Beautiful Tree, Rotten Fruit
By Marley K.
My paternal grandmother died last week. I had no sorrow, and I have no shame. I wrote about how she treated me and my siblings, and all the memories I had of her. She wasn’t a fair lady. Her funeral, and the week leading up to the funeral was a testament to her messy life. It was an ugly, eye-opening learning experience on how not to rear your children. She was a beautiful woman, who made beautiful children.
My grandma was a beautiful woman who bore bitter, and even a few rotten fruit. It only takes one rotten piece of fruit to ruin an entire barrel.
The Mess Left Behind
Gramps (that’s what we called my father’s mother) left lots of business unfinished. She had five living children (three daughters and two sons living of seven), my father being the oldest and considered the patriarch of her family. My father, since the age of 6–7 has worked to help take care of his mother and siblings. My grandma apparently was dirt poor. She relied on my father to help her take care of his siblings financially. Since elementary school, my dad has hustled to care for my grandma and her kids. My grandmother made my dad the executor of her estate (not that she left much) because he has been the most responsible of her seven children, and the most reliable.
My dad’s siblings did not appreciate my grandmother’s decision, and they made sure they let him know it by disregarding all of her final wishes to be carried out in the last will and testament.
Gramps had lots of secrets, and lots of regrets. Apparently she made a lot of mistakes raising her children and she spent a lifetime attempting to fix them. Her remedies only turned her children into monsters. My aunts spent a lifetime using my grandma because they knew she would do anything for them trying to get rid of her guilt via giving. Who borrows money from a 90-year old woman on a fixed income?
Her rotten fruit would, that’s who.
Even after my grandmother died, her greedy, selfish daughters took from her. Before her body was cold, they were plundering her home, entering her safe, hoarding her treasures, and doing whatever they could to go against her final wishes. My father ended up having to call the police on his siblings to prevent them from stealing her assets, to include her car. My aunts wouldn’t allow my father to aid in planning his mother’s funeral, even as the executor of her estate. They told the funeral director not to give my dad information about funeral proceedings, to include a copy of her death.
I had to listen to the strife all week, to include to and from the funeral.
My aunts took my grandma out of the hospital, hiding her from my father and other loved ones who wanted see her before she died, yet another reason for the family’s strife. My grandma allowed it. She wanted to believe her children were not the moochers they really are. She allowed them to move her into their homes during her final days because she thought they would care for her properly. She yearned for them to show her they loved her. Instead, her oldest daughter allowed her to starve to death. My grandmother’s own rotten fruit allowed her starve to death, with no hospice or anything. Listening to road to her final demise was educational.
When you don’t raise your kids right when they are young, you can’t go back and try to make up for it later in life. When you abuse your kids in their childhood, allowing others to physically, sexually, and emotionally abuse them — you can’t wipe that away. You cannot pray or church away the damage. You can’t make enough money or do enough good deeds to cover the sins. My grandma spent her life trying to make things right with her kids. She was guilty about what most of them had become because of her poor planning, bad child-rearing and poverty. They remember extreme hunger as children, including my dad. Gramps’ children spent their entire lives making her feel guilty about their lack.
It was a cold, cold funeral.
There were few tears. Only one of her children cried. I saw only one grandchild cry out of the 20 in attendance. My father sat on the edge of his seat angry the entire time, he never shed a tear. He didn’t ride in the funeral car with the family. One of the favorite grandchildren who got the honor of seeing the woman before she died and helping to plan my grandma’s funeral had the audacity to put my name in the program as a flower bearer and my made my brother a pall bearer without even asking. I wasn’t pleased. I didn’t want to be in attendance at all.
We were truly a family divided in that church.
The worst thing about viewing my grandmother’s body was the smile the funeral home had plastered on her face, as if she was happy. Meanwhile, we’re all sitting in the pews looking at the circus called a home-going. The funeral was a circus. We were the clowns.
Gramps had children early, and apparently she was promiscuous. Her oldest child (the first of 7) was by a man who apparently left her life during pregnancy. She got married shortly after and that man refused care for my aunt. Her husband called her first born bastards and many derogatory names and refused to allow her to stay in the home with the other children they would have. My father told me gramps’s first husband said he wasn’t raising another man’s baby. My aunt was abused and neglected, which likely impacted her sexuality. Gramps made my aunt live with her grandma. She’s resentful to this day about the love and attention they received. I don’t blame her.
