Irony and My Grandmother – Part Two
continued from part one
For a very long time, I didn’t know much more about my grandmother other than a few other family tales because she died of lung cancer at such a young age. In many ways, I held a lot of anger and resentment toward my grandmother because I thought that she knowingly took her own life and sacrificed us grandkids ever knowing who she ever really was. The concept that my grandma knowingly removed herself from our lives is an ideology that has stuck with me my whole life.
The irony in all this is that her parents sent her to school in a convent in New Orleans in order to ensure her survival through the war. Yet, it was there that she picked up the habit that would inevitably kill her. I held onto this irony. I blamed my grandmother for cutting her own life short. Sixty-one is, by far, too young to die.
Until I wrote the rough draft for the story of my grandmother learning to smoke in Catholic middle school, I formed a grudge against Marianna Landrum. I valued my father‘s mother as such an extremely intricate part of my upbringing, throughout my adolescence, that thinking of my mother’s mother and her absence from my life had always upset me. It’s sad to say that I really didn’t care to learn who the real Marianna even was.
But in the summer of 2012, I started asking my mom about her own mother. She painted a picture for me of a woman I never knew. What I learned from listening to my mother was a newfound reality about the person that was my “Mimi.”
Had her parents never moved Marianna to that New Orleans nunnery, would I have never even existed? Our cards are all aligned to follow a certain path. So maybe I wouldn’t have been born had she not lived the life she lived. Who knows? Maybe she might’ve become a field nurse and died in the war or survived but married a man other than my grandfather. The point is I am grateful that she lived because I know now that I wouldn’t be here had it not been for Marianna living life as she did.
Only in discussing details with my own mum did I realize that I knew a helluva lot more about Marianna than I ever really thought I knew:
Marianna was an army brat, and was sent off to that convent in New Orleans. But as a result of being educated there, she headed to the University of Missouri being fluent in French, Latin, and Spanish. That and a keen wish never to visit the Arctic.
HER PARENTS were the ones who taught her to smoke, according to my mother! Both her parents adored the cancer sticks, and her mother, Frances, learned from HER mother to smoke. Frances’ mom was especially avant-garde and taboo because her mother also had a college degree in the 1880s and smoked!
Apparently, when Marianna graduated from high school, Frances told Marianna that if she were to “happen to ever to desire to smoke,” that she would rather Marianna “did it in the open rather than sneaking around.” Of course this led Frances to send Marianna cigarettes while she was away at the University of Missouri! (Frances could purchase them much cheaper at the Army Post Exchange.)
Marianna was a Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority girl—as were my mother, Marianna’s mother, Marianna’s aunt, and Marianna’s first cousin—and she graduated from MU with a degree in journalism. At that time, the University of Missouri was considered the best journalism school in the country.
The only time Marianna actually worked as a journalist was with the school newspaper, selling extra papers on VJ Day in 1945. For being such a progressive woman, Marianna never held an actual job, despite her degree.
She was such an avid fan of the University of Missouri’s football team that she attended almost every home game while in school there and held season tickets to all of MU’s football games up until she died.
As a result of her father’s involvement with the occupation forces in Asia after World War II, Marianna was able to tour Japan and live there for a few months. She, therefore, became a collector and aficionado of rare and unique Japanese antiques throughout the rest of her life.
Marianna didn’t enjoy anything she couldn’t win: She became such an excellent golfer that she became respected across Missouri. At a young age, the pro golfer Tom Watson was once even my grandmother’s caddie because his mother was a friend of hers. She played golf for years until she developed a random metal allergy and could no longer handle the clubs. She was also an avid and accomplished bowler. The only other time Marianna was ever paid for any work done other than the DAY she sold newspapers on was the five dollars she earned for coaching the little league bowling team at the local alley every week.
Marianna and my grandfather owned two houseboats at the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri and became such avid boaters that they built (and she designed) a lake house there the year that I was born: 1982. The house still stands today and serves as my mother’s current residence.
She regularly socialized with and hired an African-American woman, Bobbi, to nanny both my mother and her brother in the late 1950s. Something that—in rural Missouri—was still very taboo. She respected the fact that Bobbi was smart and a good person, but also that Bobbi was a college-educated woman at a time when it was extremely rare for a black woman to have attended university. Nevertheless, Bobbi lived with them and became part of the family during my mother’s and uncle’s early upbringing at the wish of my grandmother, despite what society thought. They became quite good friends.
She was an avant-garde socialite who would chain-smoke cigarettes. She was an excellent seamstress who made her own clothes and my mother’s clothes by hand, replicating the patterns and designs of couture designers in Europe. Marianna’s knowledge of three-and-a-half languages, her college education, her army-brat upbringing, and her world travels would have made her somewhat of a social pariah in her small Midwestern town, but she remained an influential and outspoken member of the community.
Marianna was randomly also a puritanical traditionalist. If she ever would have known that my mother had given birth to more than two children, she would have been repulsed and would have said that since my parents already had one boy and one girl, that they must’ve “been doing ‘it’ (sex) just for fun!” She apparently always did have a sense of humor.
Probably the most important thing she did was becoming a wife and mother. I technically owe my existence to this woman.
to be concluded
previous: Irony and My Grandmother – Part One
more by KOELEN ANDREWS
photograph by New Old Stock