Tag: grandparents

The weekend I learned people of ‘a certain age’ don’t actually sleep

Apparently, once you hit 70 or so, you don’t sleep. At least that’s what I’ve learned after spending two nights and three days with my parents this past weekend.

I really thought that older people slept a lot – or at least napped – sort of like cats, but, alas, that is obviously not the case.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that aches and pains and heartburn and simple, general old-age insomnia keep many older people awake, so that’s why they don’t sleep. I’m already experiencing it at middle-age. Still, I had no idea that people of a “certain age” only need about five hours of sleep to function each day. They may not function well, and they may function on a bit more of a cranky plane than others, but they function nonetheless.

My daughter wanted to stay at her grandparents one weekend and since we couldn’t that particular day, I told her we would do it the following weekend when her brother was at a sleepover and her dad was working an extra shift. As so often happens when I plan a special weekend, I ended up having two weird health spells while there (translation: I’m hitting that special age when our hormones shift so my nasty monthly visitor came early), which wasn’t fun, but what was fun was watching my daughter spend almost our entire time there sitting next to her grandmother playing with her stuffed animals and telling my mom all she knows  about wildlife thanks to PBS kids’ Wild Kratts. Of course, she did tell Mom that some Jaguares give birth to 300 cubs at a time, obviously not accurate, so I think she may have misunderstood something Chris and Martin told her.

I don’t have a strict bedtime for my children most nights and since this was a sleepover we went to bed late that night. I crawled into my aunt’s old room around 11:30 and since Little Miss hadn’t had a nap all day she passed out within five minutes. I started to drift off at midnight while reading a book.

Before bed I had tried to figure out how to turn off the lamp next to the bed and before I even reached it, it turned off, which made me realize it must be a touch lamp. I decided I must have touched it right and went to bed, only to have the thing turn on a few moments later without me even touching it. That was disconcerting so I found the actual switch and turned that to make sure the light stayed off. I could just imagine my late aunt up in Heaven, if she can see from there, laughing at me until she couldn’t breathe. Back in bed I curled up in the flannel sheets and tried to relax after a weird day of dizziness and high blood pressure (as mentioned before, this turned out to be related to my early visitor, but I didn’t know that at the time so my hypochondria had kicked in. The blood pressure went back into normal range the next few days.).

I closed my eyes and ten minutes later a light filled the room as if the stadium lights at a night football game had been turned on. Zooma the Wonderdog had curled up at my feet, but, of course, when she heard footsteps in the hallway she was off the bed to investigate. I figured Dad had to use the bathroom while Mom was in the one downstairs so I waited for the light to click back off again. It did, but then bam! It was on 30 seconds later. I decided I’d have to join the dog to investigate so I headed down the stairs only to meet my dad, brushing his teeth, coming up to meet me.

“I turned the light off but then I thought I’d better turn it back on because I didn’t know if the dog could find her way back to your room in the dark,” he told me.

“Dad, she’s a dog. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

I flipped the light back off and went back to bed. It was about 1 a.m.

At 6 a.m. I woke up to use the bathroom and could already hear my dad opening and closing the front door and calling for Zooma to come back inside from her morning potty break. I’d had a long day the day before so I crawled back into bed and a few hours later I staggered downstairs to find my parents somewhat wide awake and freshly baked fish on the counter for breakfast (we aren’t really breakfast-food people.)

“Good grief, don’t you two sleep?” I asked.

“What? I was up at 5:30…” Dad told me.

“Yeah, but you didn’t go to bed until 1,” I pointed out.

He shrugged.

I imagined he would catch up on his sleep the next night. Instead, I was again woke up at 6 a.m., the next morning, after going to bed too late again, this time by Zooma jumping on the bed and a bright, artificial light filling the room. Apparently, Dad still didn’t think Zooma could find her way back after her morning potty break.

The last night we were there, my 4-year old daughter and 12-year old son were eating tomato soup with their grandfather at 10:30 at night.

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I was glad it was only soup this time.

One other time we were stranded at their house in a snowstorm when my mom began shoving several pieces of chocolate into my then 3-year old daughter around 11:30 at night. Fine, maybe Mom wasn’t shoving them in, but simply opening them one-by-one so my daughter could shove them in. We were awake until at least 1 a.m. the next morning. When I discovered the empty wrappers, I asked my mom what she was thinking and she giggled and said “I don’t know! She was just so cute!”

I swear when people hit grandparent age they forget about all those rules they had when they were parents. I can’t imagine my parents ever letting me shove candy down my gullet that late at night, or even being awake that late at night.

And also when they hit grandparent age, they apparently, forget how nice sleep can be.

 

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The love that didn’t last

Looking at her young face staring back at me from the vintage, monochrome photograph it suddenly struck me how young she had been when her world fell apart. Her story was family folklore, passed down as one of those subjects discussed in hushed tones and only around certain family members.

