My grandma

I have wanted to write something about my grandma for quite some time now, but I have no idea where to begin.

My gran even took me to Pere Lachaise. None of the other grandchildren had insisted on that. She thought it was a bit odd but she enjoyed the visit.

My grandma died in 2009, at the age of 95. So she’s been around a long time. When I was growing up, we lived about 40 km away. In the Netherlands, that’s not very close (although not extremely far away either). I can still recall every kilometre of that car ride. When I graduated from high school and started at university, I moved closer, but of course that didn’t mean I visited more often. That’s what happens.

I loved my gran a lot, though. When I was 15, she took me to Paris, like she’d done with her other two grandchildren as well. Just the two of us, doing touristy stuff. I had a lot of fun. I also got into a lot of arguments with her. I think that was the first time I realised that my gran and I were very much alike. Infuriatingly alike.

A couple of days back, there was a special guest post on written by her daughter. The way she described her mother reminded me how parents nowadays are able to have much more open and affectionate relationships with their children than back in the 40s and 50s. Because my grandmother was never able to have that kind of relationship with her children – my father and my uncle.

Gran was born in 1913, just before the start of World War I. Her father was a dairy farmer in a small village (half the people still living there are my relatives in some way). She told me that when she was around 9 or 10, her father left the local church and decided to raise his children in the anthroposophical way, after the tenets of Rudolf Steiner. I do know that my gran wasn’t at all religious, which seems to fit that story.

oma-pothoedWhen she was older she was allowed to go to secondary school and get a diploma, which was not unheard of but certainly not common for a farmer’s daughter in those days. It enabled her to work at the fairly big flooring manufacturer just outside the village (and yeah, I’m pretty proud to say that that same local factory is now a global enterprise). I’m not entirely sure what she did there, she said she did lab work and after an accident with hydrochloric acid the director allowed her to work in his office as an assistant while she recuperated. She sounded very proud of having worked for this man.

The reason why I sound a bit careful when describing my gran’s stories is because sometimes she felt the need to appear of a higher social standing. For example, she always said her dad was a “gentleman farmer” or “landed” when I know he was nothing of the sort. My parents have discovered some things through genealogical research that don’t quite match up with her stories either. Since I’m not entirely sure which ones are fake and which ones aren’t, I’m simply going to describe things the way she told them to me. I do think most of them are true. She was a marvellous story teller though.

That’s my gran all caught up in a story she’s telling on my 4th birthday. The girl in this video isn’t me, by the way.

opa-oma-louwAnyway, when my grandparents met and got married in 1934, they started their own business. My grandad was a carpenter and upholsterer. It was hard at first, because of the depression, but business increased gradually and they were able to buy a big house with a store underneath after a few years. That’s where my dad was born just after World War II. Because someone had to manage the store while my grandad was out doing assignments, my gran became a businesswoman. She did the books and finances as well. My grandad was doing client acquisition and making social calls and being an all around nice guy with a gift for interior decoration. The business pretty much shifted from upholstery to interior design. They started becoming a household name in the upper classes of the area. I think that’s where my gran’s ideas of having to maintain a certain class came from – after all, you can’t have an ordinary farmer’s daughter advising you on which candlesticks to buy.

From the way my father tells it, the store was everything to her. After the store was handed over to the next generation, she took pride in her cooking and her garden and her quilts. She wasn’t very involved in the lives of her two children and didn’t show them much affection. When she did show interest in someone else, it was always with clients or acquaintances. With her children, she kept her distance. But then again, my grandad was fairly authoritarian and not very touchy feely either, which wasn’t considered abnormal in those days.

After she died, I was expecting to hear people describe my gran as “egocentric” or “tough”. However, hearing her described as “unemotional” and “loveless” on top of that shocked me to the core. My mother, her daughter-in-law, said my gran was incapable of showing love to those closest to her. But what about me then? Well, I was far younger than her first two grandchildren, so more distance meant more love. Apparently. I don’t want to discount the experiences of my mother and father in relating to her, but it’s just so different from how I saw her.


