My Grandmother’s Legacy

I dreamt about my grandmother last night. I dreamt she was coming to visit from far away. It had been years since I’d last seen her. I wanted so badly to show her my paintings. My Nana was an artist and she would be proud that her only granddaughter had followed in her footsteps.

The dream involved me running through winding corridors and down narrow staircases to these windowless rooms where I was living (apparently) to gather as many of my pieces as I could carry to show her. I woke up before getting back.

I lay awake thinking about it in the wee hours of the morning. During that stage of just coming awake, the mind makes connections it wouldn’t in the light of day.

My Nana would be proud that I was painting.

When I first started painting and my work began to improve, I believed that to be true. After some consideration, I realized that I could be wrong. She might not be proud. She could be threatened by it and she could be critical. She might point out all my mistakes, flaws, weak technique. I’m pretty sure wouldn’t like either my subject matter or my style. Never one to hold her tongue to spare another’s feelings, she would probably decide that I hadn’t any talent at all and that I was wasting my time. I’d never improve. I’d never be any good.

Cruel? Yes. But accurate. And the funny thing is, she wouldn’t comprehend that I would be hurt by her words. Certainly I would see that she was right…

Years ago, my Aunt Esther took an art class at the local community center and began painting in acrylics and oil. Largely this was motivated by her admiration of my grandmother, her mother-in-law. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery….

Lo and behold! Aunt Esther had talent, she became a wonderful artist –painting landscapes, pastoral scenes and still lifes. Nana only complained, belittled and behind her back, insinuated that she had no right to paint. Who does she think she is? My aunt eventually gave up painting.

And so it goes with the women in my family. They tend to be judgmental, fault-finding and competitive. There is never any joy for the success of others unless there is some way to take some of the credit for themselves. I’m not bitter, just realistic.

In the dream, my work was hidden away, out of the light of day, out of Nana’s sight, away from her potential criticism. As in the dream, so in reality. I am glad my grandmother will never see my paintings. That way I can pretend she would be proud.

The painting in the header is by Susan Nagle, my maternal grandmother.

38 thoughts on “My Grandmother’s Legacy

    1. Did you mean they don’t realize the damage of their words? In my grandmother’s case, that would be true. And I would always be the young and inexperienced compared to her so….

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      1. LOL By the end of the day my vision is running on fumes. Yeah, Meg, they don’t realize the damage they do with these words. You know I experienced that with my father. And as you say, she will always have experience over you.

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    1. Well, it is what it is. Sometimes a dream can give you an ‘aha’ moment. It made me think, “yeah, might be better not to know.” Thanks Rob.

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  1. Darling Meg,I’m sure she would not be critical if she came to you now in your sleep. She’d only have he nicest things to say. Anyway, you don’t need her approbation to keep you going, you have ours.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

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  2. If you were one to hold a grudge, which I’m sure you’re not, and you wished to point out to Nana that she wasn’t as good as she thought she was, you could meet up in another dream and tell her that the perspective of the end wall on the right is all wrong!

    Not that I’m any sort of an artist, and not that it matters. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I find the picture very pleasing.

    Give her my love if you do meet up again Meg.

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  3. Your grandmother sounds a lot like my paternal grandmother. She was a very difficult woman and quite self-centered. She never fit the sweet, grandmotherly stereotype of my friends’ grandmas. Maybe your dream was to remind you that no one’s critique of what you do is as important as your own.

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    1. Too true! And a tough generation – very rule oriented and severe… Whatever Nana would think – wouldn’t change my way of doing things anyway. So more the frustration for her!\

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  4. Oh Meg! Tears at my heart. Why? Why did they have to be that way? My dad’s mom was exactly the same way. The last time I spoke to her – I asked her if she wondered why all her sons grew up to be alcoholics. She was pissed. I didn’t care. No one ever stood up to her and she destroyed every dream that was brought to her attention.

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    1. I don’t know but it is the way my grandmother and her four sisters all were! They were always jealous and competing with one another – nothing was ever good enough. A generation removed makes it easier to take, though. The opinions don’t carry the weight.

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  5. I like how you segued from what you had hoped for from grandma to what she would have really more likely done. And how we come to learn that criticism can be unwarranted and destructive. It’s a lesson for all of us to be kinder and quicker to praise effort.

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  6. My God i thought only we had to put up with such people, my country citizens being family oriented. Looks like the world over such competitive and critical people exist! Simehow i think this trait stems from their insecurity too. Your grandma was a good painter and must have received accolades from peers and family and another person like your aunt Esther or you rising in the same profession/ hobby might have been intimidating to her. What if either of you turned out to be better than her? Sad that your aunt gave up painting because of her. But i am happy that you are out of her view now at least in reality. Continue your good work.

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    1. I’m sure you are right. Being ‘the best’ at something then having someone close to you demonstrate the same or better ability was no doubt a threat. My Gran was a tough lady … I shared these thoughts with my mom after I wrote them (Nana was her mother) and she agreed, Nana would probably have been critical. If she was pleased at all, it would have only been that I had tried to imitate her. Ah families are funny entities. They should be your best allies and sometimes that isn’t how it works out! Thanks so much for your kind words!

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  7. Meg it’s good she hasn’t seen your work. You can and should be proud of your work because they are admirable. 🙂
    Some times some people are never pleased by the actions taken to please them. You should simply stop pleasing them and enjoy what makes you happy. Your grandmother reminds me of someone.

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    1. Yes, my grandmother and all her sisters (4 or them) were like that. I think they all tried to compete with each other and then as a result did the same thing with their children and grandchildren. I think figuring that out for myself releases me from feeling bad about it. 🙂

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      1. That’s true Meg. We feel that we are at the receiving end but from their point of view its a bit different. Once we realize that’s it their nature or behaviour and it’s not about us, we are peace. Though grandmothers and mother-in-laws have the same pattern of nagging. But I think it is the insecurity or the old age that makes them behave that ways more.

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      2. That’s a good point – with age, talent sometimes fades. No one likes to see their skills get dull and tired. Watching another display those same talents is likely very discouraging. Thank you for that observation! ❤

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  8. I agree with what everyone has said and I feel like insecurity is at the root of it. People like that don’t feel that they are good enough, so everyone else is a threat to them. And they are so self-involved that they can’t see that others’ talents have nothing to do with them. My mom was the same with her sisters…
    I’m glad you’ve figured it out and come to terms with it but if you’re like me, every once in awhile you think, damn it, I deserved their support! And you did, my friend!

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    1. I know you’re right, Dee. And I don’t dwell on it, fortunately. But I do wonder what if… ? Your family sounds so much like mine! I know you’ve mentioned things about your mom that sound very familiar. Maybe it was that generation?

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      1. Maybe although my mom was the one who didn’t get on with her sisters. But she was somewhat competitive with my sis and me, totally different than with my brothers. But, yeah, I feel like I was okay with how things were when she died. Funny, one time my sis and I were picking out mother’s day cards together and we couldn’t bring ourselves to get anything too emotional for mom. It would have been so hypocritical!

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