I moved away from home ten years ago and visit home regularly but not often. It´s hardly suprising that striking up a conversation beyond the weather with a woman in her mid-eighties can be a bit difficult. As I sat down next to my Oma inbetween her wools and needles I thought I had found the perfect conversation piece. But Oma took the conversational sledgehammer to me. It took me totally by suprise since I thought I was only making small-talk.
"Ah, you know my boyfriend wears his slippers so much they have a hole in them again. But he´s not fixing them, even though I showed him how to last time. Too lazy..."
My grandmothers face hardened as she slowly let a half-knitted sock sink onto her lap.
"Iris", she said "YOU have to do that"
I blinked. "What?"
"YOU have to fix his slipper." Her stony glare told me that she was completely serious. I often complain about the fact that my mother did not give me her grey-blue eyes that are a trait of her side of the family. When used correctly they can produce an incredibly effective stare. My grandmother certainly had the time to perfect it.
My mother poked her head in to say the coffee she had made for us was ready.
A welcome opportunity to flee. When I relayed the encounter to her she laughed.
"That´s what her generation is like" she said, stirring her coffee.
Surely not. I have heard stories of marxist grandmothers handing their grandchildren stones to throw at the police. Of Business owners and divorcees of that generation. It can´t be just a generational thing. Sure, I come from a strictly catholic working class family. But surely it can´t be just social environment either. I was the only one of my family to move away from home and acquire higher education. Even against the will of my parents. So is it really just a matter of personal choice? I guess most people shy away from the consequentional responsibility of that thought.
Not since my childhood, when clear lines were drawn between me and my brother, had I been faced with such a blunt statement concerning my role as a female.
My grandmother cornered me again later in the greenhouse. As I put down the buckets she had asked me to carry for her she turned to me.
"You have to fix his slippers. It´s not like you can do everything."
I smiled at her even though I could feel a familiar anger rise up inside me, because when I was a child I had believed her.
"Yes, I told her, "I can do everything."
She turned away, dismissively shaking her head. I did not want to get into an argument with her. That is not true. I really WANTED to get into an argument with her and bang the drum of my empowered self. But bombarding her with feministic slogans would neither change her mind nor further our understanding of each other. Put another way: I knew I could not explain to her that she could do everything as well. Because she accepted and partly had to accept the restrictions put on her she could not see that they did not apply to me.
I loved her no less when I kissed her on the cheek to say goodbye.
Sometimes that is all you can do. Respectfully decline other peoples views and make yourself a living example of yours.