I'm most recently a writer. In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot. As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades. An unwilling transplant from the South, twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US. Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect. When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do. Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!
Saturday, February 23, 2013
I've always vowed to be honest with the oncoming generations. Not that I feel compelled to volunteer my backstory, but if asked, I would answer honestly. I learned first hand what a shock it can be to discover that the final drafts of the lives of my elders had been revised for my benefit, and I suspect for theirs, too. Whatever I've done, it was with the knowledge that I would be foolish to believe simply not telling my children would prevent them from eventual discovery. The truth has a mystical gift for wending its way to daylight. Now I find with the next generation, my grandchildren, I'm wishing I could amend that vow.
Yesterday I spent some time locked in the inescapable intimacy of a car with my twelve-going-on-twenty-five year-old granddaughter. Let me just say that hers, through no fault of anyone other than fate, has not been the idyllic childhood we all wish for our grandchildren. She has grown up with a great deal of unavoidable responsibility, thus her post-mature attitudes and interests. I've said many times that she will either grow up to be a very strong woman, or spend years in therapy. No matter which, she is already someone I have great admiration and respect for. I could never lie to her, never look into her wise brown eyes and attempt to deceive her, any more than I could have with my own mother, who never failed to extract the truth from me, shameful or not.
This is not the first time my granddaughter has grilled me about my history. With each such inquisition, I'm only too aware that she brings more of her own knowledge and understanding of such matters to the table. I remember myself at her age, in the relative innocence of the early 1960's, and am suspicious of how much more a child of her generation must have seen and heard. When she pins me with that penetrating gaze and begins her questioning, I'm leery of the judgement she may already have made about my answers.
But I will not lie to place myself in a purer light. It wouldn't do any good. Her mother knows the story, the characters and the confusing plot twists. She may choose to color them a little differently to suit her own sensibilities, but she would not expect me to do the same. She knows me too well.
Now don't get the idea that I've left a wake of death and destruction, or done hard time for my crimes. My life, frankly, is much like so many of my generation, more than one marriage, more than one divorce, step-children nurtured and then lost along with homes and communities when it came time to rebuild. It never fails to amaze and to some degree comfort me to find these things parallelled in so many of the women I meet, women I admire for their resilience and optimism as we approach old age still shaking the dust of past lives from our shoes.
So when my granddaughter asks, I answer, with as little editorializing as possible. I do not cast anyone as the villain, and certainly not myself as the victim. If there was sadness or regret, I let her know that, but I resist dramatizing the events that prompted our actions. If there was tragedy, I try to point out that we were not the only ones touched by such events, and make sure she knows it is better not to hide them behind veiled language or embarrassed whispers. When the discussion runs its natural course, I know that one day in the near future, there will be more she wants to know. This is simply enough for now.
I pray that she will never be forced to make these kinds of choices, or have them made for her, but I also pray that should that happen, she will be a little wiser for knowing someone who succeeded in moving on while still remembering truthfully. Maybe a small part of me wishes I hadn't exposed so much of myself, that I could have trimmed a few details to better fit the image I have of my one near-perfect grandmother. But what if in the end she learned the truth and confronted me with her disappointed accusations, as I've longed to do with my other, not nearly so perfect grandmother? Better to be gently honest now, than bitterly truthful then.
Whatever prompts her curiosity, I like to think she's satisfied with my answers. Maybe, I also like to think, she will learn from what I tell her that a life is what it is, and its real worth is in what we make of it. By remembering it truthfully, we honor our lives, and those who've moved in and out of it, for what they could teach us and what we chose to learn from them. If that's the lesson I can pass on to her, I'm willing to be the not-so-perfect grandmother, the one with the potentially tangled backstory.