Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Men

The nicest thing anyone's ever said to me came from my grandmother, Virginia. A few years ago, I went grocery shopping for her, and when I walked in the kitchen door she came over to give me a hug. In the middle of that hug she said, "I don't love you as much as some of the others, but I miss you the most when you're not around."

Wasn't that sweet? Well, you're going to think it's really nice as soon as I give you some context.

Two points of clarification:

1. By "the others," she meant "the Men."

2. I know this doesn't sound like a compliment to get all misty-eyed about, but considering I was born a girl, that's absolutely as good as it gets in Virginia's family. Case in point: my dad took me to see Virginia's brother Red in Mont Eagle, Tennessee when I was eighteen. He was probably about 90 at the time and hadn't seen me since I was a baby. After talking to my dad a while, Uncle Red turned to me and said "You're plain," (and here there was a looong pause.) And about 15 seconds later, begrudgingly: "But there's something kind of pretty about you."

When Virginia got wind of this, she congratulated me heartily, and when I didn't seem all that enthusiastic about an exchange in which a very old man I barely knew acknowledged that the sight of me came just shy of making him want to barf, she scolded me.

"You know, Robert is used to Very Beautiful Women," she said.

"Well," I said. "In that case...."

Virginia grew up on a farm in rural Virginia, one of ten children--seven of them daughters. Her father died when she was little, so if you were a girl in that family, you weren't getting any special attention. The three boys--of which Uncle Red was one--were spoiled rotten. ROTTEN. I think Virginia fell in love with the idea of Men when she was very young, because to be honest, growing up in the middle of Attaway, Grace, Maud, Mary, Annie and Helen seems like kind of a nightmare. I am being serious.

So anyway, Virginia loves men--especially very handsome, tall, loud ones with PhDs who have served in the military at some juncture. But she also likes the ridiculous ones who are always teasing and the serious ones who always want to talk about serious stuff. She likes the ones who "work themselves to death," and the ones who collect books for a living. She even likes sort of pitiful men. She insists that she continued liking a man who once called her at 3 in the morning sometime in the 1970's to tell her he felt "like a painted ship upon a painted ocean," and could he come over? I don't remember the end of that story, but I don't think I could maintain respect for someone who drunk dials a respectable lady in the middle of the night, and all he can think to do is quote Coleridge. That's the saddest booty call I've ever heard of.

My whole life I've felt sort of bitter about Virginia and The Men. When I was a kid, she was pretty unapologetic about it, and when you're nine and your grandmother says to you "well, just because I love Jason more than you doesn't mean I'm not going to treat you the same," you get sort of...a complex. But then I got older, and I did some thinking about Virginia and the Men. And you know what? 1) She loves me at least as much as I love her, if not more, and 2) Virginia's thing about men ensures that she loves at least 49% of the earth's population unconditionally. Unconditional love, you guys!

That's kind of great, actually.


  1. My grams likes babies way better than folks that walk on 2 legs. I used to feel left out, but Mom just stated it as a fact and I understood. "Oh, your grandmother just loves babies; she loves you, too."

  2. So nice of you to emphasize the positive in people basically acting like jerks! I guess, too, there might be some people who love all the people of their own skin color like brothers but couldn't give a tiny sh-t about anyone else.