Wednesday, February 19, 2014

52 Ancestors - #3---Esther

Amy Johnson Crow from NoStoryTooSmall is setting up a challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.
52 Ancestors in 52 WeeksThe challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor. Not only should this get me blogging more, but also to take a deeper look at some of the people in my family tree.

How many of you have or had a grandmother who taught you how to make cookies?  Or cuddled with you, played with you, or imparted words of wisdom that impacted your life positively?  A woman who made you feel special, spent time with you, and told you stories of the good old days that brought thoughts of happy times?

Well, I'm not one of them.  My paternal grandmother died before I was born.  My maternal grandmother, Esther, was just not the type of grandmother I would have ordered, given the option.

Esther was born in Denmark and came to the United States the month she turned 2, so she never had any memories of "the old country."  They settled in Moline, Illinois initially and then the St. Louis area.  She was a nurse, and how she met my grandfather is a story I will never know, nor understand.  He was kind and thoughtful; she was self-centered and vain.  But marry they did, and they moved to Chicago where Grandpa was an accountant and Esther continued her nursing career.

My mother arrived rather late in their married lives; Esther was in her mid-30's.  I don't know much about how her parenting skills were, but she didn't use them for very long.  She would fight violently with Grandpa, throwing dishes, vases and other breakable items at him in her fury.  He never fought back.  He didn't have it in him.  He just loved her.  (Why, I have no idea.)  Esther divorced my Grandpa when my mother was in elementary school, and subsequently became somewhat notorious for her drinking and sleazy behavior.  Quite the scandal in the 1940's!

Esther met her second husband, Larry, and relocated to Shreveport, Louisiana when they married.  My mother was an adolescent by then, and she took the abandonment very hard.  While my mother adored her father, the loss of her mother was very difficult and it left emotional scars on her for life.  Esther was concerned most about Esther, and she didn't change, even later in life.

When Esther would visit us, she would stay in my brother's room and share our bathroom with us.  I can remember the smell of her perfume ("Emeraude") to this day.  She wore so much of it that it permeated the carpet, the walls.... it would stink for weeks after she left.  She was always quick to point out our faults, and was not physically affectionate with us--not too many hugs or cuddles that I recall.  Once, when I was in my early teens, she cornered me to speak her mind about what a "loser" my dad was, and though some of her criticisms weren't far off, she had no right to say those things to me about my father, especially since I was still a child.

You might think that when Esther underwent a spiritual catharsis, it would have changed her.  After all, the event sparking her change was rather dramatic.  She and her husband awoke in the middle of the night to find smoke and fire, and they just barely escaped the inferno.  The blaze completely destroyed half of the house, except for a small table holding a family Bible.  The firemen were astonished; the heat from the fire should have been enough to incinerate the paper in the book.  But it stood there untouched, amidst the ashes of the house and other furnishings.  After months of witnessing from her brother, my great uncle the Baptist preacher, Esther accepted Christ and set out to tell her story to anyone who would listen.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I personally am a Christian and Esther actually helped me make that choice when I was a teenager.  But she evangelized with the emphasis on herself, not Christ.  She printed up little pamphlets about her story and would give them out to people in stores, on airplanes, or even leave them in doctors' offices and other businesses.  Esther always said she was beautiful because it was Jesus shining through her.  Give me a break.  She was the type that gave Christians a bad name.

Even in her final days, Esther displayed a selfish, stubborn streak that ultimately led to her hastened departure from this world.  She'd been hospitalized and required surgery.  Her brother, the wonderful preacher, had promised Esther's late husband that he and his wife would take Esther into their home if and when the time came, and Larry had even given my great uncle money to offset any costs.  The preacher reneged, and Esther had to face the prospect of going to a retirement home.  She was in her 90s and couldn't really handle living on her own any more; she was just too frail.  My parents were both working, as were my siblings and I, so none of us could really devote the time and attention she would need if she lived with us.  So Esther got mad and went on a hunger strike.  A sick and elderly person might want to rethink that decision, but she did it and had a stroke.  It left her unable to speak.  I remember on one visit I begged her to eat and regain her strength, but she refused.  The second stroke left her in a coma, and she lingered for quite a while until her organs began to shut down.  Even though her kidneys had ceased working, she was so stubborn that her heart continued to beat for days.  Doctors were amazed.  I went to see her after Thanksgiving dinner, and she passed away a few hours later.

I am not trying to be hateful as I describe my grandmother.  My siblings would likely agree with every word I've written.  It is all truth.  I didn't despise her, but I have no happy memories of my time with her and feel no great sense of loss that she is gone.  I think I always resented her for leaving my grandfather and my mother so selfishly, and that is the mindset that stayed with me.  However, my faith tells me that when we meet in Heaven, it will be a joyous reunion, for all of our emotional shortcomings will be healed and hurts forgotten.  For that, I am thankful.  

1 comment:

  1. Powerful story. We all have relatives we don't feel much affection for but still the attachment is there. Thanks for sharing.