Ellen bent to place flowers on the marble slab and peered at fading lettering. She grunted in irritation at this desecration. The gold letters had stood out prominently when a shining slab was placed over her grandmother’s grave two years previously but now grime made it difficult to decipher words. Mabel Cunningham was the name on the slab and there was a brief tribute with her lifespan 1920-2001. Since Ellen’s last visit she’d been busy with international travel assignments and it was too exhausting mentally to make the trip back to pay her respects to the only one she’d respected in her family.
“I must call in at the caretaker office and give them a piece of my mind,” Ellen whispered to herself as she rearranged her flower tribute and picked up her purse. She realized as she said that the situation would have been much better if her family had taken trouble to visit, and for that matter she too could have been more faithful as she had not visited for two years. The thought she was equally responsible made her feel guilty and that guilt added to her irritation.
A kaleidoscope of memories flooded her mind as she turned to walk back to her car. On a sudden impulse she changed her mind and headed to nearby sheltered rest benches. She sat down and in typical Ellen style began a systematic inventory of her life history.
Her earliest memories had been of Grandmother Mabel Cunningham. Ellen had dim memories of an omnipresent Mabel who’d taught her to walk, who’d accompanied her to early school and had treated her scrapes and hurts and solved inter-childhood squabbles. It had been a happy time of her life and it was only as she was into primary grade school she realized there was an essential element missing from the home; that was a father figure.
Ellen remembered confronting Mabel one day after school. There’d been a skirmish between her and another girl and she could remember her hurt when the girl who lost the argument spat out those words, “I have a Father, you don’t!”
Mabel had dried Ellen’s eyes as she sat on her lap and rocked her in the old rocking chair until the sobbing stopped.
“You don’t need a Father, you’ve got me!” Mabel laughed her musical laugh and all of a sudden Ellen felt calm and laughed too.
But the question arose with increasing frequency as Ellen headed into her teens, and Mabel’s laugh was no longer satisfying. Ellen wanted the truth. Rumours had it both Ellen’s Father and Mother were in jail. Ellen had put it down to the usual nastiness of teenage rivalries at work, but the lack of information from Mabel allowed imagination to run riot until the day Ellen reported on those rumours and demanded to know if this was true.
To Ellen’s surprise Mabel sighed as she studied her granddaughter’s face, then all those emotions bottled up and kept under control to protect her granddaughter over those difficult formative years burst forth in loud wailing sobs.
Ellen was alarmed. She hugged and kissed the aging woman in an effort to bring back what she’d said and start over. She’d never seen her Grandmother in this state and felt guilty for having asked a question which caused such distress.
Mabel saw her granddaughter’s concern and hastily bought herself back under control. She reached out and drew this emerging young adolescent to her seating her in a chair opposite.
“I’ve dreaded the day when we’d have to sit down and have this conversation Ellen. I’ve withheld what I’m about to tell you to protect you through your growing up years, but now you’re approaching womanhood you need to face up to facts. You can let this strengthen you to do the best you can personally in life, or you can let it destroy you. The choice is yours.”
Ellen sat forward in her seat staring at her Grandmother with apprehension. What was she about to reveal that could potentially destroy her?
“You have a Mother and Father who are in jail for a crime they committed together which resulted in loss of life. You have two elder brothers who were taken away the day your parents were placed in custody. You’ve never met them as they were shunted between foster homes until old enough to fend for themselves in their late teens. Child care protection agencies wouldn’t allow me to care for them as they felt I’d not be able to support them financially.”
“I’ve carried that sadness not being able to give them love and support through their difficult years and I don’t know where they are now. It’s probably better I don’t know as I have enough sadness to carry every day over your Mother’s choice in life. She was my only daughter. I thought everything was alright. She had the three of you over a number of happy years and not long after you were born I was shocked to learn the police were after them. I never imagined they were into a life of crime in the years before your birth and it was a huge shock to me, but I had to be brave for your sake.”
Ellen began to cry at the shocking revelation and Mabel enfolded her in her arms like she used to do when Ellen was a child.
“Now how are you going to use this information young lady? Are you going to let it destroy you, or will you do what I hope you’ll do, determine to show everyone that you’re Mabel’s grandchild and make the most of what life has served up to you. Your school grades are excellent and you are beautiful and popular. Even those who use the rumour mill to get at you when you displease them respect you otherwise you wouldn’t have been elected class president.”
Ellen remembered that incident with clarity. She was devastated at the revelation, but something inside her rallied and she said softly, “I’m going to make you proud Grandma!”
“Good!” Mabel said. “I think we can talk about this openly from now on, do you want me to arrange for a meeting with your parents in jail? I’ve resisted that while you were growing up to protect your self-worth.”
“No thank you, I only have one parent and that’s you!” Ellen brightened as she thought of the sacrifice this woman had made to nurture and care for her over the years at considerable expense and determined to make her proud in her life choices. But dealing with the horror of the revelation and a determination to rise above this shock introduced a hardness and discipline into her makeup that would travel with her in her life journey.
To be continued.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2015 All rights reserved”
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