My Grandmother Wells died a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday was her funeral. It was sad, because she’s gone, and she was a wonderful, if complicated woman. I met her when I was 22, at my Grandfather’s funeral. Though she had only learned of my existence a short time before, she welcomed me with open arms. Listening to my father tell the story of her life, being born in Shasta, CA, and moving to Ohio (down near West Virginia) as a girl. Riding a horse to school, opening her own beauty shop, eloping with my Grandfather (who may or may not have been engaged to someone else at the time). She convinced him to move to California, and they made a life together in Modesto for many years, in the house he built out of a garage. There she raised my dad, and for a short while, his younger brother Bobby, who was institutionalized because he had Downs Syndrome, which was sadly what they did back in the 40s. He lived with the family until he was about 3, and then taken away, which was devastating to my Grandmother, and I don’t think she ever recovered from it. When in her early 50s, she got a job running reports for Gallo Wine, and ended up working there for 30 years, finally retiring at the age of 82. She would have been 99 this September.
Listening to my sister talk about childhood memories of trips to Modesto to visit, made me ache all over again at not knowing my dad’s side of the family growing up. My mom made the decision, or perhaps let it make itself by simply not taking action, based on several factors. The largest was her own abuse at the hands of her stepfather, which made her wary of men being around young girls, even though she knew at every level that my father was a good man and not capable of such things. I don’t think she necessarily made the decision consciously, but there were no men in her life from the time I got to be about 9 years old. When she got pregnant with me, she actually thought she was already pregnant, and didn’t put 2 + 2 together until I was 4 or 5. Suddenly the timing of my birth (at 5 lbs, though if she had already been pregnant, I would have been about 4 weeks overdue), and the fact that I looked so much like my dad, clicked. By then, my dad was married and had my sisters, and I don’t think my mom wanted to intrude upon that. So we went along that way, with me thinking my dad knew about me but not caring, until I was 21. Then my mom got in touch with my Grandparents, and asked for my dad’s number. He was in his car the following week, coming from Oregon to meet me.
I’m so thankful for that, because he is a wonderful man, and I feel so very loved and cherished by him, my step-mom (not my sisters’ mom, they divorced decades ago), and my sisters. I have nieces and nephews who I love and enjoy and adore. But I do feel sad sometimes, knowing that when my sisters were visiting Modesto, I was just down the road in Stockton, and we could have had time together every summer. I could have gone to Oregon to visit. It could have been, but was not.
Maya was thinking these same thoughts, and getting angry at my mom on my behalf. I’ve spent a good amount of time angry at her about this very thing, but have made the effort to let that go. Knowing that while what she did was wrong, she truly did her very best for me and my brother, and it does absolutely no good to hang on to anger about what cannot be changed. If we had a time machine, and could go back, of course I would try to change this part of my life, and also have my brother know his father as well. But I can’t, so I have to let it go.
So, I didn’t know my Grandmother the way my sisters did. I know her only as my adult self. I have fond memories of going to visit her in the cool mornings, planting flowers in her yard, helping her to prune back vines that threatened to take over her shed and fence. Memories of bringing Maya to visit when she was a baby. Having lunch with her many a time, and having her tell me to ‘drive defensively’ as I got in the car to go home. She helped to pay for Maya’s preschool education. She included me in every way she could from the day we met. She was a kind, sometimes stern, often awkward woman, and I loved her very much.
One thing I discovered after she died was of her love of horses. I do wish I had known that sooner, though I doubt we would have gone for long horseback rides or anything.
It was sad losing her, but hearing the details of her long life was really nice, and of course getting to see my family was wonderful, as always.