Saturday, April 29, 2006

Time Travelling with Granny

A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk. . . .
My boy, it's your last resort.
Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) "The Applicant" (1963)

My grandmother Margaret is in her 90s. She lives in Strawberry Point, Iowa in the dementia ward of the Lutheran Home. Outside her window you can see the church steeple and she keeps an avid eye on the comings and goings in the parking lot. She is not so much demented as she no longer resides in this particular reality. Time has lost all meaning for her and she floats back and forth between the present and the past, stopping longest in her childhood with her parents. I find it interesting to imagine what time period I will choose if I make it that far? What was the best time of my life? The time I will want to relive over and over again once the present is meaningless to me and I am rootless and floating about?

Tell me the tales that to me were so dear, Long, long ago, long, long ago.
Thomas Haynes Bayly, Long, Long Ago

Speaking of a rootlessness, there was a period in my life when I was living in California and I went out of my way to call, write and visit my grandmother. This was partially because she is the only living grandparent I have left and also because I never really knew her very well and the clock is ticking. In fact, I never knew any of my grandparents very well and she is my last chance. She tolerated my calls and visits with good humor. She has become mellow and jolly in her old age and would sometimes ask who I was and why I was there but she is used to people coming and going around her. I began to look forward to our talks. She is pessimistic beyond belief and she seems to take pleasure in disaster. I teased her about her doomsday mentality and she didn't seem to mind.

What peaceful hours I once enjoy'd! How sweet their memory still! But they have left an aching void The world can never fill.
William Cowper, Walking with God

I always figured that my grandmother could have been an artist if she had been brought up in a different environment. The only proof that I have of her artistic inclination and talents are the many beautifully composed black and white photographs that she took over the years and her colorful, lively gardens. Because her family were Swiss immigrants who moved to the wilds of Iowa to farm the land, granny grew up in the middle of nowhere with no houses for miles around. As you will see in the following video, she actually did walk two miles to her one room schoolhouse in the snow every day (that ain't no myth!). She fed the animals, did her chores, sewed her hankies and quilts and married a Swiss man that also came from her small village of Bleienbach, Switzerland (my family is still there today!). They settled in Strawberry Point and grandpa opened his own mechanics shop. Granny did all the baking, sewing, gardening and housework and she never learned how to drive.

The problem that has no name - which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities - is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease.
Betty Friedan (1921-2006) The Feminine Mystique (1963)

It is hard to imagine what her life would have been like had she had more options. In some ways, I think I have too many options and that is why marriage and kids never seemed so pressing. But I know I would have gone mad living within the boundaries of my grandmother's rigid life. And I think she did go a little mad after she had her one and only child, my dad. It is always fun for me to consider what her life might have been like had she learned how to drive, made some city friends, left the house on occasion, worn pants and moved to the big city to get a job as a photographer for a daily paper! ?

I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well. - Diane Ackerman (1948-present) quoted in Newsweek, September 22, 1986

This is not in any way to disparage the life she ended up leading, but I think it would have been nice for her to have more options and I am glad that I, at least, have some choices in the matter of my life's course. Her life was plotted out for her from a young age. She never even went to high school. And now she has returned to her happiest time, that of a carefree child before adulthood hung its heavy weight upon her shoulders and the burdens of marriage, motherhood and life shut her up in her home for most of her adult life. She seems happy now, light hearted and carefree. She chats about her mother's 200 African violets and the difficulties of getting past a nasty rooster. Ninety years melt away and we are 7 yrs old and walking up the gravel road to get to her house and feed the cows. The mischievious spark that was in her eye in her childhood photos has returned. Perhaps that is all we can ask for in the end.

The history of all times, and of today especially, teaches that ... women will be forgotten if they forget to think about themselves. - Louise Otto

Here is a cheesy music video I did for my grandparents to Irene Cara's "Out Here on My Own" in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. My grandfather shot all of the super 8 and 16mm footage. He had an adventurous streak (which was slightly tempered by marriage, much to his chagrin) and he used to ride motorcycles, climb mountains and fly his Cessna airplane regularly. But I will save his story for another time.

Memories are all we really own. - Elias Lieberman


Anonymous said...


bully said...

I started this strange journey with a youtube search for KITH skits. And look where it has taken me!
The Deadbeat stuff is great especially that one on scientology (is that the study of scientists?) with Braincandy clips. It's impossible to convey my amusement in writing.
That's to say that these two videos are pure genius. That first reminded me of talking to my granny in the home. The second, wow, poignantly beautiful. Take my breath away Calgon...err Eva.

Eva the Deadbeat said...

dear bully,

Thanks for making your way here. I am a HUGE KITH fan as well and youtube is kind to fans of KITH. I gotta put up my KITH montage to TMBG's "Sapphire Bullets" one of these days. I liked what you said on your blog about death homes, uhm, I mean nursing homes. They are strangely beautiful in their creepiness, not that I could work in one but I find the plethora of forgotten souls and the staff's chirpy disconnect with death fascinating. Wonder how long my granny will hang on? She is blissful in her time travelling journeys...

hope the show continues to amuse and thanks for watching!

rock, eva of the deadbeats

Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing your beautiful essay about your grandma. So much to think about.

I found your blog through a link from 802 online. What a find!

Eva the Deadbeat said...

hey anon,

thanks for stopping by and thanks to Cathy over at the most fabulous 802 online for the mention!

eva of the deadbeats