Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lessons from my grandmother

Wiped out...after a car-ride across the state, I often feel it.  But I was just silly enough to spend the day at the sewing machine.  I'd much rather sew than cook, because in sewing there's a finished product, something that doesn't have to be redone the next day, or just a few hours later.  I took an online Meyers-Briggs test the other day, and one of the questions was, "Do you like starting projects or finishing them?"  Easy to answer for me.  I'm all about finishing things. Of course, this begs the question "What about your book?  You haven't finished that!" which is a good point, in one sense.  In another sense, I've finished that dang book about a dozen times, and it actually does have an ending...just not the one wanted, apparently.

So I finished SK's red and black quilt this morning, and began one for E.  E's become very excited about this project--she bought the fabric, picked out the pattern, and spent the afternoon helping me piece it.  She doesn't know how to run the sewing machine, though, which would make my grandmothers roll over in their graves, if they had graves to roll over in!  I learned to sew on the treadle machine at our cabin on Whidbey Island; the first project I completed was an ugly brown pioneer costume meant for Pioneer Days in Seattle.  My grandmother loved dressing in period costumes.  But I really hated that brown dress, especially because my sister had pretty black and red fabric for hers, and a far more interesting pattern.  Hmmm, come to think of it, I think the bridesmaid dresses I made for my wedding were from almost the same pattern as that brown dress.  And guess who coerced me (as only she could!) into picking out that pattern?  Right first time, my grandmother. And you should have seen the wedding dress she thought was perfect for me:  dotted swiss with puffy sleeves and a full skirt.  The only things missing were a staff and a few sheep, and I would have been a nursery rhyme, and I'm pretty sure that isn't what is meant by 'fairy-tale wedding!' But that was my Grandmother for you-- with her steel backbone, and manipulative skills, I found myself agreeing with her choice that day. It wasn't until I went to bed that night that I realized just how ludicrious it would be to walk down the aisle as Miss Bo Peep. Unfortunately, the bridesmaid dress material had already been bought, so my attendants were stuck with hoop.  Sorry to say--though I suppose I should be apologizing to those women for what I made them do! It was all because Grandmomie was a force to be reckoned with. Most of my childhood, and clearly through my 20s I found it easier to go along with her than cross her. But it wasn't just me. The whole family reacted that way to her, except the one person she adored above all others--her son/my father!

I've grown far more assertive in my middle age.  I say what I think most of the time, maybe more than I should.  But I learned a long time ago that it was more important to tell the truth than to aquiesce and regret it later. It's not that I like conflict.  I do not.  But who does?  I come from a long line of conflict-avoiders.  Grandmomie's husband, my grandfather, spent his life avoiding conflict with his wife.  Took responsibility for whatever troubled, annoyed, angered her.  Said he was sorry any time she fretted at all.  And my father learned to do that at his father's knee, and was a master of "I'm sorry," with Mom.  A true master.  He said he was sorry practically before Mom even opened her mouth.  Maybe he just walked in the door at athe end of the day and apologized to her as a sort of prophalactic measure.  Well, probably not quite, but close.  Dad always said it didn't hurt any to say he was sorry. That's because he knew that he wasn't really responsible for Mom's bad moods, knew that it was often (usually) her own issues.  So calming her down by apologizing was an easy thing.

Too easy, maybe.  I've done the same thing in my marriage.  It's like a reflex to say I'm sorry when something goes wrong, even if I had nothing to do with it.  But here's the thing: just saying I'm sorry doesn't mean I'm...well, sorry.  Doesn't mean I really take responsibility, doesn't mean I'm repentant.  It mostly means I want the peace restored, want Beve not to be mad at me.  Saying I'm sorry so easily doesn't mean I'm asking (or even think I need) forgiveness.  It's just words.

So what I've learned in the course of this long life with the Beve is to hold my tongue more...or at least not say I'm sorry so quickly.  Not to say it until I'm asking forgiveness.  The only way through conflict is to confront it, and my knee-jerk reaction to apologize is the opposite of that.  That's what my grandfather, my father (and my grandmother and mother for that matter) never quite learned.  Confronting things, THEN taking responsibility and asking forgiveness--this is the pattern of the Kingdom; so that the asking is heart deep and Spirit-led.  Not easily come by, but worth the journey to get to.

I learned a lot from my grandmother--a lot about sewing, baking (which didn't stick!), about playing cards.  And by her marriage's example, by my parents' example, I've learned how not to be.

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