My father was the second oldest. He said his father’s name is not on his birth certificate and he doesn’t know the real reason. My grandmother never told him the reason. My dad said she either was having an affair with his father and couldn’t put his name on the birth certificate for fear her husband would do something to her, or perhaps there was a man in between making her uncertain of who the father was until he was born. He knows she confirmed who his father was. It would be the man she would later go on to have five other children with, but never marry.
My father’s father was an alcoholic and for sometime my grandmother was a worldly woman when she was younger according to scattered keywords and in between line readings. She spent her early adult life searching for something in a man she lacked in her childhood I suppose.
Grandma’s choices made life for her children hard. My granddad was a drunk. He died at age 50 from sclerosis of the liver. Gramps lived until the ripe old age of 90, keeping all of her wits along the way. It seems my grandma spent her early life chasing men and raising kids she couldn’t afford to have. From what my dad described, life was hard. He was forced to work at an early age. He told stories of walking miles in elementary school with a wagon to the butcher with a 5 cents to buy chitterlings to feed the family. She used the fat which came from cooking the hog intestines to make lye soap. She made him responsible. She gave him too much privilege as a child. He never had a childhood She didn’t discipline him enough. He became a spoiled brat she was guilted into not disciplining.
My grandma’s childhood was rough too. There were whispers of her being sexually abused by a close relative. It’s hush-hush, no one talks about it. Perhaps this explains her decision-making skills and savior searching. It explains her eventual extreme devoutness to religion and her church. It explains her parenting skills and her parenting style. It explains how her fruit became rotten.
Someone snatched my grandma’s childhood along with her innocence. Her growth and development came too early. Her maturity came too late. She never developed a healthy method of parenting. She spent a lifetime trying to figure these things out. Gramps’ children were parented unevenly, so were her grandchildren. Some children were groomed from an early age to be responsible, others learned to become woefully codependent.
As a result, our family has lots of dysfunction, plenty of resentment, and a great amount of disrespect/contempt for one another.
I learned so much about my grandma, her life, and her child rearing this week. I think they are extremely valuable lessons to live by.
Messages In The Mess
Secrets Kill. Harboring secrets of childhood sexual assaults destroys individuals and destroys families. Both women and men can be victims, and when forced to keep a secret about abuse and neglect, most people never really recover. My grandmother’s secrets were manifested in how she raised her kids. My father became an alcoholic and was later diagnosed with a personality disorder. My aunts all have undiagnosed mental-illness. One aunt has been committed a few times in mental institutions. The stress of living with secrets and unresolved trauma come back later in life to haunt you. Talk, tell, write it down. Get therapy, let it out. Holding secrets in destroys. It destroys minds, families, relationships, and next generations. The abused shouldn’t be forced to harbor secrets of abuse while protecting the perpetrators.
Hurt People Hurt People. My grandma’s hurt led to her to seek salves to heal her pain. I’m told it was at one point alcohol, but also men. She also sought spouses, had children, joined churches and did many things to avoid dealing with her hurt. Because gramps was never given the tools to heal and process her abuse and neglect, she passed hurt down through two generations.
We never had a clue nor did we have any protection from the secondary abuse. Hurt people shouldn’t have children if they will not explain to them why they are the way they are. Get the treatment and put a disclaimer on your foreheads showing they are damaged goods. The tree may look pretty and healthy on the outside, but on the inside it has mold and is diseased. It tries desperately, sometimes without effort, to produce good fruit — but it cannot.
Hurt people having kids and not dealing with their issues/trauma from their own abuse makes and leave messes in the lives of others to clean up. My grandmother’s life and subsequent death showed me how hurt people, hurt people — sometimes inadvertently.
Just Because You Can Have Kids Doesn’t Mean You Should. People have kids for many reasons. Just because a person has kids doesn’t mean they’ll be a good parent and doesn’t mean they’ll have good, well-rounded children. In the old days, people had kids out of necessity (i.e. farming). Today, people have kids like we buy designer dogs and they treat them like pets, work mules, ATMs, sex objects, etc. Too many people have serious trauma and issues from their childhoods which leads to some extreme forms of parenting (like super religious, too strict, too lenient, too structured, too much play time, too passive, etc.). Unresolved child abuse and neglect makes parenting in adulthood extremely difficult. Even if you weren’t abused, perhaps your partner was. No one deserves to be born and raised in mess. And since life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, let me share a word of advice:
Work out your issues before having kids. If you aren’t or can’t, please don’t bother fucking up someone else’s life. Denial is not an excuse to screw up your kid’s life. Trust me when I tell you, saying you did your best to raise them will not fly.
