Our family does not function well together. Dysfunctional is what it is. We have this love-hate thing going on. People from normal families may not understand how this dynamic works. What could be considered insane by some is normal for us.
To begin at the beginning, Grandma Frazier was mean and hated us. We tried to pretend that it wasn’t true. Every time we visited her, she made my mother cry, but we continued to visit and pretend she loved us. Maybe she did love us but just had an odd way of showing it. The blessing was that as she got old and dementia settled in, she forgot she hated us, or maybe mistook us for someone else, and began to be nice to us.
She developed a desire to give her possessions away. On one memorable visit, she especially wanted to part with a brass door knocker molded into the shape of a parrot. Why she even had such a thing is beyond comprehension. It was also beyond a logical person’s thinking to desire such an object. She offered it to Aunt Ruth, who refused it without explanation. Then she offered it to my daughter, Wendy, who at the time lived in a dorm room with no need of a door knocker of any shape or size. Being well raised, she accepted and thanked grandma for the gift.
On the road trip back to Lansing, Aunt Ruth kept teasing Wendy about the door knocker. Some of the history gets a little fuzzy at this point, but that parrot went back and forth between Wendy and Ruth for some time. The parrot made an appearance in Easter baskets, flower pots, bathroom cabinets, etc. Then it morphed into multiple parrots – one was not enough. There was a parrot lamp I remember was especially intriguing. Each new parrot infusion was cheaper and tackier than the last. There are currently hundreds of them circulating. Every bridal or baby shower is not complete without a serendipitous parrot appearance. The original brass knocker is now considered an heirloom.
Every parrot project was a labor of love. No amount of work or time involved was too large. Aunt Marlene made parrot shirts for us to wear on a family trip to Memphis, Tennessee. She suggested we all wear them on the plane and surprise cousin Debbie when she met us at the airport. There were stares and smiles from many we encountered along the way. One lady asked if we were a bowling team. Humility is a hard lesson. We were all searching the crowd for Debbie when she suddenly stood out in fame and glory wearing her own brightly colored parrot shirt. There was no doubt she was one of us.
In retrospect, the mean grandmother with dementia turned out to be a genius with love in her heart. The whole parrot tradition started with grandma sharing her worldly possessions and turned into a way to keep a family united. We may not always agree, but we all smile at the sight of a parrot. The monetary value of something is irrelevant; the thought that counts is a valuable lesson we learned from our grandma. Bargain bin buys turn into a gift for Aunt Ruth. Aunt Ruth then had ammunition to pass on to someone else. Parrots were found on cakes and in caskets. If you didn’t get a parrot on your special day, you felt unloved.
As we unpack and discard the hurts, we appreciate the lessons. It is important to tell people you love them. Who knows why she had such difficulty with that. Show love in as many ways possible; continually give your time and talent to others in love. How ironic to have a legacy of love and sharing passed on from someone who had so much difficulty expressing it herself and to whom we are forever grateful.