Whether you celebrate it or not, you can probably appreciate that Halloween brings out in our culture an unparalleled ability to face that which scares us most. At no other time will you see people blithely walking into inky darkness, standing up to ghosts and the undead, staging surgeries in sensitive regions, and actively celebrating spiders and bats – sometimes smiling. We’ll even lovingly handle the foul innards of pumpkins, for heaven’s sake. (Can you imagine what your average six-year-old would do faced with such a chore on a Saturday morning in, say, April?) It’s fascinating, really.
Around our house, thankfully, the spooks are few. The girls and I have been inspired on more than one Halloween to discuss our fears at length – those things that either skeeze us out in the moment or haunt us with regularity. We have some of the usual suspects on our list: bugs, the dark, being alone, Lady Gaga, scary movies…and of course, Grandma.
Now I know that may sound odd to you if you grew up with normal grandparents, or if the only vision you have of a grandmother is the traditional white-haired, warm-hearted, cookie-dispensing kind. That’s how my grandmother gets you. She’s like the old witch in Hansel and Gretel; she begins by playing the part and seeming to be interested in you – offering you little gifts and such – and then just as you lean in…she throws you into the fire.
Think I’m exaggerating? One Christmas, Grandma went to great lengths to set up her kewpie doll nativity scene (the fact of her having which is sinister enough to incriminate, but I digress) on the floor in her parlor because “the children will enjoy it.” Then, at the first sign of my youngest – who was three at the time and diagnosed with a learning disability – daring to play with it or even touch it, she snatched them up and commenced to abusing us all verbally about what misbehaved children they were for getting into other people’s things and what a bad parent I was for raising them that way.
This is the same woman who, when my mom, my sister and I lived with her growing up, specialized in taking the family out to buffets for dinner as a special treat. Yet from the moment we arrived, she would observe and criticize our every food choice, then get irritated with us for not eating enough because we weren’t “getting our money’s worth,” and then spend the entire car ride home critiquing our figures. Another example: Grandma identified my sister early on as the nice one, so she purposed to take her on special outings such as baseball games, then used the time to tell her repeatedly that a) our parents never wanted to have her and b) even so, if she had been a boy, my father wouldn’t have abandoned us for another family. Are you getting the picture?
Want to know how she got that way? It can all be narrowed down to an inability to forgive. Every single time anyone has ever argued with her, made a mistake, said a bad word, or woken up in a bad mood, Grandma has held onto it. She keeps a ledger in her heart that is decades long of infractions (or even perceived ones) against her, and she refers to it often. It is her life and only source of power. The ink is black and gooey and alive like Venom, and it has rewritten history in her mind so that she is the only hero in a world of villains and ingrates.
The crux of the horror for me is looking at her relationship with her three children now. All of them endured multiple and long term abuses at her hand growing up, and every single one has overcome and established successful, thriving lives despite it all…but not one of them has an emotional connection to Grandma today. They provide for her wellbeing because they are good people who follow the biblical directive to respect elders, but that’s about as far as it goes. Spending time with her is a chore celebrated only upon its completion, and special occasions enjoy periods of gaeity despite her, never with her.
This is the fate worse than death in my book. I can handle spiders, bats, and ghouls. I am not worried about getting sick, nor do I concern myself much when darkness descends. I do despise horror movies and haunted houses, but I would even choose to endure them over ever seeing my children look at me the way my family looks at Grandma. Lord, let it not be so! May I ever forgive and believe the best of people so that I never become a wicked old witch, frightening small children and driving my loved ones from my presence, myself drifting into a temporal void of aloneness.
(shudder) Man, I’m getting out of here.