This china doll belonged to my grandmother as a girl. She named her Vivien. For many years she lived with my Aunt, and now she lives with me. Some day my children will fight over whose house she will go to live at.
The other day, my friend Christine blogged about the fact that everyone has a story, and that until we understand this, we should be slow to stand in judgment. I believe that this is indeed true, and I have been thinking about it a great deal. Something that has come to mind, is this; we must be careful when "hearing" a person's story, to understand who is doing the telling of it. I suppose it's often best to hear the story first hand, but this isn't always practical. Some people just won't tell you their story, and others can't.
My grandmother died this past week, and I have been thinking about her story; the parts she told me, and the parts that I have been told. I realize that I never really knew my grandmother all that well. She was one of those who never told much of her own story. She told you her opinions about things, and she had quite a few. She told you stories about things that had happened far into the past, but she never revealed much about her own story. The story of my grandmother mostly came to me through the telling of my close family members. Her story was not told with love, and so it came like this. "Your grandmother is a nasty, opinionated woman. Don't get on her bad side or she'll write you a nasty letter." Or like this. "Your grandmother is a greedy, selfish thing. If you give her something nice you'll never see it again. She'll just hoard it away." Or this. "Your grandmother doesn't like to spend time with you. She just wants chat you up, to find out what's going on here at home, behind closed doors. She's nosy."
As I got older, I learned to question this steady flow of information, but I never had anything with which to replace it. Then, several years ago I talked at length with someone who told my grandmother's story with love. The story went like this. "Your grandmother cares very much for you. She prays for you often, and loves to hear about what you are doing." And like this. "Your grandmother is afraid a lot. She lived through a lot of hardships, and was mistreated by people who should have cared for and protected her. She is afraid to enjoy the nice things she is given because she is afraid of not having enough later on."
This is what I know about my grandmother. I know that when I was a child she always made me something beautiful every year for Christmas, on her old treadle sewing machine. I know that she always made me "Cambric tea" and Lornadoones when I would come to visit her. She would spend hours walking our family through her gardens, and she grew the most beautiful peonies. She always had dogs, so her house always smelled a little doggy, and she treated them like they were her babies. She put plastic on everything, to keep it clean from the dogs and "your grandfather's smelly pipe". She even had plastic lace curtains in her bathroom. She had everything in her kitchen wrapped up in a plastic bag with a twisty tie, and everything she ever bought, she labeled with the date and the price. I suppose I might have joked with her, that they have medicine for that, if I had known her better. She had marvelous taste in fabric, and I have many of her unused pieces in my bins, marked with the date and price, of course. She always wore her hair long, twisted up into a crown of braids on top of her head, covered up with a kerchief, and she was quite vain about her trim self, her hair, her teeth. She would cover her mouth like a school girl, and giggle when she thought something was funny, self consciously, as if she was afraid to be noticed too often. She never wanted to hold babies, but would sit with her purse clutched on her lap, watching their every move. I could never picture her holding her own babies, or taking care of little children.
Now she is gone, and in the next few days I will travel to her funeral. I am certain I will hear more of her story, from those who loved her, and those who did not. I hope that when I am old, folks will know my story because I shared it freely with them. I hope that when I cannot do the telling, that it will always be told by someone who loves me.