Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"Regrets--I've had a few"--Part 2

We all love imperfectly, if we love at all.

When I was a child, there were two people whose love I was sure of. I knew that my Granddaddy Clark (my mother's father) and my step Grandmother Etta loved me. And only me, it seemed to my childish heart, or at least, loved me best of all. They lived in Columbia, South Carolina, and I would get to stay with them for a week or two in the summer. I've written about their love for me in another blog post. http://lauramallernee.blogspot.com/2013/09/a-memoir-someone-to-love-me.html

To the best of my knowledge, Etta had married my grandfather after my own parents had married. I don't know Etta and Joe's (my grandfather's) story--how they came to meet and fall in love. I only knew that my grandfather "drank," and that my mother's parents divorced when my mother was a young girl. (Her mother had also remarried to my step Grandfather Wassil and moved to New Jersey, where we visited once  year.) From my family and society, I had gotten the message that divorce was "wrong" or something to be ashamed of.

I also knew that, at first, I had three sets of grandparents. Then I had two.

Here are my Granddaddy and Etta, Daddy and Mama and little eight-year-old or nine-year-old me with the sun in my eyes in front of the old store that my grandparents managed on a hot dusty street in Columbia, SC. They lived in rooms behind the store. I just noticed that painted on the wall behind us it says "school supplies"!
As fate would have it, my Granddaddy Clark died in his 50s when I was 9 years old. His death left me in despair, but in my family, I had been taught to put on a brave face and not let people know how I felt. So life went on. And down I went into the maelstrom of my damaged family.

Since Granddaddy was gone, I do recall visiting Etta only once; she lived with her sister(s) in Summerville, SC, and the old house seemed filled with those large coastal Carolina cockroaches or Palmetto bugs that scurried when one turned on the kitchen light at night. I do not remember our visiting Etta anymore. And somehow to my childish mind, that seemed about right, She was, after all, a "step" grandmother. Not someone that we were really kin to.

I do not recall being encouraged to stay in contact with Etta, nor do I remember any more connection to her. But apparently my mother stayed in contact with her because the next thing I do remember about Etta, my mother was telling me that she was in a nursing home and didn't want to live anymore, to which my young adult self replied that then she should be allowed to die. Possibly 15 or 20 years had passed since the death of my gandfather.

And these are my regrets about Etta--that I did not stay in touch with her--with someone who had loved me as a child--that I did not let her know how important she was to me--that I did not thank her for loving and caring for me and my grandfather--that I neglected her. So when I get to Heaven, Etta is another one of those people that I will definitely be looking up, for I have a sin to expiate. My deepest hope is that she will somehow find it in her heart to forgive me. After all, Heaven's the right place for forgiving; I don't know where it's likely to go better. (to purposely misquote Robert Frost)

Another regret that I carry in my heart is with my first mother-in-law Lucy Cooper.

Here are Tommy Cooper and I getting maried.

And here's the only picture that I know of that I have of Lucy Cooper--she's the pretty lady in pink smiling so broadly, so proudly to the right of her son.
Since I had begun to date Tommy in high school, his mother Lucy was nothing but kind to and supportive of me. After my junior year in college, Tommy and I married. Lucy continued to be nothing but kind to me and proud of me; she liked to brag about the clean and organized house that I kept, which to her was a great accomplishment. She taught me some of the few cooking skills that I had--like how to make the best whipped potatoes. Since he was an only child, Tommy and I ate dinner with his parents, probably every other week.

After about two years of marriage and working, I had finally earned my English degree and qualified to become a high school teacher. It was May, 1972, and I was gong to graduate from college (which my father had predicted that I never would do after I had gotten married). Again Lucy was so proud of me.

Tommy and I had rented the smallest possible house in Clarksville. (before tiny houses were popular). It was probably originally build for a so-called "mother-in-law" apartment in the back yard of a much larger house.

My parents were coming from Kansas to attend the ceremony, and though my house was too small for them to spend the night, I had invited them over for a meal that I was cooking after graduation.
I was so nervous about cooking and about the table setting and about the house being perfect for them.

Of course, Lucy had naturally assumed that she and her husand, Tommy's father, whom we called simply Cooper, were invited to partake of my speical day and special dinner. But I had to tell her that I had no room for them, that the table only sat four people, that I didn't have enough dishware for them, in short, that they were not invited to the dinner.

And though she did not show it, I know that must have hurt her something fierce. Pretty much, I thought that I and my family were better than the Coopers--than Lucy Cooper--I was still being that little snob who had dissed Dethula years before:

--and I was still trying to impress my own parents, still trying to win their love, I guess. It was rude; it was mean. And later I regretted it, but by then, Tommy and I had divorced (which also, I'm sure, had hurt Lucy), and I had moved on to Ashland City to my first teaching job and out of the lives of the Coopers.

So again when I get to Heaven, I have something to expiate--my mistreating Lucy Cooper in any of the ways that I may have done so. Decades later, when I saw Tommy again when I bought a car from him in Madison, he told me that his mother had died years before of cancer. Asked why he had not gotten in touch with me when she was sick, he said that she felt if people didn't come see her when she was well, she didn't want them to come when she was sick. I stood there justifiably accused. I should have taken the time to go to her and to have apologized for my mean act toward her and Cooper.

 Please Dear God, Forgive me now, for all my sins of commission and my sins of omission. Amen.


  1. I continue to learn and be inspired by your insight, just as I did 30++ years ago in a school desk.

  2. Awww, how sweet of you, Melissa Flowers!