I thought better of looking up any of the outlaws in the family as they might not have changed sufficiently to be good company. I thought I had better wait for them to look me up. That way they might have some good news about the change for the better in their characters.
Instead I ran into Grandma on my dad's side. I am convinced that if you need to see someone in the hereafter all you have to do is walk down a road, any road, and you will run into them. Grandma looked happy to see me. She said she was wondering how I was doing.
I said, fine, but I had been in a quandary about looking up relatives I had not got along with or who had even been genuine bad eggs.
"Oh stay away from them," said Grandma. "They need time to find themselves and make up their minds they want to change."
"How are your daughters doing?" Grandma didn't know it, but her only two daughters were women I had clashed with. I thought maybe I could find out from Grandma if they were making progress, without really telling her I was trying to avoid them, too.
Grandma like all the other spirits I had talked to read my mind, "I know you did not get along very well with my daughters," she said. "We were all very confounded by the men in the family. We really did not understand them."
"I know they did not understand Daddy!" I burst out. "What is more they wished him ill. I was quite shocked to hear one of them say the family of an alcoholic would be better off if he died."
"Oh dear," said Grandma. "I never taught them to think that, as I was always worried sick about my sons who drank. But they weren't their sons, so maybe they felt they could distance themselves."
"Are you still as religious as you used to be?" I asked. I didn't want to beat around the bush with Grandma. I had always admired her ability to care about her family, even me, the daughter of one of the alcoholics. She would willingly tend me and my sisters any time Mother asked her. And she acted like she enjoyed us.
"No, not what you called religious on earth. I found my soul was a lot more tried when I figured out the truth that was hidden from me in my marriage. I didn't really want to deal with the problems while on earth. They were just too hard. But afterwards I made up my mind to look at every single thing that could have affected my sons and helped kill them. Not a one of them lived to a ripe old age."
"I thought your heart broke when your youngest son died when he was only 22," I said.
"Yes, and I thought I was raising him so carefully. I didn't think he would go down the same path as his three older brothers. But he did."
"I suppose you thought Grandpa was a bad influence."
"He didn't drink, but he was a bad influence in other ways. But I allowed it. I thought well as long as he doesn't drink, he's a good man, but that was hardly the case. I was the one who set the rules. But I was too young to know what I was up against. Too naive, like so many young girls are, especially in that area."
I nodded. Grandma could not help but know a good deal more now than she had when she was alive. She had to know for example that my dad was spending time in the gay men's hereafter. She could never have handled what I had learned about him when I was a child while she was on the earth.
"You were a very bright child," said Grandma, "and you kept on educating yourself about the different ways human beings act, especially after you became very troubled about your dad's behavior."
"His secrets and lies caused me a world of grief," I told her.
"Oh, I know. As soon as I realized from the way you were acting in college you must have your suspicions, I resolved that I needed to educate myself. My word, all I had ever read were church books. Addie, my oldest daughter, thought herself well educated but she missed about as much as I did along the way. I had to wise her up, and she did not appreciate it. At least not for a while."
"I don't know how anybody can deny the truth forever," I said. "I also suspected Grandpa, too, even though he did not drink. He lived like he was a lone bachelor most of the time, only he was surrounded by men and boys. I am afraid the boys did learn some awful lessons from some of his behaviors."
"Oh, they did, but I could hardly keep them away from their own father. There was so much that he taught them that was good. He knew how to do so many things. He was a very well rounded cowboy and farmer. I don't know what happened to him, either, but by the time I met him he was set in his ways, and he was not going to change. He was just going to hide what I was sure not to like."
"Did you suspect he was hiding some of his behaviors from you?"
"If I did suspect it, I could not imagine him actually doing anything, since I was so unfamiliar with other worlds he inhabited. Your dad must have picked up on his behavior when he was very young, probably because he had experienced some of those kind of feelings. I just could not imagine that I had something so difficult to contend with. I always had the feeling I was living with a devil, not exactly your Grandfather, but just a devil in general who was always mocking me in my dreams. It was my ignorance that made me an easy victim."
Well, Grandma was certainly forthright enough. She sounded so much different now than the woman I had known back on earth, with her brow furrowed in sorrow, looking as though she was expecting nothing but blows until the end of her sad life.
