The Grandparent Pattern

Are we operating under free will? That is, of our own accord? I can say with absolute certainty that I spent a large portion of my life operating below the conscious level. I let my body control my action and it did some amazing things. And some horrible things. For the past 8 years, I have felt much more in control of my actions ( emotions, feelings, life path.)

Now, as I am leaving my fourth decade of life, I find myself very insistent on building our research farm and spending the rest of my days in the scientific pursuit of edible endeavors. Why am I drawn to this? Is it what I really want or is it programmed into my body to want this?

It may be both, and I um unsettled with this answer. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a scientist. I enjoyed roaming the earth, interacting with plants and animals, and freedom above all. Those are the cores of my being. But they were also escapes.

At this age, am I still attempting to escape? Or am I beyond trying to escape from my own life? Is it simpler still? Could it be that as I enter this age and my children quickly become adults, I am programmed to consider grandparenthood?

My own history with grandparents left much to be desired, but there were glimmers of beauty.

I thought of my paternal grandfather today as I greedily gobbled up every ground cherry in my garden. As a child, I wandered his garden frequently, not always sure what was growing or not interested in the contents (raw vegetables....)

But he showed me the ground cherries one summer and let me taste one. It was amazing. It came in it's own alien wrapper and tasted great. They were everywhere. He said I could eat as many as I wanted. I ate them all.

I was never allowed in the garden again.

Visiting my paternal grandparents mostly sucked. We went every year at Christmas and once or twice to help with chores.The adults were always complaining, children were not allowed to speak (or run!) and they were always smoking. Aunts and uncles were inevitably there as well, and also smoking....and complaining. It was gross, so I spent most of my time outdoors. At the time of my youth, my grandparents had a few hundred acres of land - much of it swamp and forest. I journeyed to the edges of it all.

When I was really young, my grandfather let me collect eggs from his chickens. And he took me fishing a few times. It was he that taught me to fish with nothing but a stick and a hook - a method I would use on my own in far flung creeks on to bring home fish that my mom refused to cook (instead, she buried them around young trees.) It was also my grandfather that taught me how to cook an egg. Not out of love or interest, but out of disgust that I didn't know how "at my age."

He grew mushrooms under the boards in his house and tomatoes in water in the back room. He had a dog he abused and a bird that never stopped yelling. He was drafted in WWII and spent his service fixing fighter planes. His oldest son ran away at 16 because of his abuse and was drafted into vietnam. He came back to the US but never came to see his parents again. When his next son was drafted, he said ENOUGH and shot off his trigger finger.

Alas, two more sons would join the armed forces. One uncle to the navy and my father, the marines. Together, they had 12 babies, 10 survived. My grandfathers family had 12 children, his father's had 18!! - all surviving. My grandmother was part native american. They survived the depression. They were mostly self sufficient. They refused to talk about any of it. Maybe because I was a child and not allowed to speak unless spoken to, or maybe because the past is painful. Or maybe they just hated me. Either way, I asked them and they told me this -

In regards to the depression - "We were poor before, we were poor during, and we were poor after. Nothing changed."

In regards to the war - "Why the hell would you want to talk about that?"

And those two statements summarize nearrly half of all the conversations I had with my grandparents.

With my mothers parents, it was even less. I remember visiting them twice. One, the green pants incident. The other, the sock monkey excitement.

I have pictures that verify the green pants (meaning....I wore green corduroy pants on that visit - I was maybe 3 or 4) and a photo of me visiting them as a baby. The sock monkey event happened when I was 8. So I saw them at least 3 times. My father had always forbid us from seeing my mother's family. Why? Because he was a controlling asshole.

But as an 8 year old, I saw their world in a very interesting light. Both of my maternal grandparents died in their 50s. My grandfather died when I was 5, and the green pants incident was the last time I saw him. He had an oxygen tank and tubes in his face. He had emphysema. He looked like he was 90 something.

When I was 8, my mother disobeyed my father's orders not to visit her mother and we went at Christmas time. We brought her presents. I don't know what we brought her but it took her years to open the gifts, and she folded and saved the paper.

We sat in her one room house and I was in awe. She had one light bulb that was connected to a string that went outdoors. She was  proud of it. I think it was new. There was no running water. My mother showed us the basin in the kitchen that was their bathtub. This was the 90s and my grandparents lived off the grid their entire life. No solar. No electricity (save for the new lightbulb that was now in my grandmother's room). No running water. Nothing. How did they survive?

The house was small. More like a shed. It had wood floors - bare wood and you could tell that it probably used to be dirt. There was a bunkbed type bed where the children used to sleep above their parents bed and an attic of sorts that held the older children. Wow!

