Yesterday I was minding my own business, turning twenty-six, when I received a strange email. My parents and I were waiting for a table at Hugo’s, and my phone buzzed for the 97th time that morning. Instead of another notification that someone had posted on my Facebook wall, I got this:
your grandmother beverly was a husband hunting woman. she did not care with whom she carried on. she broke up many homes.
The comment came via this blog’s contact form, out of the blue, with no context whatsoever, just a name and an e-mail. I went through several of the usual emotions: confusion, anger, denial, acceptance. My gut reaction was to reply with the virtual equivalent of a sneer.
‘Your opinions on a woman who’s been dead for seven years are not being taken into consideration at this time. Thank you for your input.’
I mean, who does that? Who smears a girl’s dead grandmother on her birthday? My grandmother was married 4 times, so her past wasn’t squeaky clean, but I couldn’t help feeling defensive. I adored my grandmother, closet skeletons and all, and her death affected me greatly. There was only one person who could make me feel better about this accusation.
Since we were still waiting for a table, I read the original e-mail to my mother, who looked as confused as I felt.
“To my knowledge,” she said, matter-of-factly because there were no secrets left in our family, “she only broke up one marriage. Buzz was already divorced when they got together. She was a ‘husband hunter,’ sure, but when she was looking for a husband, she only hunted single men.”
My grandmother wasn’t a saint, but as far as I know, she wasn’t some kind of she-devil either. The marriage my mother referred to was the only time that my grandmother had an affair with a married man. There were only 19 years between my mother and hers, so my mom got to hear a lot more about my grandmother’s love life than she probably wanted to know. I didn’t hear this story until after my grandmother’s death, and it came as something of a shock.
The way my mom tells it, my grandmother entered into an affair with a friend of the family while she was still married to her second husband, fell in love with him and he with her. He got cancer and she cared for him, but the affair ended when, unable to choose between her and his wife, he killed himself. The death was ruled as an accidental overdose. My mom had to go with my grandmother to the inquest.
It wasn’t a flattering situation, but there was no evidence to suggest she made a habit out of it. Sure, she made plenty of mistakes and odd decisions, like marrying Buzz Aldrin (years after the moon landing and his first divorce). Her fourth marriage, to the man I thought of as my grandfather though we weren’t biologically related, probably had more to do with companionship than an actual spousal relationship. She and my mom’s father were actually friends with my grandfather and his first wife (still following along?) After his first wife died and my grandmother was divorced for the 3rd time, I think, at their ages, neither one wanted to be alone so they got together.
Now, it’s highly likely that the e-mail comment from ‘michelle’ was just spam with an odd ring of truth to it. The real truth is that I know my grandmother had flaws. I think it makes her a more interesting human being. Whatever she was, there’s no denying that she lived. Some of us couldn’t ask for more than that.