This photo makes me sad. You're looking at my Aunt Dede (Edith, Grandma's older sister) on the left, my mother in the middle, and Grandma El on the right and what you're seeing is our family dynamics laid bare in one little Christmas Day snapshot circa 1960. Take a close look at the body language. Dede is saying something droll and funny and my mother is leaning into her while Grandma, also laughing, is kind of left hanging.
When I was a kid I took things at face value. Dede was totally independent, very British, very funny in a dry and sophisticated way. Grandma was also independent, more American than she ever realized, and funny in a wickedly physical kind of way. And my mom -- well, she was my beautiful mom and I was kind of in awe! I wish I'd seen Grandma's vulnerability while she was still alive. I wish I'd understood the reasons for it while there was still time to ask questions.
And now back to Grandma El's story in her own words.
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Les and I married in May 1954. I'd known him for a year. It was right around the time your Grandpa Larry married Bess. You know I was going with your grandfather too, don't you? I don't think your mother and father liked the idea. I was very fond of him--we were very much the pair, we were. We thought if we married the family would always stay together. Maybe we would even adopt a baby. But everyone was so down about your Grandpa Larry and me. [Note from BB: Grandpa Larry is my mother's father. Grandma El is my father's mother.] I can tell you this: I would never have been a recluse like her, like Bess. We would have had a wonderful life.
Les died in January 1960. I know you remember that. He came home and said he had indigestion and wanted to sit up and watch the television. When I woke up the next morning I thought he was asleep in his chair but he was gone. Massive heart attack. As thin as he was. I was shocked your parents wouldn't let you go to his funeral. You need to see real life. A child shouldn't be protected like that.
I stayed with Gracie for six weeks after Les died. You remember Gracie. The one with the piano who taught you to play Humoresque. They had no children but I'd never met a happier couple. One twin bed for both of them. They couldn't have been any closer.
Gracie said, "Come over right now, my dear," so you and your daddy took me over. I never saw your father so relaxed. Les's son Jack was there with the baby. He and Mel talked about the Navy. George made the dinner. You and Grace were at the piano. We had the most marvelous evening. Such a love evening! Why aren't we all together? Jack drove you to Nutley in his Austin-Healy, remember?
[Note from BB: At this point Grandma El asked me to turn off the recorder. I wish I could tell you what was said but I can't find the corresponding notes. When the recording picks up again, Grandma El is talking about Grandpa Bert, the man I thought was her first husband and my biological grandfather.]
When his father died, the governor and his wife were at the funeral. His father owned a big hardware business; he was something in government and all – high society. All the people who came to the funeral! His father was the Honourable Hyacinth Fuller. Grandpa Bert's nanny taught him his catechism on her knee.
I loved your Grandpa Bert. I knew a group of English people in Glen Cove [Note from BB: town on the north shore of Long Island; quite tony at the time] and he joined us. We got to talking and he said he was born and raised in Halifax. He went to Eton. His people were very wealthy.
Bert went to so many colleges; he was very highly educated. Military school. Then he went back home and went to school to be a doctor. He had 9.5 credits to go. He went to McGill in Canada. He would have been the most wonderful doctor. Such beautiful hands.
Your Grandpa Bert was a wonderful lover. He had wonderful manners. [silence] I loved him . . . I loved him.
I loved Les too, but I loved him like a brother. I didn’t want to go to bed with him at all.
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This is Barbara again and I have to admit at the time that was definitely TMI. The last thing I wanted to think about was my grandmother sleeping with anyone. Now I wish I'd asked every nosy question I could think of because she probably would have answered them.
Or maybe not. Even though Grandma El was amazingly forthcoming she still held tight to her biggest secret: the missing husband #1, my biological grandfather.
PS: I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here and on both Facebook and Twitter. Thanks so much for sticking with me as I tell my Grandma El's story. See you next month here at Totebags 'n' Blogs.