“They gave me a dozen yellow roses the day you were born. You were their first grandchild and they were really hoping for a girl so they were very happy when you showed up, a tiny little girl that looked just like her father.” All my mother would say and pretty much all I really knew of my grandparents on my father’s side, I mean aside from some really grainy and not so deep memories of them and awkward visits that were somewhat forced and always fraught with a weird kind of sadness that I was far too young to understand at the time.
When I was older more stories would come, ones that carried with them an even darker and bloated sense of sadness than I used to feel watching my mother’s big blue eyes fill with tears as climbed back in her VW Bug and left me for visits with my father’s parents. The older me was granted inside access to the stories of rage, sadness, fear and abandonment in foreign countries. Stories of a tyrannical and absentee father that in turn raised a son that, at least in my estimation, abandoned his child as well. Through all the odd and fragmented telling of these events I found myself feeling about my paternal grandparents much as I did about my deceased father at the time, “If they didn’t care enough, well neither do I” Cynical and cold? Maybe but it was part of the protective armor that had been forming over my heart, that barrier that kept most people at lengths far enough that I had hoped they wouldn’t be able to thump away even harder, or even sweeter, at what was in fact, a rather bruised heart. A thick layer of “Don’t you dare” that would serve me well at a time when I needed it most, and in some strange way I now find myself feeling grateful for….that old, “without knowing pain you can know no pleasure” or whatever, well there is real truth in that.
So icy cold grandparents on one side and none on the other, like one side loathed me…or worse, ignored me with such venom that it stung and the other just vanished. I learned that my father’s father died and felt nothing, absolutely nothing. I remember crying the night my mother told me my father had overdosed but I’m still not sure if it were my heart breaking or if I was feeling hers do so. Hard to miss or feel pain for that you don’t know or really understand, males in my life in the form of father or grandfather? Never meant much….but when I would allow myself a fleeting second of wonder, just a few moments of “How come?” I never quite understood how any woman could just write off a granddaughter she was once so thrilled about that she laid yellow roses at my side. Like most things one can’t answer I would just shrug it off and ignore that nagging little twitch, spend my time thinking about and working on the things that did in fact matter like work and the raising of my own child.
“If you are the Samantha Dugan I am looking for” the letter that arrived in my inbox at work nearly two years ago now, a letter from my father’s brother telling me that he had been looking for me. I once again found myself buckling into the armor, forthcoming but not willing to open up, expose myself to people that had left me nearly 35 years ago. Why would I? Why should I? I’m a happy woman now, living in a life I love and wouldn’t change for anything and that all came about without any help or hugs, any knowledge or involvement from them other than leaving me with a hole or missing half and the occasional sense of wonder. As I heard these things flitting about in my head and sometimes coming out of my mouth, well it became pretty clear, I wasn’t as over it as I thought.
So began a conversation, one between my uncle and I that would answer lots of questions, sort of and fill me with many more. “I thought I had found you when I went to The Wine Country’s bio page, but when I read that you were married I assumed Dugan was your married name so you couldn’t be the Samantha I was looking for.” His words were slipping past the crust and his dedication to writing me long letters and pages of stories about his family…or our family, I felt myself slipping out of that armor and aching for more. “After your father died your mother was supposed to go to your grandmother’s for a visit, she never showed. My mother waited days, called and even went by where you were living, you guys had just vanished. She sent cards for years but they always came back. We had no idea where you had gone. We learned not to speak of you later in her life because it always made her cry.”
I read the pages of history my uncle sent, the stories so unlike those my mother told that I would swear I was hearing about two different families. Even now I’m not sure if my uncle is sugar coating things, my mother just made things up or if my father had filled my mother’s head with lies and crazy delusion, thing is, doesn’t matter. None of that matters now, nearly everyone is gone and I can’t even ask my mother why she ran with me, shunned them if that is what really happened. The here and now is all that truly matters and now I have this uncle and the knowing that my paternal grandmother didn’t just vanish, that she wondered and ached for me…can’t say as that changes the way I feel about them or myself for that matter but I must confess, it’s nice to know.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t get to know one another. I’m sorry I never got to partake of a meal in your kitchen, one that I can remember anyway. I’m sorry if you were hurt by my mother or her family. I’m sorry you never got to meet your great-grandson. I’m sorry for the times I was angry and worse, apathetic. I’m sorry I never thought to look for you. I’m sorry you and my mother never found peace in each other, you both suffered a life changing blow, began a new life of loneliness the day that lethal dose ran through my father’s, her husband’s, your son’s veins. Things were far from easy but I’m now a happy and strong woman very much in love with my life. As soon as I send this note off into the ether I will be stepping into my jeans that are way too big for me and I like them that way, buttoning up my Wine Country shirt, also too big and again, the way I like it, to go into work where I have been given some of the greatest moments of my life….where I discovered there is something besides angry that I am good at, to teach and share with people my beloved Champagnes. A second class we had to add because the first one filled up so quickly. Seventy plus people wanting to come taste and learn with me. I’m not alone, Grandmother Jane, not even close and I hope that if there is anything beyond this life we live here, that you can see and feel that….
I’m not perfect
I’m not angry
Full of laughter
Sort of funny at times
Rest peaceful dear lady….and thanks for the roses, and the tears.