My great grandmother was crazy – and so was Gram – well, for at least a year.
They called it a nervous breakdown then.
My great grandmother had hers after my Aunt Mary died. Seems that she disapproved of Aunt Mary’s choice of men. She had chosen a man who was not as settled as they would have wanted and my great grandmother threw her out of the house. Within a short time later – I want to say days to weeks – Aunt Mary died in a motorcycle accident with her young man. My great grandmother never got over it – and she had a nervous breakdown. She went to live with relatives who cared for her and my Grandmother and her sister, my Aunt Fran, went to live with my great-grandfather. My Grandmother never saw her mother again. She told me that my Aunt Fran saw her once after her breakdown and that my great grandmother was jumping up and down on the bed acting like a monkey. The next thing my Grandmother knew, her mother had died. If Gram knew how she died, she didn’t tell me. Her mother was only in her 40s when she died. She didn’t really talk about her mom other than that. We just kind of let it go.
Gram had a nervous breakdown when she was 13. She spent a year lying in her bed, just staring at the ceiling. That’s how you handled a nervous breakdown back then. All she did was count the number of holes in the tiles on the ceiling all day, everyday for a year. Then she was better. She never told me what happened to cause her nervous breakdown. She never told me what happened that made her better. She never told me what it felt like when she had her breakdown or if she sometimes felt that way afterwards. We didn’t talk about that. We just let it go.
Gram had a love of her life. His name was Shaeffer. My grandfather’s name was Clarence.
Shaeffer married someone else. She lost him to another woman. Gram had two children with my grandfather and then he went off to war. When he came back he was different. He drank – alot – and she lost him to the bottle.
Gram’s life became a constant vigil to keep the family financially afloat because Grampa would drink his paycheck. She got a job working for the State as a file clerk. And she stayed with him. I never asked her why she didn’t leave him, though I wondered. I just would call the tavern at dinner time like she did every evening, and have them send him home for supper. He would come in, eat dinner, and then go up to bed. They did this every day.
I know Gram had dreams. She loved dancing and she loved music. She taught me how to polka in the dining room and I grew up listening to Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis albums. She read murder mysteries and we would watch old movies together. She loved the ballroom dancing competitions where the girls would dress in beautiful gowns and dance across the ballrooms. I still love ballroom dancing because it connects me with her.
In so many ways, Gram’s life was dictated by the era she grew up in – and the poverty from which she came. I am so much like her and I did so many more things in my life. I wonder how much she would have done if she had been my contemporary rather than my Grandmother. How many dreams did she have that she had to let go of to be there for all of us. How much in her life did she just let go of.
I wish I had thought to ask.