The first time, ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars
Were the gifts you gave
To the dark, and the endless skies

 

 

This post has been difficult to write.   I had chosen this line for the title before I started writing  –  because Ewan McColl wrote this song about the first time he saw Peggy Seeger, and I was trying to write about the first time I saw my grandmother’s photo.  But there is no sun rising in my grandmother’s eyes as I look at her photo for the first time.  There are just silent decades between us, falling like dust into the quiet.  The truth is this song and these lyrics are wrong for this post, but somehow that works for me, because what’s forced estrangement if not wrong.   It’s not a conversation starter at a party.  “Hi I’m X, I don’t talk to my family, how are you?”  Pfft.  “Wrong”.  Even that word isn’t a good choice, it’s too subjective, too judgemental,  too from my point of view and not my mother’s.

 
This photo is also proof of the power in reconnecting with my cousin. I now have pictures of her, of them, of the other side of the family I never really knew.  Getting the photos was like living a lifetime of memories in an hour.  They’re also all I have to reconnect to.  In talking to my cousin I’ve learned other things: that my grandmother’s mother blamed her for her brother’s death when she was a baby.  That she was not close to her parents.  That she had a nervous breakdown when my mother was 12.  Each new fact sheds new light on what my mother’s issues with her may have been.  

It’s easy to discern a pattern in these facts.  She was not close to her parents. My mother was not close to hers. And you know what, so am I.  I am not close to my parents.  I am the same.   But there’s still a central mystery here I can’t get the answer to, and that is – why? Is it genetic?  Are women in my family line just designed to be shit mothers?  Or are we just shit daughters?  Is it mental illness?  Why?  The more I learn the less satisfied I am with the answers.  Other people have challenging lives and manage to maintain loving family connections.  Why not us?

my estranged grandmother as a young woman

beautiful Irene, 1940s

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