We all have those people who influenced us, taught us, loved us, and shaped us.
One of those people in my life was my grandma. My grandma, Aida, was born in Jersey and raised in Queens, NY. After marrying my grandfather they moved to Southern California. She was a mother of six and my mamma was her only daughter.
As, a child I thought my grandma was strong and kind of invincible. I have so many memories of my grandmother from childhood. She took care of me, while my mother was in college, and my cousins, while their parents were working. She was loving, but she didn’t take any shit or she’d whip out her happy stick (wooden spoon)… which wasn’t going to make you happy!
My grandmother taught my cousins and me to get along and how to share. She taught us… to play indoors and outdoors… card games… board games… crocheting… horseshoes… making meatballs (yes, even me!)…
Some of my favorite memories of my grandma was cooking and baking with her. My favorite memories were baking Christmas cookies with her and my cousins. Everytime I smell anise I go back to my childhood. I can smell the anise of the Italian cookies as I write this.
What surrounds you is your “normal”. As a child, I thought my grandparents relationship was incredible. As I got older, I realized the relationship between my grandparents was not “normal”. They did not have a healthy relationship. My grandfather was extremely abusive in every way.
I’ve always had this curiosity and love for my Sicilian heritage. About five years ago I looked into our family tree. It was so exciting seeing family records, including census records with my families' signatures dating back to the 1920’s. Then I found a record I never in my life thought I would have found. My grandmother filed for divorce! The perception or acceptance about divorce has dramatically shifted from the time my grandmother filed for divorce. The shocker was she was a devoted old school Catholic and divorce was totally out of the question!
I asked my mom if she knew about my grandmother filing for divorce. Her response was, “How did you find that out?” What?! For the love of God, this was a family secret that was meant to remain a skeleton in the closet.
My grandma was brave! At the time, she finally had the courage to leave this abusive man. For a year she lived with my uncles ex-wife and children. Then… she went back. She went back to my grandfather, because she felt she had no other choice. My grandfather owned his business and was not honest with his finances. She was also looked at negatively by the church and the legal system. At the time her place was to be in the home. Unfortunately, she did not have a family support system. Her family was in New York.
When my mom told me I was furious and so sad that my grandmother wanted to leave this abusive man and had no way out! I was angry that the six kids she raised didn’t help her. I was sad that she felt the only place to go was back to this abusive man.
I remembered my mom telling me about a trip she and three of my uncles took as children to New York with my grandmother. My grandmother’s family was the opposite of the way my mother and my uncles were raised. The home my grandmother was raised in was always filled with loving family and friends. The table was set with crystal and china. Family picnics were filled with joy and fun. Picnic tables were covered with pressed white table cloths. Men dressed in sharp suits playing with the children. In the afternoon my grandmother’s stepfather would buy the kids gelato, then sit on the porch and eat his sliced peach in dessert wine.
My mom told me one day she walked to the entry of the library, at my grandmother’s childhood home, and saw my grandmother sobbing. As a child she stood there confused watching her mother, until my grandmother’s godmother steered my mother away.
One day my mom and I were talking, I said, “I think Grandma was sad that day you saw her crying in NY, because she realized she missed her family and wasn’t living the life she wanted. She wasn’t happy. She was trapped." I said to my mom, "I think that’s why she told you not to go back to your first husband, when the two of you were separated. She wanted more for you than what she had. She was your cheerleader, whether you think so or not. She didn’t want you to feel trapped in an abusive relationship.”
My grandmother’s journey were lessons and opportunities for me. Four and a half / five years ago I started seeing things differently. I didn’t make the connections immediately. It was like seeing a jigsaw puzzle and eventually the pieces came together. When my ex partner put his fist through the door, that jigsaw puzzle slowly came together.
I reflected on the life my grandmother lived and I did not want to live a life like that. I didn’t want to repeat, what she tried to stop. She tried to leave and did not have the resources or mental support. My grandmother encouraged my mother not to go back to her first husband.
I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to settle. I wasn’t going to live in fear. I wasn’t going to live a life of my partner controlling me. I wasn’t going to live a life of co-dependency and teach my children to do the same. I thought I’m doing this! I'm worthy of more and I'm taking the steps to change my life.
This is a tribute to my grandma. I’m doing my best to end what she wanted to do, but chose not to. I am doing my best to end this cycle of abuse in our family.