Memories Of MÉMÈRE

By Sarah Whelan

Though it’s been twenty years since her death, I feel like I’m still learning about the woman I called “Mémère.” When I was younger, my grandmother was a simple person to understand. She was patient and kind — never critical or judgmental. No word of complaint ever left her mouth – even when she was in physical or emotional pain – even when she knew others were.

She would sit politely among the well-nurtured spider plants and precisely arranged knick-knacks on the shelves of her home. She sat on the very edge of her chair, with legs pressed together and angled daintily to the side. Her hands lay atop her lap in a decidedly feminine pose. Her closed mouth formed the slightest smile in its freshly applied lipstick, and her short white hair was styled and neat. She wore a straight, dark skirt that reached just below the knee, and her modest, rose-colored shirt ended in petite ruffles at the neck and wrists. All evidence suggests that she was incapable of slouching.

She would engage in pleasant conversation until the coarse, obtrusive voice of her husband, who was perpetually smoking outside on the porch, forced its way into the room. “Irene, get me a drink,” or “Tell those kids to shut up.” Then, she would gracefully rise, all five feet of her, and without complaint, without a change of expression or emotion, without saying a word, do exactly as he said.

Years later, with her husband dead and her home lost, my cousins and I could always count on Mémère to listen to our teenage-variety problems and give much-needed hugs. Even when she knew we were in trouble or sick or even in danger, she would heed our appeals not to report the information to our parents and refrain from any criticism or judgment. She would, without complaint, without a change of expression or emotion, without saying a word, do exactly as we said. And we loved her for it.

It is true that my Mémère was patient and kind, but I now realize that these traits were a consequence of the true nature of her character. Above all else, Mémère was acquiescent. She was submissive to her husband and to nearly everyone else. She did what was told without protest, even if it resulted in physical or emotional damage to others.

I was a young adult when Mémère died, and my naïveté ensured that my appreciation for her was both uncomplicated and unchallenged. As I look back at her life now through the more mature eyes of a mother, I am developing a broader and more accurate understanding of the person she truly was. I no longer think of Mémère as flawless or saintly, as she was by no means perfect. But instead of diminishing my feelings for her, this evolving understanding is increasing and reshaping my love for the woman I called “Mémère.”

"flashmemoirsarahwhelan"Sarah Whelan is a professional grant writer and freelance author. She has an advanced degree in Criminology and writes for both business and pleasure. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including New Jersey Family, Bay State Parent, Police and Security News, and International Association of Chiefs of Police Magazine.


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