Written: December 31, 2004
It didn’t take me long to think of a story that best described the atmosphere in the Lee household as I was growing up. Of all the unorthodox interactions we had over the years, the one that clearly had to take the biscuit was The War Of The Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.
I had recently learned how to use the grill above the oven to make my own snacks, and being a spoiled teenager, I was prone to leaving the pan for someone else to clean. My very presence in the kitchen was to become a battle of wills between myself and my two elderly guardians that would appear comical to anyone outside our dysfunctional trinity.
From my point of view, I believed that when one prepares a snack they should at least be allowed to enjoy it before they consider cleaning up afterwards. From their standpoint, this was an issue where they finally had to stand up to their grandson, as their laissez-faire policy with me the previous dozen or so years had rendered them all but powerless to have any kind of disciplinary effect on my actions.
With that, I went into the kitchen one summer afternoon, knowing full well that Grandpa was in the garden reading a book and Grandma was knitting in her room; it was standard practice for the three of us to be doing our own thing. I walked casually over to the grill and rattled it loudly, stepping back to see what happened. Though it is difficult to relate, to me it was one of the funniest things I ever saw.
First, my grandmother’s head peered from around one corner; then, with impeccable timing, the back door opened and my grandfather’s own head appeared. Not a word was said by either, as both bouts of peering were designed to let it be known to myself that my culinary intentions were being strictly monitored. Despite my difficulty in containing my laughter at the Appearance Of The Peering Heads, I still managed to feign defiance in my voice as I loudly declared “Oh for crying out loud I just won’t bother having a bloody sandwich if it means that much to you!” and retired to the solitary confines of my bedroom. The grill was never again to be used; I think it was a year or so later when I was to invest in a new fangled gadget called a toasted sandwich maker!
To fully comprehend what was going on in the Lee household, I would first have to understand what we were doing there in the first place, and with my late grandfather being such a private man, this is something I doubt I will ever know. My grandmother seems to think it was learning of his cancer that prompted him to move us here in 1977, but it makes no sense to me. If you think you have but six months to live, do you bring your wife and your eight year old charge six thousand miles away to a strange country where they will be left to fend for themselves? The mind simply boggles.
The move itself was not the only mystery. Rather than sell the enormous house in California, my grandfather had the questionable economic foresight to sell it over a period of thirty years at a fixed rate, and actually rent accommodation here. Their four addresses in Ireland in the last 27 years; 49 T########## Gardens, “Montfort” S##### Terrace, 3 D##### Court, and here at 35 H###### Crescent, have all been rented, and virtually every penny from 100 Buchanan Road is spent. Back in 1977 the money from the Pittsburg property would have bought at least two houses here; today it would barely get a doorknob.
Of course I was blissfully unaware of all this growing up. I was just doing my thing, developing into a young adult, but all the time happy to stay in my room and play my own games without really properly socializing. Summertimes were hell for me, especially as a teenager, and reading back over my diary from that time, it is clear that I needed someone to give me a kick up the ass to go out and make something of myself; alas this was never forthcoming.
Grandpa would either spend his days reading, or venturing into Blackrock village to do either shopping or sipping pints of Guinness in O’Rourkes pub, where his lack of voice and friendly nature must have made him something of a local character of note. Grandma would spend all of her time at home; I think she did a stint of something like seven consecutive years without so much as setting foot outside the front door on account of her assorted “ailments”.
Looking back it would appear the three of us were not a conventional family unit in any sense, for we NEVER did anything together except eat dinner; Grandma had us saying the rosary together every evening for a while but even her husband got sick of this practice eventually. We just got on with our own solitary occupations and went to great lengths to avoid impinging on the lives of the other two.
One brief incident clearly illustrates the sheltered life I led growing up; the first time I visited classmate Alan Murphy’s home in Blackrock I passed by a room with a double bed and asked him; “Whose room is that?” Bear in mind I must have been at least twelve or thirteen at the time. Alan replied; “That’s my parent’s room!” after which I queried; “You mean they sleep in the same bed?” Pretty embarrassing stuff eh?
While it could never be considered an unhappy home, it was definitely a boring one. I had every material thing I could wish for provided for me, but there was no guidance, no inspiration, no discipline. Despite this, I hope my gratitude for my grandparent’s numerous sacrifices is borne out by my efforts on their behalf in recent years.
© JL Pagano 2004
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