Last but Not Least

Finally the time has come to talk about the last of our grandparents with whom I was personally acquainted, Margaret Clark, M. N. Clark as she styled herself on her correspondence, and “Grandma Peggy” as she was known to her grandchildren. My mother’s mother.

M. N. Clark. Doesn’t it sound nice? It always reminded me of A. A. Milne. I was reading stories about pooh bear then, and Christopher Robin, the most innocent of stories. She had a cherubic face, just like my Aunt Cheri, and she always called my mother “Barbie” in a singsong voice that was sooo pleasant. In remembering her, I can’t help but think she was the most innocent (appearing) person I ever met. She was the first in our family to get a divorce, and even then I could feel the hint of scandal. Of course, I had no idea what the scandal truly was. After the divorce I was proud of her, because she was an architect, and she lived on her own and continued her career. I thought she was the pinnacle of feminism.

My mother’s father, my grandfather on that side, died long before I was born, when my mother was young. He was a foundling, an orphan who was taken in and raised by two good hearted women somewhere in Ohio. I still have not figured out how he died. I heard it was a football injury. I heard he had ulcers, and the doctors told him to drink heavy cream to sooth them, and he died of a heart attack. If I ever write a fictional story about him he will meet his end by murder.

Grandma remarried and took the last name O’Hail. I do remember meeting Mr. O’Hail. In my mind it was in the garden, at a long picnic table full of family, and he had a jolly face, a jolly belly, a crew cut, and suspenders. He offered presents that we (my sister and I) were not allowed to accept, and soon after that meeting we were in some way given the distinct impression that we were not to spend any time with him, especially alone.

Once my mother told me a story about how Grandma Peggy was driving on the freeway with her and Cheri in the back, and everyone in the car fell asleep except for Grandma. Grandma grew more and more tired, and finally either pulled to the side of the road or was weaving enough to be pulled over by a state trooper. The policeman examined her trunk and found that there was a hole in it, allowing carbon monoxide to fill the interior of the car. Mom told me this story in innocent fashion, a sort of thank goodness nothing worse happened story, but now when I think about it, I think about a desperate woman searching for a way out.

My mother’s name isn’t Barbara Wallenius anymore. It’s Maddie O’Callin, a name she chose for her own damn self. I was surprised that she took an Irish name, with the O’. Is it subliminal, an indication of how much that monster affected her? Is it intentional, a daily reminder to herself of her own strength? My mother is a quiet woman, an intelligent woman, an observant woman, a tormented woman. It is difficult for her to show emotion. It is difficult for her to show weakness. There are demons in her head that I will never understand. You see, Mr. O’Hail was a child molester. My mother and presumably Aunt Cheri suffered his ministrations for years. They still suffer. Not a year ago I was talking to Mom on the telephone and she told me that he continued to attack her even after she was married to my father, that once when she went home alone my Dad had to drive from school to rescue her from that house. I digress. This is supposed to be about Grandma.

Well, Grandma is where I get all my fakeness. Because Grandma wasn’t innocent. She knew what was going on, and she let it continue, and until the end of her life she found a way to make my mother feel guilty about it. I am sure that Cheri suffered the same fate, and that is why I have trouble blaming Cheri for anything.

How could you do that, Grandma? I am sure it was an awful situation. I don’t even know what I would have done, but those were little kids, Grandma. They didn’t deserve that. It was your job to stop it, and you didn’t. Grandma, I’m glad I got to meet you, because we were blood, but I will never forgive you for letting that man do what he did to my mother, and for making it more important to keep up appearances rather than confronting the monster inside your own house. Grandma, I don’t think anyone is ever going to heal the damage you did. I pray that someday my mother will find a way to forgive herself for what happened. As for myself, I’m glad you’re dead.

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