Here she was, though, appearing to me younger than I had ever imagined her when I had heard the stories as a child, a teen and even as an adult. I saw in her eyes a bit of fear, maybe trepidation, but also a lot of grit mixed with the slightest hint of humor.

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When she’d met the man she would one day married she was head over heels in love. He was handsome and charming, and loud and boisterous. Some, though, especially her family, called him trouble.

She wrote love letters to him and told him she couldn’t wait until they could be alone again, married and on their own.

The details are hazy, the story one fractured by memories not as strong as they once were, possible family biases, maybe a bit of resentment and a whole lot of “he said, she said.” What is known is they married, he did something that hurt her deeply, her family chased him off with a shotgun and she came home with a 2-month old baby and soon to be divorced, something not often heard of at that time.

The baby was born with the last name of Hakes, but a line was struck through that name and it was eliminated, one might say. When the divorce was final the baby’s last name became Robinson, his mother’s maiden name, and stayed that way, even when she became an Allen through a new marriage, years later. Family lore, accurate or not, says her family wouldn’t allow the little boy to have his father’s last name. So, the baby, my grandfather, was Hakes by blood but not by name.

Raising a son alone, so young, with a broken heart and maybe added shame, must have been close to impossible, even with the help of her family. I often wonder how those events shaped her inner being, how it maybe led her to throw up walls that it took years to let down, if she ever did.

It seems when we get older we are told new stories about family members, or more of the story or maybe we just listen better and find out what we had always thought was the full story really wasn’t.

More pieces to the puzzle of the story of my great aunt, taken away from her family to live in a mental hospital and then a nursing home were recently given to me, correcting my belief that she was placed in the home at a young age. Instead, she was apparently closer to 30 when her parents had her committed and one reason was the fear she would harm my dad, who was about three or four at the time.

And she wasn’t really abandoned there, as I had previously thought. Instead, she withdrew into herself after years of odd behavior and her parents felt she was safer in the hospital. They also had limited income and only one vehicle to visit her with or bring her home.

So while I heard new information about my great aunt’s story recently, the story that remains a mystery for most of our family is what really led to my great-grandmother Blanche leaving Howard Hakes. It’s not really a topic you bring up when meeting distant relations only at family funerals every few years.

“Hey, so whatever happened with that whole divorce thing with Blanch and Howard anyhow?” you can’t simply ask. Or, “Was that Howard a real jerk or what’s the real story?”

It wouldn’t exactly be polite dinner (or funeral) conversation.

There are the family “rumors”, of course. He liked his parties, women, and alcohol, was the one rumor. Blanche, had finally had enough, some say, and she left Waverly, NY, considered the “big city” back then in the early 1900s and returned to her family’s farm with her young son, Walter, who happens to be my grandfather.

It’s always a bit awkward to write about family drama when some of those family members who might know more are still alive so I will admit that I know very little about what led to the end of the marriage. Not too mention, because it was so long ago and I never met Blanche and was only about 2 when my grandfather died, I don’t have a “dog in this fight” so to speak. I don’t see either party as an enemy or at fault, simply because I wasn’t there, therefore I truly have no idea.

What I do have is a wonder about how Blanche felt about it all, and even how Howard felt. And when you get right down to it, what did Walter feel about it?I wish he was around for me to ask.

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Whatever led to the failed marriage, it came and my grandfather was raised without knowing his father. It wasn’t until Blanche died, well after my grandfather was an adult with two adult daughters and one young son, that Howard showed back up. My dad remembers he was about 13, returning from a Boy Scout camp out,  when a man approached him in town and told him, “I’m your grandfather.”

Later that day, sitting with my grandfather on the porch of my dad’s house, now remarried and a father of other children, Howard tried to make peace with his firstborn, asking him, “Well, your first born is always your favorite, aren’t they?”

“I don’t play favorites,” my dad remembers my grandfather saying in a deep, stern voice.

My dad was the baby of the family, his sister Eleanor was the oldest and sister Doris the middle. And no, Walter wasn’t going to play favorites.

Maybe Grandpa was telling Howard he wasn’t about to accept an attempt to suggest one child should be loved over another as any type of apology for being an absent father.

Even if my grandfather couldn’t accept the failed attempt of an apology that day, some sort of peace was made. Visits were had, half-sisters were met and Howard’s funeral was even attended many years later.

Two, faded and short, letters are tucked away in a jewelry box in my parent’s room and my parents aren’t even sure where they came from. It’s clear they were written by Blanche to Howard and start with “My Love.”

“They are heartbreaking,” my mom told me one day. “She really loved him.”

And she did. Telling Howard she hoped his new job was going well and that she couldn’t wait “until you are here in my bedroom with me again.”

Gasp! In her bedroom?

Scandalous stuff for 1900.

Maybe so scandalous some in my family might not think I should air the family’s “dirty laundry.”

But, if we are honest, every family has their own dirty laundry and some of that dirty laundry isn’t really dirty, but just heartbreak caused by broken people.