Casual Fridays – Lessons From Life

Ford Fairlane photographed in College Park, Ma...

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” ~ James Baldwin

I did not really grow up in a strictly religious home. My grandparents were alcoholics and they taught me different lessons than you would probably learn at “Johnny Church Member’s” grandmother’s house. By the age of eight or nine I knew how to play Bridge, Texas Holdem, Blackjack, Craps, 21, 31, 333, Follow The Queen, Stud, Baseball, Woolworths, and various other derivations of many poker games. I learned that you had to be at least thirteen before you can sneak beer from the basement. I learned that everyone drank, that only certain types of beer, always Canadian beer, did not taste like “panther piss”. I also learned that children didn’t matter. I learned that mouthy little kids like me were to be “seen and not heard”. I learned that drunkenness was a daily thing, not a special holiday activity. I learned how to swear. To this day I can pack more empties in the trunk of a Ford Fairlane than anyone I know.

My grandmother was a poor gambler but didn’t know it. She thought she was an excellent player and indeed seemed to be so to an eight-year-old child. She understood the fundamentals of the game and would beat me every time we played. She would usually take my allowance. It was a very tender family.

By the time I was eleven or twelve, however, I began to win. Eventually two things dawned on me: First, she wasn’t that good. Second, she had taken a great deal of my boyhood money and it was time for her to go down. Somehow I convinced her that we should play for higher stakes and I began the carnage. Slowly, relentlessly, I drove her into the ground.

I looked at my grandmother. This was the person who had taught me how to play. She was the woman who had raised my mother. She was an old lady on a pension, and I took her for everything in her account. At eleven years of age I damaged her financially. I watched her sign a cheque in defeat. It was for hundreds of dollars. Did I feel guilty?

I remember thinking at the time, “this is the greatest day of my life”.

As I look back I wonder why I did not feel any remorse. My grandmother was not a nice person. She did not know how to express love, and one could argue she felt little as well. She was a bitter, angry little alcoholic who would later disown me because I won an argument, and not even an important one. When she found out I was engaged she commented, “I don’t know the woman but she must be a slut to marry him.”

I learned a great deal from my grandmother. I learned that family is not that important. I learned that it is easy to lie to cover up addiction, that beer was consumed before lunch for ‘medicinal’ reasons. I learned that bitterness worked. I learned that I didn’t matter. I learned that love was conditional.

As I ponder that part of my life, and the subsequent apathy I felt when she died, I realize that I, on occasion, feel ripped off. I did not have grandparents that I could love and cherish. My father was an orphan. The grandparents I had were not nice people.

I look at the grandparents that my children have and I’m thankful for all four of them. They each have brought something unique and wonderful to the table. My children love them all dearly. When the boy’s papa died last year I was saddened and thankful for his life and his legacy. I am jealous of the relationship my sons still have with their remaining grandpa and grandmothers.

And thankful. Very very thankful.

p.s. – next Wednesday my father will be joining us as our weekly guest blogger!

9 thoughts on “Casual Fridays – Lessons From Life

  1. I was blessed to have four wonderful grandparents who lived well into my adulthood and who were a positive influence in my life. My parents however were another story. They appeared to be upstanding citizens but, behind closed doors, our home was filled with physical and emotional abuse. I was not loved or valued. I’m thankful that my son was able to know all four of his great-grandparents on my side because he too has wonderful memories of them. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for any of his grandparents.

  2. Sometimes blood family isn’t worth beans. Growing up was an interesting ordeal on my end and I had several “adopted parents”, mainly the parents of my friends who I could feel course through my veins more than a nice chunk of my family.

  3. Wow, what a post. While my family had its issues (who doesn’t?) I basically had a loving childhood. Since I was old enough to realize this isn’t the case for everyone, I have been filled with gratitude. As corny as it sounds, every child deserves a loving home; yet so many grow up without one.

  4. I didn’t have that kind of relationship with my relatives but I lived in a blue collar, plant-oriented town where alcoholism was rampant. Many of my local friends’ fathers were raging alcoholics and I learned early in life to avoid them. When they came home from work I would take off for home. Nothing would happen to me but I was uncomfortable with the yelling and demeaning. Now I wonder what my friends’ lives were like actually living with drunks. As I grew older (high school) my friends came from neighboring towns. Subconsciously I learned to cultivate friends without the drama at home. I didn’t realize it until I was in my twenties. One of my best friends at work had an emotionally abusive father. I realized through her, the scars that happen when you are raised in this environment. I also saw the apathy she had towards him. Much later in life (she was in her 50s) they connected and maintained a relationship until he died. Great but painful post!

  5. I had that kind of relationship with My Dad; I used to wonder why it had to be that way, my Sister on the other hand had quite a different relationship with him. It’s easy to feel resentment for both my Dad and my Sister, my Dad died 12 years ago but my Sister is still living. I could have pushed all the resentment onto her, I mean it’s never easy resenting someone who is dead because they never get to see the hurt you carry or how it makes you feel :O)

    But I am happy to say its not like that I realised early on, in fact just after his death that my relationship with my Dad was perfect, same as the one with my Sister is heaven sent…..Why?? Simply put my Dad made me what I am today. All the things I COULD say he didn’t do for me I had to find somewhere else. I never realised that,; but when it hit me that this is just part of the contract we all have with each other, I suddenly knew that our contractual obligations had been met, and by both sides because he would have fresh insight abot himself because of how he treated me.

    No relationship is easy, if it were it wouldn’t be of any use to you. You will only find out about yourself when it hurts, when it difficult going or when you can cut the atmosphere with a knife. What you decide about how a relationship panned out or ended up is purely up to you.
    All relationships are transitory; the only thing that’s left is how you handled them, it’s all about the forgiveness that you put forth or the patience you showed or not as the case maybe, and this tells you more about who you are than who they were.

    Every relationship has it’s teachers and students, no one loses and no one misses out, sometimes a relationship throws a low ball and you have to look outside of one particular relationship to see the beauty of another. There is no time scale to seeing anything in particular as long as at some point you see it, and when you do you can begin to let the hurt drop away or laugh a bit longer about something they did, or maybe pick up a photo and say thanks for teaching me that.

    Just remember no one get’s hurt, no one misses out – unless of course you want it to be that way.

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