Nana was a bitter woman. Others were out to get her. Even her own family wouldn’t cooperate with her demands sometimes. She especially didn’t care for me.
She was my mother-in-law.
Her childhood had dealt her a bad hand. They had been poor. Her mother was a mousy housewife. She was determined to be different. Her tongue was razor sharp…and she directed it at anyone who dared to question what she said.
As a pastor’s wife, she had a lot of targets. Around the dinner table after church on Sunday, she spouted non-stop tirades about how the members dressed, how they sang and if they put anything in the offering. Nana felt each little girl should arrive at church with black patent shoes, frilly dresses, hat and gloves. The church members were mostly farmers. Their little girls did farm labor and wore plain, sturdy clothes and shoes.
She couldn’t stand it.
So, after raising her two sons, she decided to acquire a daughter to dress as she pleased. It took a lot of court battles and seven long years, but she finally had a daughter. Although she had been named Charlene, Nana changed her name to Janet Kay.
Each Sunday, Janet had a new frilly dress complete with accessories.
But the bitterness remained. No one complimented Nana on the way Janet looked. So Nana tried harder. As Janet grew older, she became aware that the other children did not like her. She cried on my shoulder many times about not feeling loved at home. Standing in a Christian bookstore one day, I pointed to the plaque on the wall that talked about the love for an adopted child…”You grew in my heart, not under it”. Janet had no idea an adopted child was supposed to be loved. She felt like a “dress up doll”.
I watched this pretentious behavior unfold daily from the time I was twelve until her son left me when I was 29. That’s when she said, (and I quote), “I never want to see you or those children again”. Nana’s tongue became even sharper. Popo, her husband, could do nothing right. He was the absolute perfect example of “hen-pecked”.
Nana remained bitter to the end.
Nana’s antithesis came in the form of a sweet old lady whom I and my children called Grandma Geller.
She had a hard life. Her husband had died prematurely and her son (and only child) had been severely injured in an accident. His caregiver for years, she never complained…but always had a smile. When he died, she grieved and then moved on.
It was her idea to call her “Grandma”, since we had been disowned. For us, Grandma Geller was a rock in our unstable world.
We were welcome at her home any time. If it was close to a mealtime, she opened her heart and kitchen to us. As we sat at her table, we could watch the hummingbirds as they feasted on the feeders just outside the window.
Her yard was a profusion of flowers, and she always sent me home with a bouquet. When I married again, I drove to her house the morning of my wedding and she provided the flowers for my special day…including the ones I wore in my hair.
I could turn to her for advice on any subject.
One day, when my children were with their father, I mustered up my courage and drove the 22 miles from Nampa to Boise…to sit by the river. The spot I chose just happened to be on the grounds of the Red Lion Motel. Sitting on a bench, minding my own business and pondering life…suddenly an older man dressed in a suit appeared and sat down beside me.
I had no idea what to do. Should I run? Scream? Be nice? This was one of my first ventures into the world. Did this kind of thing happen often?
We talked for awhile. He seemed nice. As he stood to leave…without any warning…he turned and kissed me full on the mouth as he pressed a $50 bill into my hand. He walked away, while I wondered what kind of germs had just been transferred to me. And what was I supposed to do with this $50? I felt dirty.
I went straight to Grandma Geller.
She gave me wonderful advice. “Honey, the devil has had that money long enough. You go out and buy yourself something new. Consider it a gift from God.”
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