Most people don’t realize this lesson until it’s too late, like deathbed too late when you’re looking at the monsters they’ve created. By the time people figure this out, they’re already in too deep screwing up their kids’ life with extreme parenting. My grandma’s death taught me she was a terrible parent with lots of unresolved issues. She would have done well to leave her children in heaven. They are miserable old moochers, self-centered, fake, and misguided in who or what makes a family. You don’t use or guilt trip the ones you love, especially not your mom if she was decent.
Make Your Final Wishes Known To Everyone. If you have something you want to leave to people, make it known to all at the same time in the same way. My grandma didn’t clean up her mess, and she left it for my dad to fix which caused strife, hatred, and severed family ties. I likely won’t see anymore people until the next family funeral. My dad is already getting his house in order and giving away stuff while he is alive and in his right mind. He learned something too.
Treat Children and Grand Children Fairly. You may think your kids and grandkids don’t notice your favoritism, but they do, or they will. One day, they will tell you about yourself when you least expect it. Having favorites or relying on one child more than the others gives the appearance you trust the one more than all the rest. That’s bad (unless all of your kids are terrible). My grandma did that to her children and grandchildren and we resent her for it.
There was no sadness at her home going, only questions about how she allowed our family to become so divided. She did nothing to make it right after 70 years of allowing it to be wrong. She is dead and gone and we will never be the same. When you do for one, do the same for all or your business will be aired at your funeral.
Fake Lives Are Exposed In Death. You can be the sold-out saint in life, but your death will expose the real you. My grandmother had the weirdest funeral. I’m sure her church members noticed there was no sadness at her funeral. No mourning. Nothing. No one really had anything good to say about her besides how dedicated she was to her church. Her legacy to heaven was great. Her legacy on earth, not so much. Gramps’ family legacy sucks like hell. Fix your family fuck ups before you die. Don’t leave your unfinished business for those above ground to deal with.
If you decide to live a pretend live, it will all be revealed when you die. All of your rotten and bitter fruit will be on display for the world to see at your funeral, if they show up at all. My grandmother had a beautiful family. My female cousins are gorgeous. My male cousins are stunningly handsome. Gramps used to tell us she had no ugly children or grandchildren and she didn’t, at least on the outside, anyway. We all are rotten fruit from a beautiful tree, rotting from the insides out. Beauty is skin deep.
There Are No Do Overs In Child-Rearing. If you fuck up with your child during ages 0–18, you can cancel Christmas. You can’t make up for the lack or extreme poverty. You can’t make up for abuse and neglect during the formative years. You can’t undo (or hide) child sexual abuse, you can’t pretend it never happened either. You can’t re-do childhood by creating alternative realities and trying to pay your way out of guilt. As the old folks in the South like to say, your sins will find you out. Your children have a way of revealing a parents’ mess. My grandmother’s mess taught me the best way to raise children is to be real with them. Help them understand early and often you’re imperfect.
Share your life story so they’ll know why you’re so great, or why you’re so screwed up. Teach them the things you always wanted to know about your parents and treat them the way you wished someone treated you as a kid. Teach them respect and the importance of the family nucleus. Lastly, don’t spare discipline. There is a place in life for discipline. I’m not condoning in any way parents beating kids to death, but discipline. Say no. Don’t give all the time and don’t buy worthless junk that has no value. We need discipline in our everyday lives. We can’t do whatever we want when we want. If you don’t raise your kids correctly with a healthy balance of home training, your kids will act out — even at your funeral. Say no. Stop falling for the guilt trips. You’re just laying the groundwork for your kids to become adult swindlers.
Beautiful Outside, Rotten Inside
My father’s side of the family would be beautiful if we weren’t rotten and/or bitter on the insides. We have been tainted with my grandma’s poison — poison that has already tainted the next generation, the great-grand children and the great-great grandchildren. We don’t get together, and we barely get along. Grandchildren and great grands don’t know each other, and there is no desire to do anything about it. The same cliques get together, excluding the rest of us. We’re living in another cycle of dysfunction.
The wounds are too deep. There is no trust. The divisions are too wide. There is really nothing to salvage. I have no sorrow, and I have no shame. Life is too short for regrets.
We aren’t really a family. We are sets of relatives who have a great disdain for each other because of my grandmother’s biases, poor child-rearing, abuse and neglect, selfishness, and most-likely guilt.
We are rotten fruit from a beautiful tree. Where there is life, there is still hope. But I’m not putting my eggs in that basket. I’m rotten. My children are tainted. The cycle of dysfunction continues in my family.
©2019 Marley K. All Rights Reserved. This essay may not be republished without written permission.