My weird grandma. Opinionated, infuriating, stubborn gran. Emancipated, rigid, fairness-in-everything gran. My grandma who actually respected me for standing up to her. Gran who grilled every man I dated to make sure they were good dating material and wouldn’t let me squander my talent on housework and childbearing. My grandma who spent hours on the phone talking about her life and her interests and hardly ever stopping to ask how things were with me. Gran who yelled at me for not being able to boil an egg and loved explaining to me how to make meatballs after I begged her to show me (she complimented me afterwards by saying mine “were nearly as good as hers”). My gran who had the craziest sense of humour and who loved staying up until 4am with her weird opinionated infuriating granddaughter to drink lots of alcohol and talk about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

On my 7th birthday. She’s pointing and laughing because we’d built a huge heap of fallen leaves in the front garden and were diving into it. The little girl is me.

I still miss her.

I’ve been told I’m probably the only one.

11 thoughts on “My grandma

  1. Your grandmother reminds me of my father’s mother, who was very like me. She died when I was 16, unfortunately before I was old enough to forge a relationship with her despite my father’s estrangement from her. She was the grandparent who, on learning that I was into Star Wars, purchased all of the comics and books so that she could talk Star Wars with me. She was a writer, and a programmer, and interested in science.

    Others called her cold and unemotional and unloving. I disagree – she loved, but she showed her love differently, like when she bought and read chemistry texts so she could understand her daughters’ work, or like getting her own Star Wars collection so she could connect with me. She didn’t show love with hugs and kisses and cookies, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t love.

    • I’m trying to figure out if that was the case with my grandmother as well: that others just didn’t pick up on her way of expressing love. I’m trying to keep an open mind though, it’s really easy to stick a label on her when she’s no longer around to argue against it.

      Your grandmother sounds AMAZING. 😀

    • Thank you for your kindness. The last sentence was heart-wrenching to write as well. But I have to concentrate on the positive side and tell myself it’s OK to miss my gran even though she could be a pain in the ass as well. She was still a wonderful, flawed human being who deserves to be missed and remembered sometimes.

      • Although perspective is everything. If I were to write about my grandma from the perspective of my father, she could probably be labeled as someone who emotionally neglected or even abused him. The way she has treated my mother at times can definitely be labeled as bullying. So there’s always multiple viewpoints.

        So yeah, that confuses me. I think of some of the people I have come to know through their writing and the way they struggle with how their parents treated them. The way they have been ignored or neglected or reprimanded for things they had no control over or treated unfairly or outright abused.

        And I think, me having sympathy for my grandmother would be the same as me having sympathy for those parents. The victims wouldn’t really enjoy that. They would say, yes abusers can be charming. Please listen to our side. Don’t ignore us like our parents have done.

        And they are right. But I still miss my gran.

  2. This is lovely. Thank you for sharing it. I think that regardless of what other people thought of your grandmother, you had the gift of seeing a side of her that was loving and fun and generous in ways that spoke to you. It made me happy to read that even one person misses her.

    • It makes me happy to be sharing her story and my memories of her, even though in re-reading this I see there’s not that many memories, lol. Your post really triggered me on thinking of my gran and I just wanted to share the good bits and the bad bits alike.

    • It was a blessing. I even had the chance to say goodbye to her when she was just tired of fighting any longer and it was special. I feel very aware of all the people who never had that chance to connect with their own family’s past that way.

  3. This sounds a lot like someone I know. Which is eerie. But I think part of it is that said person learned to express love in an authoritarian environment. Which is to say that not much love was expressed! Plus, there was a LOT of involvement, but the timing was way off. It also showed me that I have the capability and patience to work with individuals who might be considered “tough” or “mean” to others even though they really aren’t, once you get to know them. (Doesn’t mean there isn’t a line though. I still walk away if any boundaries are crossed.)

    • Yes, it’s what got me thinking, that expressing love is as much a social construct as any, or at least the ways in which it is recognised and validated.

      You managed to get past the opinions of others and form your own. And in that manner learned something about your own strengths and boundaries that you wouldn’t have known otherwise. But I think for the other person it’s (hopefully) a valuable lesson too, that they don’t always get treated the way they’ve come to expect from others. It’s almost surely a defence mechanism, I think.

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