My great grandmother is 98 years old. She is one of the most God-fearing, generous, stubborn, mean-spirited people I've ever known.
Yes, you read that correctly. If you think that description is a bit contradictory, then I have succeeded in accurately describing, not only my great grandmother, but every other person I know, especially the women in my family.
She will give you the shirt off her back and never once hold it over your head that she did it, but later, when you least expect it, she'll cut you to the quick with a snarky comment about your weight, your looks or the general state of your life.
Always having had a flare for the dramatic, her most recent trick of cruelty is calling my grandmother on the phone, screaming for help repeatedly and then hanging up abruptly.
My grandmother will rush down to her house and bust in - ready to fight off a intruder, a horrible creature or the Grim Reaper himself - only to discover my great grandmother sitting primly, hands folded demurely, grinning like the Cheshire cat.
"My batteries in my hearing aid are dead," she'll say sweetly.
Mean as a damn snake I tell you.
She used to take great pleasure in publicly ridiculing my great grandfather, but of course no that he's dead and buried these 11 years, she loves to tell everyone about how handsome he was and how much she misses him, how she tells his picture goodnight every single night. Her eyes even well up with tears in the telling.
Strangers think it's sweet. They don't question the fact that she never shares memories of fun times. Best I can tell, they did two things - work and yell at each other. She did most of the yelling. He made the mistake of smacking her once. She shot him in the knee in return, with his own service revolver. She will always brag how she never let any man push her around, but she never tells you that when the ambulance and police came, her 6'3 law enforcement officer husband kept her out of trouble, humiliating himself in front of his peers by saying he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun.
Mean as a damn snake.
For some reason, she has never been mean to me. Never. I do not recall a single time that she ever hurt my feelings. But I watched as she ripped my grandmother to shreds - a job that had began when my grandmother was just a child. My grandmother wasn't the only target of her barbs. She took obvious pleasure in preying upon people's insecurities.
She wasn't a beautiful woman, but she loved to boast of all the boys who chased after her. But she enjoyed the thrill of the chase even after she married. I heard many stories of her indiscretions - never from her of course. She has never admitted to any wrongdoing - not to any of us anyway.
Meanwhile, she never missed church and spoke of God as though He were a personal friend. She sang her hymns with a sincere sense of reverence and never seemed to doubt God's love for her. As I look back, it seems as though her devotion itself was another ploy but who am I to even attempt to discern the motives of her heart.
Mean as a damn snake I tell you.
Yet again, for some reason, she was never, not even once, mean to me.
Maybe she thought I already had enough people being mean to me. Maybe she didn't see me as a threat. I don't know. What I do know is that she was never once mean to me. She and my great grandfather are the only two people who played an integral role in my childhood to which there are no negative memories attached.
I thought about various ways I could tell her that. I wanted her to know that. But then I remembered the long years of cruelty endured by my grandmother - those years that irrevocably twisted my grandmother's heart and mind.
The women in my family suffered from the trickle down effect. Mind-fuck on top of mind-fuck until they hardly knew which way was up. So wrapped up in their own pain and misery they are completely incapable of comprehending anyone else's. They have no sense of remorse for anything, primarily because they are oblivious to their own wrongdoing.
They are mean as damn snakes I tell you - a real pit of vipers.
And THAT is the one negative memory I have of her - she is where it all began.