Monday
Oct082007

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grandmother virginia lucas at age 90 in her favorite chair in the dining room by the giant windowToday is my late grandmother's birthday. Virginia would have been 98 today. Even her actual 91 years were a mighty feat of endurance through a century that so drastically reinvented the world and life in it. She saw many things come and go in that time. Some were regarded as great progress (she lauded science and inspired my curiosity about the lunar landings and so forth), and some were huge steps back (Elvis pretty much was the end of music for her). Some things never really wavered for her (she was always devoted to church life on the lay ministerial, social, and charitable levels). I know there were things that she was not willing to adapt to because they flew in the face of tradition. Our church was among those that began to use gender inclusive language, and she was not hip to that at all. 'Why can't they just let God be a HE like he has always been?' This trend really messed with her traditional Christmas favorites. I don't know if it is that she actively supported patriarchal systems, or only knew that the fight was so great as to not really feel it worth the effort to change things, certainly not in her late 70s or so.

Of all the things that came and went, I have a feeling though she would come unglued if she knew what happened to her family in the wake of her passing in early 2001. I think she saw visions of it before she died; she wanted it not to be this way. She had many reasons to think it would turn out bad. And it has. In some ways, while the worst of it happened after she died, even the five years before that saw a lot of division and fracturing in the wake of my grandfather's death in 1996. I think his death was like pulling the king pin out of a complex mechanism, and all the pieces fell away into a scattered heap. I know the ensuing drama between she and my father and I was something that never let her grieve her partner's loss—after over 61 years of marriage. We had the added complexity of a certain fellow named Bill Francis who was ostensibly going to help her out for room and board in return. And that was a colossal mistake that I unfortunately endorsed in the early days of the arrangement, based on what had been, to that point, a friendship. I later came to regret that, as it ended up having some wild unforeseen things happen. All of which, coupled with losing my grandfather, turned into a giant nightmare of a family meltdown.

My father made no secret about his ideas for how to commandeer their house after they were gone, and his influence was not wanted while only my grandmother remained. Yet, for a long time after that bitter summer of 1996, she and I were at odds too, which at the time was just the way things were, but on reflection, was a tragedy for me, and a great disservice to her. Not long after this Bill Francis guy was finally sent out of the house after a year and a half, I moved in, though I did not kid anyone that I would help out. I was very selfish then. I also worked a real erratic schedule in the music industry which really was not the sort that would let me be of service to someone who needed regular attention. (She did have regular care for about four years thanks to the neighbors and their extended family and church friends.) I paid bills or rent or both. But we did not have much of an emotional relationship. That had been pushed aside for years, and the woman I once went to with all my concerns just became a stodgy old roommate who passed judgment on my lifestyle and whom I avoided willfully. Really sad, and I may have to deal with that for years. There were a few instances of crossing that chasm, but they were exceptions and occurred nowhere near as often as when I was a kid and teen.

There were times when I overstepped my verbal rental agreement and got her irate at that, but I never had designs on her whole house. I just wanted my room and the studio space, and by sake of the reality of the situation, other space would be available because she could not possibly use it all. On the other hand, my father always had designs for how to make it into a split residence where she or he could live in half the place and rent out the other half. It became his project since he likes to tinker with stuff like that. But both his folks shrugged him off during their lives, and nothing really changed there. Until of course they were both gone and he would be free to do what he wanted. It happened that the peak of the housing market coincided with the few years after Virginia died. The part I don't think my father anticipated (in his earlier schemes) was that I would be living in the house when she died. I was there almost three years before she died, and continued for a few more after that under the new regime. He had always promised me that my studio would be subject to being dismantled on event of her death. That it lasted four more years was remarkable to me. He and I, after her death, had a huge blowout that ended up setting up the patterns of the next few years. The terms were agreed upon that he'd rent out a couple rooms that I would care for, and the rent rate would be just a little more than two rooms could fetch, therefore snookering me into that nominal rent that would still make me indebted to him. It served as an irritating reminder of what only five years before I had left when I stormed out of his house in two hours, taking everything that would fit into two cars.

Oh, the story is long and tedious. But suffice to say, he got ownership of it because Virginia was not able to alter her legal plans for the house before she died. She wanted me to have at least a share, and some near her said that she was talking about the entire place. She had asked me if I wanted it, and my answer deferred to her wisdom, but this conversation was had after she had a stroke and was not herself. It also happened shortly after my father realized a closet full of skeletons was about to be opened, and he was helpless to do anything about it, except to punish the curiosity that I had to relate to my mother and siblings. He had a nasty secret to keep regarding some sexual misconduct and a minor, and he knew that it would totally fuck everything up. And it did. In a preemptive strike against my curiosity, he assured me in a letter [image] that we would have hard times ahead if I followed this path of curiosity. And we did. Once he owned "my" house, he did as he wanted. His work was tasteless, inconsiderate of actual need, and illegal. I called him directly on the first two; the latter I turned over to the city because I knew there was no way to rein in his work but to call the city (who promised me anonymity but fucked up some administrative details that had exactly the opposite effect). At the end of a depressing summer of watching him enact all his lame work upon the place, I had it. I had it with life as well. So what if the city bust his balls? He had no respect for me, and I was checking out, for all I was concerned.

