Did you have a nice time at least?

Kathleen said...

My father used the n-word quite a bit growing up and my older sister (one year older) used to use it (if she still uses it, she knows better than to use it in front of me). I ask my mother regularly what she did differently with older sister as we're nothing alike - she's as racist as the day is long (although like any good white person would deny it).

Recently the whitest city in the U.S. (of a certain population - where my sister lives) had a meeting to try to stop a Wal-Mart from going in - now I hate Wal-Mart as much as the next person, but for different reasons, apparently - and people came right out and said (to newspaper reporters) that it brings in black people and they don't want that in their neighborhood. Of course, they followed that up with "But I'm not racist."

mr. schprock said...

My mother came from West Virginia and we took family trips there every summer. I never heard my grandparents use the n-word once, but I know they tacitly approved of the class distinctions between whites and "coloreds." Once we were watching "Good Times" or "That's My Mama" in the living room and my grandmother walked out muttering that they let everything on TV nowadays.

Moni said...

It's funny we had the same "N" word converstaion at my Aunt's house on Thanksgiving. My aunt's mother is from the south and set in her ways, only her complaint was interacial dating.

Sometimes I feel it's best to politely excuse one's self from the conversation which is what I did. She's a lovely lady, don't get me wrong, but she's from a different era.

**how he raised his kids**
"like you do."
Your dad payed you an off-handed compliment...but, a compliment just the same. :)

The Zombieslayer said...

Interesting story. My father said that he was the first in the family not to say the n-word.

As for the drinking problems, I guess I'm lucky that none of my immediate family members (including steps, but we have no divorces in the family - Catholics) have drinking problems. I know that's not too fun to be around.