On her deathbed, my grandmother (on my mother’s side) had only one request: despite the fact that her husband, Frank, was cranky and cold hearted, my mother had to promise that she would have him live with us. My mother complied, much to the distress of my father, who dreaded the friction that would inevitably ensue.
Frank was very demanding. He required that my working mother prepare a full-course meal every night right after she came home. That was an ordeal for my mother, but she complied. My mother catered to him in another way: whenever Frank insisted that she watch TV with him, she agreed, instead of doing so with my father in their own bedroom. My dad became jealous and was furious that my mother paid more attention to Frank than to him. My father, who often drank too much, soon descended into full-blown alcoholism. He frequently quarreled with my mother, blubbering that Frank had replaced him in her affection. One outrageous evening, my soused father flung a pot at my mother, nearly missing her head as it banged into the wall. He then stumbled outside to spend the entire night at the beach with an oversized bottle of Sherry to comfort him. On another occasion, as my father was driving us to our weekly meal at Chickland, Frank chuckled that we had to go back home to retrieve his dentures. My father got enraged, whipped the car around, and fumed that we might lose our reservation because of the delay. My father maniacally drove to our house and then back to Chickland, endangering all of us because of Frank’s negligence (willful or not).
Despite my father’s contempt for Frank, my mother stoically continued to do Frank’s bidding. Her only complaint was that her two brothers and only sister, who lived about an hour away, didn’t consistently take Frank to their place every weekend as promised.
My opinion of my grandfather radically changed. Even though my mother gave Frank my room, relegating me to the pull-out couch in the den, I was initially respectful and at times fond of my grandfather. Every day during the summer, I made him an elaborate lunch. He didn’t thank me, but he did nod his approval. My attitude changed, however, one night when I was ready to pick up my prospective girlfriend in Boston. Just before I left, Frank roughly asked me to go to Kmart to get him a few pairs of socks. I told him that I’d oblige him first thing in the morning; but I had no time to run the errand now; I couldn’t leave my date in the lurch. Frank, devoted only to his own agenda, kept harassing me. I finally surrendered, drove to the department store, found the exact kind of white socks that he wanted, and rushed back home. Accordingly, it took me an extra half hour to meet my date. Fortunately, she accepted my apology.
But after mulling over my grandfather’s insensitive and selfish request, I decided that although I would be dutiful, I would no longer be gracious. I would not allow him ever again to manipulate me. And I remained aloof.
After suffering a stroke, he eventually was removed to a Catholic nursing home. I had gone away to college and visited him just once. I never thought that I’d ever again find him appealing, never mind endearing. But I was wrong. His eyes lit up when he saw me. He grabbed onto my hand, and then with a twinkle, he pointed at a cross above his bed. It had come to this. My implacably Jewish grandfather was going to spend the last days of his life in an alien environment surrounded by Christian symbols and cared for by nuns. We both smiled at this ironic twist. I let go of my resentment. When he died shortly afterward, I was glad that I had become reconciled to him.
Another irony: He left my family an antique shift robe. The only thing that remained in it was a pair of white socks.