When You’re Older…and Everyone Disapproves of Your New Love
Self-portrait; one very happy afternoon, preparing for guests and the evening’s Life-Death-and-the-Universe conversations. Photo copyright by Lorna Tedder.
Granddaddy’s been gone for over 15 years, but if he were alive tonight at 105, I’d want to ask his relationship advice. Not about a romantic relationship but about how to deal with disapproval of a romantic relationship that has been bringing me a lot of joy amongst the rollercoaster epiphanies. Of course, I think he’d probably decline to say anything and just nod. That was more his way.
Isn’t it funny how things from the ancient past bubble up when you least expect it? Like a particular night when I was 8 or 9 years old and Daddy jumped down my throat because I uttered one meek little sentence that let him know I’d been listening in plain sight to the discussion and that I was supposed to not be old enough or bright enough to discern what was being said. Heaven forbid that I might repeat what everyone else in the extended family was talking about.
My parents had been talking about Granddaddy–again–though really, it was my dad who talked incessantly about the “situation” and what had to be done to stop it. I’m pretty sure now that my mom didn’t want to hear it, especially not drilled into her several hours a day, the same words, the same ever-expanding assumptions, the same harsh emotions. I don’t really remember my mom talking about it at all, as she was still so lost in her grief for so long over losing her mother. There were far more family dynamics at play than I knew at the time, and I’ve come to realize that part of my dad’s plans for an intervention was based on his resentment of his father-in-law and so putting him down wherever possible was a small way of firing back. Daddy had no qualms about beating his kids with belts and sticks, but he never, to my knowledge, beat my mom…and I’m now convinced that it was because my granddaddy would have shot him in the head and fed him to the legendary gators in the Collier Pond swampland.
On this particular night in my childhood, Daddy was bludgeoning his father-in-law’s name, and my precocious ears heard it all. My beloved grandma had died a year or two before–or maybe months…I don’t know…from my child’s perspective, I wasn’t sure how long was culturally acceptable to be without a mate…or just a little companionship of the opposite sex. Granddaddy had started “courting” again though, and that was the subject of much family debate.
It wasn’t the last time, though. Thorughout the years of his courting various widows in town, his romantic life was widely discussed among family and friends, always with great disapproval. He eventually remarried, unfortunately to a woman I greatly disliked, and I wonder if one of his earlier alliances might have been happier for everyone, especially him.
I do remember, oddly, that there was much talk of him “sneaking around” to see some particular widow in town. I know, of course, that he was “sneaking around” because various relatives drove past said widow’s house in the dead of evening to report that his car was there and how early and then how late.
I totally understand now.
The argument I often heard–and have heard about many other men and women who will forever be viewed as parents or grandparents and not humans in need or want of love and partnership–was that he was just visiting with a woman because he needed companionship and why was that, when there was plenty of companionship to be had with his adult children who had lives of their own or various other family members whom, I’m rather certain, were not there to hug him in the night or chat excitedly about their youth or just hold his hand while watching TV. Family was supposed to be enough, and it seemed that any desire for romance was something to be squelched as soon as possible with help from as many people as possible.
I can understand why he might have decided to “sneak around” and not tell anyone whom or if he was dating again. Everyone close to him disapproved. It didnt’ matter that they didn’t know the woman. I can still remember the looks they gave him–chin slightly hiked, jaw set and pushed outward a little, a frozen moment in time when only the eyes regarded him, the undisquised disdain. Yeah, I recognize it myself.
I wonder if he was happy with any of the women he knew after Grandma. If he was, he was never allowed to show it to the family or the silence that followed spoke for itself. I wonder if it eased his loneliness to sit and hold hands with a woman or to have someone to talk to over dinner or to see a woman smile when he showed up on her door step wtih a little bouquet of flowers picked from the roadside. I wonder if he ever thought that maybe people were right in their assumption that it’s better to be pitied for being alone than to have the enjoyment of someone’s company who did not meet the approval of others.
The thing that still resounds from my childhood was that all these people who weren’t there with him to hold his hand or have dinner with him or relish his romantic sentiments were so busy deciding who was wrong for him–and I never (other than the woman he married) met any of those women. I’m not sure that anyone in the family really knew any of them or what what their wounds and joys were. There were inventive stories but looking back, I don’t see any substance in the gossip, just lots of adjectives to describe these awful women who’d caught Granddaddy’s attention. Yes, all that judgment passed on romantic partners some–maybe none–of us had never met personally, women I never saw dote on him or even in his presence. Just the stony silence of disapproval of various family and friends, and the preference that he be alone for the rest of his life.
I am really missing Granddaddy tonight. I wish I could take his gnarled hand again and tell him that now, now I understand.
that brought on a few tears. You see the truth and express it beautifully. jan
Thank you, Jan.
I know this is late in the game, and nearly 3 months after your posting, but I stumbled upon it tonight in my insomnia. I, too, have days like this in which I wish I could sit down with “Papa” again and hold his hand. That, or small enough to sit in his lap again.
I remember being confused as a little girl that this lady who was married to my grandfather was not my grandmother. My daddy would always tell me stories about my “Grandma Johnson” so I had a piece of her with me, though she passed more than a decade before my birth.
When our granddaddy’s 2nd wife passed, I don’t remember attending her funeral. I really don’t remember much about it but being told she had died. But I do remember that after a while, he did start “courting” again. Even when I would be coming back from youth trips to the lake, we would sometimes get behind Papa in his black truck going at his old man’s pace after he had seen his “lady friend”. I always thought it was interesting how he still had the moves and skills to attract the ladies.
I miss him. I miss even putting out his own salt and pepper by his sweet tea. I miss making him chocolate cake, too.
Yeah, he would have been 106 this week. I remember his last days–he slept in my old bed at Mama’s that last month and some people thought I’d be upset to sleep there after but I always felt close to him. I think he knew his last day and had an agenda to get everything done…right down to deciding on the spot where he would pass and sending Mama just out of sight so she wouldn’t have to see. In those last days when I visited him, esp when he was in the hospital, I was sad that his hearing problems and my inability to speak loudly enough to be understood created a communication gap between us…but I sat and held his hand instead. I can still feel it in mine now when I think about it…the age and the hard work it had seen. It always makes me smile to think of what an outside-the-box mind he had…even though he couldn’t understand how much the world had changed. One of our last talks was when I had been tapped to testify before Congress (it got postponed and I never had to go) about the Bunker Buster bomb, and Granddaddy said to Mama, “I don’t understand why they need her to go. Can’t they find a man to do her job?” He couldn’t understand how a woman could do my job–not in a bad way or anything…just because so much had changed with women’s rights and equality in his lifetime.