A man's descent into madness
6/10/21 Thoughts: My role model
Today, I came to the realization that the person who I idolized as my role model has now been gone just as long from my life as she was in my life. Every day I wonder if she would be proud of me, or angry because I made some indentical mistakes that were made 60 years ago.
My great grandmother was born on June 10, 1925, in a small town in South Texas about 150 miles north of the border. Seeing pictures from her childhood, her childhood looked like a place caught between the Wild West and 20th Century Modernity. Some pictures featured Granny and her childhood friend on horseback while other pictures featured Model As in the background. The stories that I heard during my own childhood sounded so idyllic. Granny's childhood was spent swimming in Hill Country rivers that are now lined by resorts and multimillion dollar mansions, but 80 years ago was nothing but unspoiled wilderness. Other stories were spending time with her grandparents an hour south of Houston in the middle of nowhere, and hours upon hours of spending time inside. You had to spend all your time outside during the summers since that was the time before air conditioning.
Granny's life began to change when she turned 15. In 1940, her father took out a loan to open a grocery store far away in a town in the midst of the East Texas Oil Boom. Unfortunately, this was at the tail end of the oil rush and the store eventually failed. Granny was now a senior in high school taken from her friends from the perfect landscape of the Hill Country to the humid hell that is East Texas. From the stories that she told, she was acne ridden and did not have any friends (wow the similarities), as well as being the weird new kid from across the state. Eventually she made friends, when I was about 14, she showed me her high school yearbook from her senior year in 1941.
1941 was probably the worst year to be coming of age in the last 100 years. Granny told the story of falling asleep in the bathtub early in the morning on December 7th, 1941 with the radio on and being woken up in an almost fever dream state that the United States was going to war. Many of her childhood friends did not come home. In 1942, she married her high school sweetheart, and moved to California while he served in the Marines fighting at Guadalcanal. Living on the West Coast meant that every night you went to sleep fearing that you will wake up with bombers flying above you. On her street, the lamps were painted over and no house was allowed to have any lights on after dark. At some point Granny worked in a food processing factory due to the shortage of men, A real life Rosie the Riveter.
My grandmother was born in 1944, and not too long afterward, Bill left. Granny moved to Houston, and her life started to become very unstable. While Granny's discussions over these times were sparse, my grandmother (Mam) made sure to tell me about the hell that was her childhood. Mam believed that her father was possibly abusive and suffered from mental illness after coming back home from the Pacific. This stress caused Granny to begin drinking and became a full blown alcoholic during Mam's childhood. During times of great stress, Granny was killing a 5th of whiskey a day (on top of smoking 4 packs of cigarettes a dayat the time). Granny remarried to another Marine and moved from Houston to Oklahoma City to the base in which he was stationed. Granny had a son by this man Russell. The family moved all across the Southwest, but ended up back in Houston by the time Mam was in middle school. Her childhood was cut short when she had to learn to drive at the age of 13 to drive Granny to work when she was too drunk to drive.
Granny was married a total of 6 times, and in the middle of the stepfathers and chaos, Mam at the age of 16 snuck off to Mexico with the boy down the road and got married. Hard to believe they have been married almost 60 years now. Anyways, Granny's drinking became worse, but she was extremely intelligent and proficcent on the typewriter, and she landed a job at an advertising firm in Downtown Dallas. On a November day in 1963, Granny ran out to the crowded street to get a glimpse of the President. By the time she made it back up to her desk about 5 minutes later, she heard the news. This is one of the few times that Granny actually told me herself that she became blackout drunk.
More tragedies were in the midst. In 1965, her son at the age of 15 was killed in a motorcycle wreck. A month later my father was born and took the role of surrogate son from Granny. With the insurance money from her son's death, and with years of saving money, Granny bought a piece of dirt with soil with so much iron it and so acidic that crops cant grow. It was all she could afford but it was her own. She lived there from 1971 until her death in 2008. Eventually her grandson who she took for her own had a son. Her grandson left his wife so Granny adopted the grandson's ex wife and her son. She treated the great grandchild like her own.
I never remember seeing Granny getting drunk around me, but occasionally would drink disgusting Mexican beer for dinner. However, she drank multiple pots of percolated coffee a day on top of about 2 packs of cigarettes. Standing about 4 foot 11, she looked just like your typical sweet old lady. But as I later learned, she was a tortured soul. However, I never knew the secrets until after she was gone. My childhood consisted of being dropped off by the schoolbus and running into that tin can trailerhouse. She always had a snack waiting on me, two tomatoes and a carrot. The house always smelled like a mixture between cigarette smoke, coffee, and bacon grease. That smell was home to me even though now the smell of cigarette smoke sickens me. Being obessed with donkeys, granny turned her patch of dirt into a donkey farm. The sound of donkeys bring me back to early childhood.
Those evenings were spent eating a ton of bacon and french toast, sausage and sauerkraut, and King Ranch chicken. Once she got satellite TV, when I was in the 6th grade, CNN was always on. Her days were spent reading the newspaper along with several subscriptions to new magazines like Time and Newsweek. A staunch Democrat, my Granny hated the establishment Republican Party of Texas and especially hated the evangelical movement making her stick out from virtually everyone else. She was so involved in politics that she was an active member of the League of Women Voters for 30 years. While the idealized verision of Granny in my head is someone who contemplated politics and philosophy, in reality I do not ever remember her owning a book on philosophy, but she owned so many obscure Texas History books.
Granny paid the Ferryman's toll in May 2008 after the massive amount of cigarette smoking finally caught up to her. The last day I was with her before she went into the hospital a week before she died, I drove up and she was burning many of her old pictures and writings. That night, she called my grandmother over and apparently finally made amends about her drinking during Mam's childhood.
Luckily, some of her writings and pictures survived and that is where I learned the other side of the story. Granny documented almost every day of her life and while most of the older stuffed was burned, she kept everything from 1981 to 2008. Every few weeks in her journals, she contemplated suicide and confessed to living a life of loneliness and isolation out at the farm. She was an angry person who lived a hard life. By the time of her writings in the 80s, my grandparents moved across the state with Pa becoming a manager for Lubys Cafeteria and moved every few years when the company wanted him to manage another store.
I see the simalarties and I honestly am worried about my own sanity. Someday I will be at the same farm being spiteful about life also drinking pots of percolated coffee every day. I am also a tortured soul and I also have had my own struggles with alcoholism. I wonder if she would be proud of me. At least once a week, I have a dream where I woke into the smoke filled house and she is standing there and telling me that she has been watching me for the past 15 years, and she believes that I am a piece of shit.
My biggest fear is ending up being just as angry and spiteful. I love to isolate, but I am not sure if I can live the life of loneliness that I feel that I am condemned. The biggest difference is that I am not suicidal, even though I once attempted suicide at the age of 13 out in the woods above the house.
Just like Granny, I view myself as ugly and disgusting and unworthy of anyone for a relationship. With both of us, our depression was so bad that somedays it is a chore just to get dressed. We are both extreme antimaterialists and liked to talk shit about the stupidity and vanity of the world. I do wish I could get to the point where I only had 4 sets of clothes like she did. Even at the very end, she demanded no funeral and wanted to be buried in a coffee pot next to her son. Now at this point, I am not sure what is real and what is the idealized version in my head. The version in my head is some sort of Dostoyevsky's Underground Man being angry at life due to being acute aware of her own consciousness. Or maybe her idiot great grandson is overthinking things?