Last fall, I went back to Wisconsin to visit family and I came home with a clock. It’s a wooden clock that sat on top of my grandparents’ television set for as long as I could remember. It’s the grandfather of the digital clocks we all know today. The clock has a wooden body; so very late 1960s and early 1970s in decor. The numbers “flip” when the minutes change.
When I was a little kid, this clock fascinated me. This clock is one of those fond memories I have of my grandparents’ house. This clock has a place among the memories of “bumpy rides” and “the jungle” and picking raspberries and my grandfather always singing and our annual summertime weekly stay. I remember sitting on the floor, enthralled with the soft pop as the plastic escaped from the spring which held it in place. That soft pop was a reward for waiting sixty seconds. We certainly didn’t have a clock like this in my house.
Some of my fondest childhood memories happened at my grandparents’ house. Things seemed happier there. My grandfather was most certainly not like my father. My grandfather always seemed cheerful and he sang songs and he played with us. He didn’t go out and hide from the rest of us in his den. He showed affection to my grandmother in front of us. He had his workshop and he had his hobbies. I was not afraid of my grandfather.
When I was sixteen and learning to drive, my grandfather took me out one day and I wished that he had been the one to teach me how to drive. My mother was too afraid and anxious to let me drive on the highway. My father couldn't be bothered. The first time I drove on the highway was with my grandfather and I was terrified. I didn’t know it then, but looking back on it, I think this is how my natural tendency towards anxiety was fostered. My mother's anxiety rubbed off on me. But my grandfather was patient with me and made me feel better and I did it.
My grandmother was a quiet woman who baked a lot and cooked and worried a lot, but I loved her to death. She tried to teach me how to crochet and to sew when I was little. I didn't have the patience, then so I gave up. She taught me how to play solitaire and she always had gum in her purse for us. She sewed clothes for me and for my Barbie dolls.
We lived about a half hours’ drive away from them. To me, the distance seemed so great. I wished we lived closer to them or they to us, so I could spend more time at their house. My grandparents house was happier.
Every summer, we spent an entire week up at my grandparents. Those were happy weeks where we got a respite from living under the smothering darkness that seemed to surround my father. For an entire week, I could relax and not have to worry about suffering his wrath if I did something wrong or it wasn't to his liking. For an entire week, I didn't have to be responsible for making supper while my mother was at work in the evening and my father sat on the couch. I didn't have to worry about getting yelled at because I dumped a can of Manwich in a pot because that's all I could do at the age of seven (and I shouldn't have been allowed to use the stove in the first place). I didn't have to live in fear of having to wash every single dish in the house as punishment because either I or my four year old sister missed a spot the day before. (Yes, when I was seven and my sister was four, we had to wash the dishes by ourselves. I believe in chores for children but they have to be age appropriate. At seven, I should have just been helping my mother with this.)
For an entire week, I was allowed to be a child. And I will be eternally grateful that my grandparents gave me that gift, even if it was only one week out of the year.
It’s been ten years since my grandfather passed away. It’s been nearly twenty-four years since my grandmother passed away. I miss both of them. I think I miss both of them more now than I ever have.
If both my grandparents were still alive, they’d be 98 years old. I wish I’d gotten to know them better as an adult. I regret not being around more before my grandfather passed away. There are so many questions I want to ask them.
I believe that my grandmother was agoraphobic. Hindsight has shown me that she had severe anxiety, and I’ve only come to know this because of my severe anxiety. My grandmother knew how to drive, but didn’t because her anxiety prevented her from doing it. Her anxiety often allowed her to be talked out of doing things because she was more afraid of what might happen. She never left the house alone. She would get anxious if she had to make a phone call (I’m sort of the same way.)
I wish she was around so I could talk to her about this. I don’t know if she would answer, but I’d still like to try, mainly to get answers for my own condition. I also wish she were around so I could sit and knit with her and get sewing advice or talk about cooking. My mother rarely did any of these things.
I wish they were both around because the big question I want to ask them is “what do you really think of my father?” And I’d tell them it’s okay to be honest. I’d love to just sit and have an honest conversation with them and tell them what it was like growing up in my house. I think that when they were alive, they were too polite to put him down in front of us. I do respect that, but the adult child I am now wishes they did in some way mainly for validation.
I think there is also a part of me that hopes that if I were to have this conversation with them, they’d intervene, talk to my mother, and hopefully talk some sense into her.
But I will never get that.
In a way, I almost feel sorry for my younger cousins and my nieces and nephews. They never knew my grandmother and they didn’t know my grandfather very well. My own son was nine when he passed away. They didn’t have the fun times nor had the opportunity to have the memories of them I do. I feel blessed in a way that I am the oldest of the grandchildren and I had eighteen years with my grandmother and thirty-one with my grandfather.
I have this clock and I have memories. I’m glad I have this clock. It sits on the bottom ledge of the opening in my kitchen wall. It’s plugged in and I use it as a clock, even though it’s only correct for a half an hour. As far as mementos from my grandparents, I got the short end of the stick. I was given what others thought I would like, almost as an afterthought. I wish I could have had one of the wooden bowls my grandfather made.
My uncle lives in my grandparents' old house, so it has stayed in the family. That house is still the central gathering place of my extended family. There are now three generations that gather at least once a year for the holidays or when those of us who live further away come back to visit. I stayed there last fall. When I saw this clock sitting in the bedroom closet, I knew I had to have it. I thought the clock was long gone. I was delighted to see it was still there. I asked my uncle if I could have it. He said sure.
The clock doesn’t always keep the correct time. One of the springs isn’t working. That doesn’t matter to me and that’s not why I wanted the clock. I have something now that represents something special. My grandparents and the gift they gave me.
You can take the girl out of Wisconsin, but you can't take Wisconsin out of the girl.