Susan Glennis, Susan Isaacs and Glennis Maguire

So I went to a writing class with my friend April last Saturday.  I don’t think I learned anything new – it was a beginner class – but I did enjoy myself.  Loved the women leading the class.  If you want to know more about them – and

So anyhow – two hour class – our assignment was to write about a person, place or event from our childhood.  Just write anything about a subject for 10 minutes.  Don’t stop.  Free flow – stream of consciousness.  So I picked my maternal grandmother – Glennis Maguire.  My blog name – – my middle name – that’s where I got it.  I didn’t want to use my last name at the time I set up that blog – I would now but the susanglennis has grown on me.

We wrote for 10 minutes.  Then we went back and picked out our favorite parts – things that struck us, things that maybe we had not thought of before.

Here is some of what I wrote.

My grandmother made fabulous chocolate cake.

She was not what any of us would call a nice person.  She was mean.  When my mother was a child, my grandmother wanted her to cut her long hair.  My mother didn’t want to so under the guise of giving her a trim – my grandmother grabbed a huge hunk of her hair and hacked it off.  My mother ended up with a short haircut to even it up.  For my mother – just one in a long line of betrayals.  One of life’s cardinal rules broken – You should be able to trust your mother.

My grandmother made the same supper every night.  Fried hamburgers, boiled potatoes, canned peas – shriveled and gray and mushy.  Once in a great while on Sunday, she made oyster stew.  This “stew” consisted basically of milk, melted butter, canned oysters and pepper.

During one of my grandparents’ Christmas visits in Connecticut, someone they knew came to see them and said they would be stopping at my grandparents’ house in Maine for an overnight on their way north the following summer.  My grandmother went upstairs and got in bed and stayed there all the next day.  When I finally got her to tell me what was wrong, she said she didn’t want company to stop because she didn’t know what to cook.

My grandmother took naps.  These naps were a religious experience, like a priest and communion.  No one could make noise, no one could wake her up.  Dire consequences.  As a child, my mother was not allowed to go outside when a nap was going on.  She had to stay in and be very quiet.  I come from a long line of readers.  My mother went and got her book.  My grandmother made her stop reading while she was napping because the sound of the pages turning woke her up.  My mother sat there – a small child – not moving – not making a sound.

My grandfather was a kind man who teased his wife often, trying to cajole her into a good mood.  She didn’t like it.  She stood and screamed “I’m gonna get a knife and stab you right in the heart!”.  She said it like hot – she was from Maine.

The grandmother stories are endless.  At the writing class, one person wanted to know everything about her.  April didn’t want to hear anymore.  And I do have lots but I can truly say they don’t bother me anymore.  And also, although my grandmother was mean to most everyone, she was not mean to me.  I don’t know why.  Sun rising and setting in her first-born grandchild?  The old story about grandchildren and grandparents getting along so well because they share a common enemy?  The family dynamic.  But I was a pretty bright kid.  I was aware of the crap she was pulling, especially as it concerned my mother and grandfather.

My mother had no idea how to deal with her.  She spent a lot of time trying to please her mother, so she wouldn’t be unhappy or mean.  But this was not ever, ever going to happen.  And my mother was so confused by the whole thing, she never really figured out she couldn’t make her happy.  Some clarity has come to her over the last 20 years or so since her mother passed.  But she is scarred and in turn her children are scarred.  And are my grandmother’s great-grandchildren carrying some of the marks too?  I’m sure they are.

And I will take this opportunity to say I love my mother.  And my father.  I’m glad they are still here with me.  I believe they did the best job they could.  I’m way beyond blaming my parents for any of my shortcomings.  But people didn’t dissect their screwed-up childhoods back in the day.  They didn’t go to shrinks or take Prozac.  My grandparents were born in 1916 and 1917.  My parents were born in the 30’s and started reproducing at a very young age.  That is part of the reason they are still in my life, being 19 and 22 when I was born.

So on to Susan Isaacs.  I love her books.  She wrote one of my very favorites – Compromising Postions – link below.

There is a line in this novel – I can’t remember it perfectly and although I searched for it, I apparently cannot find it right now without rereading the whole thing.  But it is one of the reasons why I love this book, and Ms. Isaac‘s writing.  It is a mystery about a murdered Lothario who took pictures of his conquests in flagrante delicto, and the main characters – Judith and Nancy – see pictures of a woman with cylindrical produce protruding from her most special of orefices.  And one says to the other something like this – If we ever do meet her, you must remind me not to try her coleslaw.  Compromising Positions was Susan Isaac’s debut novel published in 1978.  I’ve read them all.  I have well-loved copy of this book.  All banged up.  Bent and held together with clear wide packing tape.

Another reason for my love of CP, Nancy refers to a mutual acquaintance as a “subanthropoidal horse’s ass“.  I had forgotten about that – used to use it often and will now start saying it again.

So Susan Isaac’s latest which I took out of the library last Thursday is titled Goldberg Variations.

This is the first of her books that is not very funny.  Not to me, anyway.  It is about a miserable grandmother and how she treats her family.  But I amused that these events came together – the writing topic and the book.  I’m sure I subconsciously chose to write about my grandmother in that class because I knew this book was in my library pile.

So toward the end of Goldberg Variations (page 246), Gloria’s grandson Matt thinks this and I quote –

“Gloria was definitely curious to hear what they were saying.  But there was something more with her, too. I didn’t know how I intuited this, and I could have been wrong.  Sometimes you got an insight into someone and you thought, Hey, I am so fucking perceptive.  And maybe it was true, you were.  Except wasn’t it equally possible that your observation was totally made up either to fulfill some need or because you really weren’t perceptive?  In fact, you were an ass and, like any ass, were too dumb to comprehend what you were.”

Perhaps a subanthropoidal horse’s ass.

Loved this quote. Something else for me to worry about.

Those of you who know me and/or have read very many of my blogs, are aware that I often immerse myself in introspection followed by self-flagellation.  So as a woman who spent six years in therapy, I am always searching for my weak spots.  What of Glennis Maguire has made it into her namesake, Susan Glennis?  Worry.  Worry.  Worry.  Laughing at self here.  Sort of.

When my grandmother died, as is customary, the minister sat and talked with us – my mother, my uncle Michael, my sister Katie and me.  We couldn’t think of anything really nice to say about my grandmother. The silence was, as they say, deafening.  We squirmed.  My uncle finally took him aside and told him the truth – our truth – what we all felt.  During her service, the minister said she was a woman who made her feelings known – something like that?  Then he said she made good chocolate cake.  That was it.  Nothing else.