My grandmother grew up in New York City. She was a part of that vague East Coast Elite society, the ones who have owned land since the 1600's, who grew up in Brooklyn brownstones the size of city blocks. She was raised by her French governess and her Irish nanny until she was sent to boarding school in Switzerland. She used to see her mother once a day, to say good night, before she was shuttled off to the nursery, to be raised by other women.
Her mom loved her long brown hair. At summer camp when she was nine, my grandma cut off her braids and mailed them to her mom, no letter attached. I think she had already started drinking and smoking by then, I think she started all that when she was seven. Maybe eight.
My grandma ran away from the East Coast to one of the Claremont Colleges, I don't remember which. When she graduated, her parents got her a new car, so she could drive home to New York.
She drove to Alaska instead.
She was living in Alaska and she wasn't coming home. So my great-grandmother sent her a telegram that her dad was dying. My grandmother came back to New York to say goodbye to her father, only to find him alive and well.
I don't think she ever forgave her mother for lots of things, and I think this is one of them.
Her family offered her this estate or that country chateau if she would just stay there and be good and have tea with the old ladies and marry the right man.
She moved to California with my grandfather.
I guess she drank a lot when my mom was a kid. Probably, she wasn't the best mother. Damaged and self-medicating and cut off from her family, with six young kids that she didn't know what to do with, and an asshole husband who also drank too much and who probably didn't know what to do with her.
But when she was my grandma? She was really, really wonderful.
Often I think that she was the keystone holding my family together, and when she died everything crumbled a little bit.
When I was 19 I went to Ireland and I stayed with the family of my grandmother's Irish nanny. Anna, who my grandmother loved like her own mother, who loved my grandmother and her siblings like they were her own. I got of the bus in Donegal, and a woman came up to me.
"You must be Caryl's granddaughter. You look just like her."
That made me smile.