I gotta tell you this one

My great-grandmother (“Mom Dondero,” as we referred to her as) was a shrewd woman. It is still my belief that she willed herself to live long enough to discipline her great-grandchildren out of spite for all of her children’s spouses and, eventually, offspring. My grandmother, Tutu, was similarly harsh to her children, but never to her grandchildren — for us, she always reserved a certain sweetness and understanding.

Mom Dondero did absolutely no such thing. When my mother, Deirdre, informed her, and the rest of her family, she was pregnant with my two siblings, our beloved Mom Dondero waited just long enough so that all the clapping and jubilation settled into a reflective silence before straightforwardly saying, “Oh, Deirdre, even animals breed.” At no point was she sympathetic to the lack of development that we, as young children, had yet to undergo; in her mind, we were living to torture her existence. To be fair, young children do ruin everything; they are the epitome of inconvenience. Nevertheless, it would be aloof and cruel to really fault them for that fact. Mom Dondero was aloof and cruel. She never saw the issue with poking you with a fork in the side of the thigh if you did something rude or laughed too hard at a joke she didn’t tell.

However, for the first five years of my life, I was somehow exempted from this treatment. Even at that age, I was perfectly aware that my siblings, cousins and, really, uncles and aunts were not seen as equal human beings in the eyes of Dondero. I can really only speculate as to the reasons as to why she was so fond of me, but I have a good-faith basis to believe it was a cocktail of my politeness, my wholehearted agreeableness and my distinct lack of athleticism. She once told me that she approved of me because I caused so little trouble for my mother during my grand exit from her.

For example, one Easter holiday, we all gathered together at my grandmother’s for a massive family reunion. This one was particularly special because it was the first one where all the cousins at that point were, in our eyes, physically able enough to play outdoors. Granted, many of this population had just learned how to walk approximately the week prior, but the elders of the pack (Peter and I, each about six-years-old) deemed all of them acceptable. As we crusaded out of the house, dragging the infants by their collared shirts and floral dresses as marched, Dondero halted both of us, saying the outdoors were not suitable for our outfits or our “weak allergies.” I summoned every ounce of charm I possessed at that point and convinced her to let us play in the front yard where she could watch us. She agreed, but only before insisting that the only sport we could play was ‘Circleball.’ If you’ve never heard of it, then that’s because it was a game she made up on the spot, The rules required us to sit in a perfect circle, and we could hand the dodgeball to each other ad nauseum. It was never popular, but it was what we had. Still, I remained in good standing.

My run did not, unfortunately, last. During another family reunion, I was having trouble garnering attention for a very intriguing article on the “Artemis Fowl” series. Despite shooting most of the other cousins throughout the day, she sat down on the couch to hear my rambling. As I earnestly flipped through the magazine, she smiled encouragingly and asked responsive questions. At one point, she asked if I could hop off the couch to hand her glass of water, which I gladly did.

I landed directly on her bad, left foot.

She shrieked in dismay, and winced in a way that absorbed her face’s features. I hopped to face her and began apologizing profusely. I stuttered, both in my steps and my words, as I decided what was the best course of action. My blunder revealed me to be the clumsy six-year-old that I, in fact, was. I’d seen my uncles, aunts and parents place their hands on her shoulders in similar times of distress, but did that action not relegate me to the scum I had separated myself? Was acknowledging my error self-defeating?

It was at this point that she raised her head, this time with a look that I previously did not deem myself privy to receiving. Her beady eyes squinted at me, her lips tightly pursed and her brow … Oh, her brow took on a countenance of it’s own entirely. With her head cocked and her nostrils dilated to twice their volume, she murmured:

“I was just starting to like you.”

Read into this story what you will. I simply wanted to recount an occurrence that, according to my mother, happened 15 years ago to yesterday’s date. Stories like these kill me, and I imagine most people are the same way. What’s most ironic is that after many, many years of reflecting negatively on Dondero, only now am I just starting to like her. 

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