Thursday, October 2, 2008

I Read it in the News - Evidence of Collateral Damage

When people get divorced, whatever wonderful quality they first saw in each other, has long since vanished. What doesn’t vanish is their mutual offspring, something often overlooked by warring parties.

When my grandparents divorced, it was not pretty. My grandmother, a petite, spunky woman, and her ex Mother-in-law formed two separate camps. There were no prisoner exchanges, no mingling of combatants and both camps remained armed and on alert. The fact that the two women had never gotten along, guaranteed no one would be suing for peace.

My grandfather, whom I have written about previously, died suddenly at the age of 39 from a burst appendix. My grandfather had been living in Toledo with his second wife, and four children. My grandmother, my dad and his sisters lived in Clyde. Nettie, the mother-in-law lived in Florida.

Nettie sent a notice to the Clyde newspaper giving the details of her adopted son’s death. The story goes that this was how my grandmother and her children heard about the death. I’m prepared to give Nettie a pass on that one, because I don’t know whether she had tried to contact grandma. Perhaps she had or perhaps Nettie figured letting the paper know was a good way to tell her former daughter-in-law and her grandchildren of the loss.

However, what she did next seems particularly spiteful. The list of survivors given to the newspaper included the four children by the second marriage, but not one word was mentioned about the three older children who were living in Clyde.

A week later, the following short notice appeared in the paper:

“Mrs. Anna X asks that we make a correction in the obituary notice of the late Walter X sent us last week by Mrs. Nettie X from Florida. Mrs. Anna X, says he is survived by three children by a first marriage, and 4 children by a second marriage.”

I can almost see my grandmother pulling herself up straight, and making the simple, direct correction. Nettie had landed a well-aimed blow at my grandmother. Maybe it was deserved, maybe not. I wonder, however, did she think about the collateral damage? Was the chance to stick the knife into my grandmother so irresistible that all other considerations were secondary?

Fair or not, that one act defined, for me, Nettie’s character. And I found that character wanting.

Written for 57th Carnival of Genealogy - I Read it in the News

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