She opened her gifts and was embarrassed. She had not planned for us to come. She did not have gifts for us. Not then, not ever. So she hastily went to the box in her room and pulled out a sock monkey. She gave it to my sister. She must have pulled out something for all of us but the sock monkey stole the show. It was the grossest thing we had ever seen. It wasn't dirty or anything like that. It was just so weird. We grew up in the country and very rarely (well...probably never at this point went to stores.) The sock monkey was something we had never seen before or even imagined.

We were never to speak of going to her house. The next year she died.

My mother was distraught - having lost both parents at the age of 30, but she was also apathetic. They were not very good to her - and a big part of the reason she found herself pregnant (trying to escape) at 15 and now stuck in the situation she was in.

For some reason she allowed my sister to see the crime photos at the age of 7, but would not allow me to see them at 9. I was morbidly curious about them and dug through all her things for years in the attempt to find them. My grandmother was decapitated. I never saw the photos, but I did look for the stitches at the funeral. They had sewn her head back on.

Not long after she died, the fighting began. As I would come to realize in later life, people fight over your stuff when you die. It's disgusting. It makes you look at people in the worst light. My parents did not fight over any of their parents things (not my moms parents or dad's). They just let the other kids have whatever they wanted and stayed out of it. I suppose that was honorable.

But we did visit the farm. This time with no grandparents. It seemed so small but I know that it entailed acres of land.

I spent almost the entire time digging for treasures. My mother had once shown me two old coins she found them while digging around the old silo as a little girl. That was all I needed to know.... (For the record, I found nothing.)

I did also poke around the outhouse (wow!) and stand on the fence over looking the dairy barn where I imagined my mom flying off the cow that bucked her off and resulted in her getting a stick in her eye. I also examined the trash heap. That was also amazing. So many metal appliances, parts, machines....all thrown into the ground as if that would take them away...

My other "grandparent" memories involve them not being at any of my school events or "grandparent days." I remember having to share a grandparent in 4th grade because I was the only kid without one. They might have came at the end of camp once. Or they promised to come and didn't show. I can't remember.

I called my grandfather once as a child because I was babysitting my siblings and a crazed man was trying to get into our door. He called the police.

He did attend my graduation party, but probably didn't talk to me. And I called him up once as an adult to invite myself to dinner. I wanted to introduce him to my fiance (it seems appropriate) and he criticized me for being a salesperson when my brother was a doctor. It should be noted that my older brother was the first person in our entire family tree to finish college. I was second.

My dad's mom died instantly of mitral valve prolapse when I was about 13. I touched her skin at the funeral and was admonished for my disrespectful behavior by my aunts. My grandfather eventually succumbed to alzheimers, the longest living of them all, in his 80s.

All my childhood, I felt estranged from my grandparents. As if they didn't exist or didn't care. I knew that it was wrong. I was determined that things would be different for my children, but they weren't.

My dad was pretty much never trustworthy, and my mom ran away just a few weeks after my second child was born. She was not all there when my son was young (and watched him maybe twice.) She had other things on her mind. Boyfriends, it turns out.

She ran off and it was 11 years before I talked to her again. I met up with her to discuss my dad. He had been a disaster all my life but became exponentially worse after she left. A problem she knew she was leaving for us to deal with.

My father has been arrested more times for public disturbance, suicide attempts and that genre than I can even remember. He as been in and out of at least 8 mental hospitals. At least 8. He was homeless off and on and lived with me and my family each time he worked to get his life back on track. But he just couldn't get there and was eventually institutionalized at the ripe old age of 58. His story is sad, tragic, and disgusting. I am forever warped by the experience.'s safe to say that my children got some version of "estranged from grandparents" just as I did. I tried hard to break that pattern but it was not my pattern to break.

In case you are wondering, their other grandparents live across the country and see them once or twice a year. It's usually a big event with lots of kids and it doesn't afford much bonding. As they are now older, though the grandparents my try, they have to compete with screens, friends, and teenage moodiness.

But this brings me to the very long conclusion of all this. Am I driven to have a farm where my grandchildren can come and feed chickens, eat all my fruits, and collect honey with me in order to break the pattern? Is this my main motivation. I can consciously say that I think it's a good idea, but am I driven by a subconscious need to make it right? If my subconscious is fueling this desire, is it even my own? Does it matter?

In any event, it feels right for me to put down roots. Roots for my family to start a new legacy - a new generation of parents/grandparents that stay with their families and care for their children. All the while, I can feed my internal passions of discovery and exploration (passions that eerily mimic those of my mushroom growing grandfather and possibly my "unkown" off-grid grandparents.)

Something to ponder.

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