Respect Your Elders

Me and the blonde.

Me and the blonde.

I am so unmoved to write these days.  I have blamed it on the visual nature of my work in the arts, and not without merit.  Writing has become about what I see, feel and need to communicate, rather than simply what I feel and need to communicate.

Tonight, sitting in my husband’s studio after closing the gallery, the same old woman came to mind.  Why does she inspire me so?  Particularly her line, “…better people than her don’t like me.”  I laugh to no end at that.

I’ve written about it before.  Once, I told her, smiling, “I don’t think she likes you”, speaking of my step mother.  Both of us knew she didn’t, but I felt, as always, the need to share my opinion.  (Sorry, not sorry.) There was a hatred, based on a fear…a fear of loss of control (of my father)…which is of course, an illusion anyway, witness, the divorce.

Before she died, my grandmother put her wedding ring in my hand, and asked me to keep the family together.  Ugh.  I tried, because I love her so.  Also, I failed. They just weren’t that interested.  Additionally, after two years, I had enough.

Though I boast an insanely similar personality to Miss Edith Margaret Taylor Goodman, I don’t hold the same sway over my elders.  Once I came to grips with the fact that I failed the only person in this world who ever understood and loved me unconditionally for the passionate and difficult creature I am, (that she also was, this is a woman who flipped a table at a bar in rural Mississippi in the ’40’s over anti semitic remarks in relation to her propriety), I began bonsai’ing my family tree with a vengeance. Fuck it.

As I sat in the studio with my husband / boyfriend of 22 years, reminiscing about the fabulous woman she…will always be…it occurred to me.  She wouldn’t hate me for the chop, chop, chopping of the old family tree.  She’d understand, be disappointed, but respect me for it.

She routinely called one of her daughter in law’s a shit stirrer, and never related to the, Hi, I won’t answer the front door when you visit, but here’s a Happy Thanksgiving card. I tried, to make nice, as she had done, but had to agree, she was a shit stirrer.  Snip, snip goes the bough.  Another, the recipient of the best comment of all time, “…better people than her don’t like me”, I gleefully cut that branch off with a fucking chainsaw laughing all the while.

Other sick limbs fell. Those, I cried over, but they were rotting and needing to go, or risk infecting the rest of the tree.  It was sad, and took a fair amount of intestinal fortitude.  If a bud ever grows back, I’ll nurture it, but it’s not up to me.  She’d have recognized and appreciated that.

Ultimately, I am so grateful.  Grateful, that she raised me, or “trained me”, as she liked to say.  Grateful she met two of my three children…the third bears her name, as promised, Sophia Margaret… Grateful she knew my husband, which is where tonight’s conversation began.  That man got the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

He called her out.  When she was dying.  …of bone cancer…  He told her she was being selfish in not letting me see her.  He told her I cried when we got off the phone.

Her response?  “Your husband gave me a sermon.  He said I was selfish for not letting you come see me.  He said you cry when we get off the phone…like I don’t know you.  …but don’t tell him I told you or he won’t talk to me like that anymore.”


S. Conde

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