I Know Little of the Danish Quarter of My Family Heritage

My father's mother, paternal grandmother, was Danish and spoke it fluently. I can see some of her features in my reflection. Even though he left when I was less than 2, my mother kept us in contact with my paternal grandmother. Mostly as an alternative babysitter. She was not a particularly warm, friendly or loving influence in my life and I sometimes dreaded having to stay overnight at her house when I was very little.

Her house was small and dark with a narrow staircase in the middle of the house. When I was in diapers, I crawled to the top of the steps. Just as I was reaching the top landing, my mother squealed my name in horror from the bottom, causing me to swiftly turn around, lose balance and tumble to the bottom, smashing my noggin on the slate floor. I remember all of the feelings of the event and being in the ER getting stitches. I can describe it all in better detail than my mother ever recalled.

This might possibly be a contributing factor of my collective unease in her house. And the photos of my ghostly dad. Ghostly, because he was a nonentity in my life until briefly speaking to him at 14 years old on the phone.

When I was about 8 years old, grandmother gave me a magic kit. What a great gift for an inquisitive and intelligent child, you might remark. Except for the fact that the entire booklet of directions was printed in Danish. It may as well have been Russian or Chinese and rendered the gift useless to me. Yes, being fluent, grandmother could have taught me some words, phrases or even how to speak Danish...over time...if she was regularly part of my life, even weekly. Not that I was ungrateful, but for an 8 year old, I had no use for this kit if I couldn't read the directions at all. I repurposed the things included in the kit for other uses, in other games or whatever I could think of.

She was very stoic and always composed, never showing any emotion. Being raised with my mother's Italian side of the family couldn't have been more the opposite. She kept her white hair pinned up in a beehive and wore tacky costume jewelry. The fabrics of her wardrobe were more like upholstery or bedspreads than clothing. I always found this curious, being the quietly observant Virgo child that I was.

By the time I was an adolescent, my mother had grown tired of her and I hardly ever saw her. She never saw her 2 sons or daughter and had been divorced from grandfather before I was born. I never met him. His genes contribute to the smattering of other nationalities in my blood. My mother's side was all Neapolitan Italian.

My father's mother became an alcoholic in her later years, calling at odd hours with bizarre things to say. No one actually said to me she was an alcoholic, since people thought it impolite to talk about such things then. It would've explained a lot to me. Maybe I'd have found a way to visit her myself, bicycling the 5 miles. She made an appearance at my high school graduation party but died in the hospital not long after that of liver failure. It has saddened me for a long time that all the info about my Danish heritage died along with her.

My fondest memory of the time I spent at her house was of her fat, male, orange tabby called ReddyFox. He followed me around the yard and slept on the foot of the bed when I stayed there. I loved that cat and he was the friendliest thing about that house or my experiences in it.

qazrazl qazrazl
41-45, F
2 Responses Mar 7, 2009

Thank you for the compliment/feedback. It is appreciated. :)

I like the way you write - clear, concise, but with a nice amount of detail.