"How could I be happy," said Grandma, "when my sons were all dying? And I did not know what was killing them. Well, it was secrets and lies. Not getting things out in the open, not confronting men about suspicions and doubts. Your Grandpa made a good living for us. I told myself that I was lucky. No other woman had it any better. Ha!"
"Well," I said. "I thought and thought about talking to Addie. I gave up talking to Aunt Ophelia. I finally decided Aunt Addie could not take any talk about Daddy's real problem and what Grandpa's legacy had created in the way of danger for the young on that ranch. I just hoped nobody was going to get damaged too badly, but I am afraid they did."
"Yes," said Grandma. "I just had to go my way and let Addie and Ophelia go at their own pace. I had to find out the truth. Nobody loses sons as I did without something being very wrong. I told your Grandpa this. As usual he lost his temper, so I did not see him any more. He realized the jig was up. I had found out enough just following everyone around on earth and playing detective to suspect what was amiss. I had to not worry about what Addie and Ophelia thought. I just had to worry about my own consciousness. Not theirs."
"Guess that is what I will have to do, too," I said. "I thought someday I would like to talk to the family, but that is probably not possible until I get used to the hereafter. I don't feel comfortable talking to many people who have passed. I am just not used to the idea they are going to come back into my life, maybe, to talk about what happened on earth."
"It's a very difficult thing to do," said Grandma. "Talk to the family about the mistakes you may have made. I used to blame other people for my sons' drinking even when they were older! I tried to make things as convenient for them as possible, if they were going to drink. They were not to blame."
"My dad was always very fond of you, and he tried his best to force me to follow in Aunt Addie's footsteps. So he must have admired her, too."
"She was a respectable woman. Everyone looked up to her. You would have thought she would have been just a little kinder and more tolerant. But her dad's money rather spoiled her as it so often does. Caused her to feel too arrogant. She enjoyed being the daughter of a man considered well to do."
"He wasn't a millionaire," I said. "And Grandpa did help a lot of people. In his own way he was quite saintly."
"He was just trying to make up for what he knew I did not know. I could see how I had been deceived once I became suspicious, but that wasn't until I was gone from the earth and had made a determined effort to find out why my sons died. Your dad nearly died too many times, so I counted him, too. If you girls had not made a superhuman effort to try to reach him, I would have buried him, too. It wasn't thanks to Addie and Ophelia that he lived, it was thanks to his daughters, even though you, at least, suspected about all there was to know about his abnormal behaviors as a married man. His drinking was bad enough. I don't know how your mother endured the life she led with him."
"Poor Mother. She was not a happy woman, naturally, but I did get the chance to discuss my suspicions with her before she died, and after she had given it some thought, she said she believed it, because she had her memories, too. She was like you. It didn't occur to her when she was young she might be marrying a man who was already out of reach and would never be a good husband. But he had prospects! That is what drew Mother to him. She had been raised in poverty, so the son of a man with property sounded more appealing to her than a poor boy she could love."
"She paid a high price for her marriage to him," said Grandma. "I was around to see much of what was happening when I was doing my detective work. She went from bad to worse getting even with him."
"I have observed other marriages like theirs," I told Grandma. "They are not like regular marriages to be sure."
"I didn't chase the men in retaliation," said Grandma. "I spent all my time in church when I wasn't required to be on the ranch for the summer work. I tried to leave as soon as it got cold. That old ranch house was nothing but a hollow shell. Your grandpa would never build a new house for me to live in. I think he was afraid I would not leave and go back to town for the winter. Addie talked him into building a new house, and it was twice as warm as my old brick house in town with that coal furnace she made him buy."
"Daughters can sometimes manage such men better than their wives can," I said, "since they always have ulterior motives. I lived in that old ranch house one winter, and never could get warm even though we had our beds right next to the heaterola. Those high windows let in all the cold. It was a very pleasant house in the summer, but in the winter it was miserable."
"Exactly," said Grandma.
Grandma shook her head and said she had to go, that she thought we had talked long enough to know how the other stood.
Away she went. I felt very curious about where she was going and what she was going to do. Now she was a very intriguing woman to me. She had always loved me, I thought, truly. I had been lucky to have such a good grandma. She just did not go bad when things were tough. She bided her time, and now I could see she had gone searching for answers to her questions and doubts.