Sunday, June 25, 2006

My Nana

I like to write about my Nana.

For one thing, she's been dead a long time now. (The dead never advise you that your blog has hurt their feelings.) For another, she was an integral part of my life from age seven to twelve. She was an odd mixture of folklore and bigotry, graciousness and secret-keeping. She loved to sing and to cook... She taught me how to pull taffy. She had odd words for things: she called a fry pan a spider, and my outlandish combinations of clothing rigs. "Just where do you think you're going in that rig?" she'd ask before sending me back up to my apartment to change. She was also a large woman, and very huggable. She wore a corset. I saw her once (by accident) in her corset and she screamed to high heaven, then chased me out of the room.

I had a cousin a year older than I, and she was always worried we were doing "dirty" things (translate: sexual things) in the bathroom. We'd lock the door, hide behind it and giggle. She'd come racing down the long hallway and pound on the door. "You come out of there, right now! I'm going to tell your mothers when they get home!) She never outright told on us, but she would make statements that implied we'd been up to no good.

We had been up to no good, but not in the way she imagined. We had found a treasure trove in the medicine cabinet: my grandfather's false teeth, a shaving brush and gold razor, a cobalt blue eye wash cup, Nana's douche bag. We took turns putting in the teeth and tried to smile in the mirror. That endeavor was good for ten minutes of fits of laughter. We washed out our eyes with the little cup. We filled up the douche bag and squirted each other with it. I wanted to see if we could water the potted plants, but we were afraid to take any of those things out of the bathroom, which is why we kept getting caught behind the locked door.

Apparently Nana had reason to worry about "dirty" things being done behind her back. From the bits of overheard conversations, my grandfather may have been arrested in his youth for his penchant for pedophilia. I have personal knowledge of at least four people he molested: my aunt, my mother, my cousin and me. These could not have been isolated cases. Although no one ever admitted it, I think our move to New Hampshire (when I was twelve) may have had something to do with an underlying fear that he might not have changed his ways. And although people were willing to say outright that Nana liked to gamble, nobody ever said that Grampa liked to undress small children. Nothing was ever mentioned by anyone until I was married with two children of my own, and I brought it up once when my aunt and mother were visiting. I don't remember how the topic came up. I may have mentioned it in passing, or I may have wanted to finally spill the beans about something that had haunted me for years. I do remember that there was a period of complete silence where both sisters looked at each other uncomfortably, and then my mother said very quietly, "I always wondered." My aunt replied, "Well, you know what he did to us..."

Great. Thanks so much. A whole helluva lot of good that did me at age seven. But that's me speaking now. At the time I was too dumbfounded that they knew about him, that they had experienced the same treatment. Wow. Really?

My mother went on the defensive. "This shouldn't have happened. Where was Nana? I paid her good babysitting money. She was supposed to be home!" Ahhh... but don't you remember? Nana liked to gamble. She was out spending her babysitting money on Bingo.

No comments: