My mother died on October 28th. I'm working on a blogpost about her but I think a prelude about my maternal grandmother will help flesh out my mother's personality. I wrote a chapter about my grandma in my Masters Thesis (2003) and this post includes what I feel are the relevant bits.
My mother has been telling me stories about her mother for as long as I can remember. I have the impression that she recounts these narratives in order to fashion a parent she barely remembers. The tale goes something like this: My grandfather first sees my grandmother as a young girl of fifteen. She is dirty, barefoot and singing blissfully to a group of pigs in the sty. He wants to marry her but her father insists that she is too young. She is allowed to marry my grandfather, a man eleven years her senior, a year later at sixteen.
The rest of the account is a tragic one. From the age of eighteen on, she becomes pregnant sixteen times; endures two miscarriages, fourteen births, and of these, only five of her children survive to adulthood. Babies covered with sheets and little white coffins often grace their home. My grandmother dies at forty-five after years of ill health and leaves behind a depressive husband, my twelve-year-old mother and her older sister to raise two younger siblings.
I hear the story often yet it never ceases to affect me. My grandmother’s destiny was predetermined. A young, illiterate girl from a rural area living at the turn of the century had few choices, in fact, probably none. I felt as though I had to resurrect her; I owed her that much for my life of opportunity.
...I decided to work with this narrative because it continued to haunt me. I wanted to concentrate on a joyous moment in my grandmother’s mostly miserable life, that instant when she sang to the pigs... I resolved to keep a journal about my process...
...Snippets from the journal read as follows:
I am looking at a picture of butchered pig carcasses. They could represent my grandmother’s butchered children. All those dead children, it’s really too much!...
...I can capture an animal’s personality better than my grandma’s. She is staring at me through the ages. She has taken the stiff old-fashioned pose most photographers contrive. I cannot read her face...
...I wonder about the sadness a woman is forced to live with when she loses 9 children. Could there not also be a sense of relief? Imagine raising 14 children! The stress alone is enough to kill a person...
|My grandmother Léonie Dubois|
...As I look at the pictures of my grandmother, I realize something is drawing me to her. She is beautiful and...fascinates me. I wonder if she ever thought about other possibilities? Few women had any, except for the nuns, and even they were married to Christ.
When a thunderstorm loomed overhead, my grandmother ran around the house throwing holy water. She was religious. The family had to recite the rosary every evening after supper. Religion must have helped her through the rough spots.
It is raining as I write, tears from the sky, tears for a woman enslaved, and tears for a child forced to become a mother. I went to scan grandma’s face. She looks like a little girl in women’s clothing...
Mom often talked about her mother.
She didn't have one for very long.
Many of her brothers and sisters died.
Loss, loss and more loss.
What happens to a person when loss is on replay?