He never understood anything of my suicidal ideation. He never understood emotional pain moving a person to act like I was acting. Eventually, he figured out that I turned him in, and that began a process that led to my being evicted (along with Kelli and our roommate and dog). After we left, he rented the place for nine months or so, but about a year ago, it was emptied out for the last time, and I went and collected all my remaining items in a clean sweep—appliances, light fixtures, blinds, and stainless steel AC outlet cover plates! He was livid, and came to my current house to make some fuss about how I put this stuff before him, yadda yadda. Perhaps he got a clue how I felt? That property is more important than his one remaining family member?

It took me until June this year to see where it actually was leading to. I found out by a fucking Google search that my house was sold in April. At least it was far less than the nearly $560k he wanted. It looks like it went for $515k and even that is far too great a reward for his behavior from the last several years, particularly with me, but over a lifetime of manipulation and arrogance. He had no need to sell it. If all he wanted was money, he could have collected a rent check with me living there. He did that for a few years while I was there. But he had to jerk me around to make his point that I should not have contacted my mother. So he had to pull the house out from under me, undermining my stability that he and my grandfather had spent all my lifetime promising would be mine.

So back to grandmother. She perfectly well knew stuff like this would happen. Even my grandfather did. I think it is a dreadful shame how it all fell apart. Everything they worked for fell into my father's hands and has been sold off so as to benefit himself. I have furniture, a truck, some gear from various inherited money, some personal artifacts, and memories. But I have lots of pain as I realize that I never really grieved the loss of either of my grandparents. Both instances drove wedges between my father and me. There has never been any family effort to mourn properly, and now there is no family anyway. The extent of any ritualistic closing of their books of life was limited to their memorials; my grandfather's on Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetary with an 18 gun salute; and grandmother's being sort of a thrown-together affair at the church which both my father and I attended but did not have any hand in organizing. I did deliver an impromptu message of thanks that was phrased in such a way to irk my father and shake him up some in front of my grandmother's biggest fans. But that was all. After that, it was 'we now return to our regularly scheduled family meltdown.'

The only way I can emerge victorious from all this is that while the old man was able to wrangle the house and get it on the market and sell it for an unconscionable sum, I was the one who got the home. He got the stucco and wood; I got the home life which he abandoned years ago because his agenda was more important. Without the home life, a place is just a box devoid of meaning. I have no idea what he will do with $515k but he won't ever be able to piece together the family again, and it will be a long road to ever reminding me what I should remember him for other than systematically destroying my family from before I was born, and seeing to it that his agenda comes out ahead of anyone else's. At this point, from whatever scraps available to me, I try to put something back together. Kelli is an invaluable help in that regard. She is an ally in seeing that life does not devolve into an empty pursuit of materialism and power. We live modestly, but we are so in love in a way my father could only ever be jealous of, no matter how many houses he has ever held titles to at once, or how many wives and girlfriends he's screwed over.

As for Virginia, I know she'd be heartbroken to see this. This isn't what she toiled for. This isn't why she stayed married for 61 years. Not to see the family dissolve not in the midst of poverty and hardship, but at the peak of the market when the house was supposedly at its peak. All her traditional Christian upbringing and activism was not to lead to this—a house divided. No, I know in my heart she would never have signed her name to this. But I know she's out and about somehow, her spirit informing Kelli and me on how to be together, how to seek out divine guidance in bewildering times. She and my grandfather got married—an optimistic move—in 1935, in the thick of the Great Depression when cooperation was the ticket out of the hard life into something more bearable. My father happened into exactly the opposite. He came of age in the age of explosive materialism, hard men standing their ground on the world stage, and coincident with the rise of the party of greed (GOP, backwards). But I see it another way. After my father's generation has forgotten what a struggle is, and has reshaped the world in a way that trivializes the values that prior generations held, there will have to be a return to more durable values not based on exploiting each other, especially inside the family. I don't share a lot of the particular values that my grandmother held dear, though through Christianity, I know there is a wellspring there to draw from, and to formulate something based on what I now see is wrong. My father dropped the ball in this regard. He has nothing to teach me about family values because he has labored for years to undermine them to this day. The only family value he could reliably be counted to hold up is 'father knows best.' But even that is bullshit, because no father in his right mind wants the family to fall apart.

So, happy birthday, G-ma. The only present I have to give is for you to know that I want to pick up your thread and make something again, after some distractions kept me occupied. The house is gone, so we can't meet there. I did what I could. I know you understand and did what you could. But I kept the home, with your help. Some is in the garage, some in my heart, and some is between Kelli and I (and Buber, our pup who would have been a great buddy for you those last few years). Shalom.

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