My Paternal Grandfather, Emery Wilson Creekbaum, Nov. 1918 - Aug. 17, 2010
written the evening of August 17, 2010
Today my paternal Grandfather passed away.
This has been a long time coming, as I began mourning him 10 years ago when he hung up on me during our last telephone conversation. Maybe I should have allowed him to continue enacting his blue-ribbon worthy 'guilt trips'. However, as I had moments before opened his last letter and read the hurtful words his pen had applied on that singular ivory linen stationery, and knowing he did it purpose-filled and with the wrath of his holier than thou
narcissism . . . well, my wounds just ran too deep
. The barely scabbed over injuries ripped open and my emotional sanguine gushed forth . . . and I made a fatal decision to pick up the phone -
and he made the equally fateful decision to hang up on me as I cried.
My sister and I are already the 'red headed stepchildren' of that clan anyway [because we are the children of his first son by his first wife, who divorced when my father was only 1 year old; both of my paternal grandparents immediately remarried and had children of their own with their new spouses - my father was shuffled back and forth and argued over for 50 years]. We have never fit completely or comfortably into either side of our paternal grandparents.
But my sister and my birth father can go to the funeral as they were still in Emery's 'good graces' when he died. I am barred from it.
I was his artistic prodigy and spent many hours sketching pictures to send for his approval (which was always disapproval even when my illustrations were used on the cover of our family's Heritage magazine). Ironically, my talents far surpassed his awkward pastel drawings and poorly executed illustrations - he cut off communication with me just when I was reaching a level of maturity and development creatively.
I know the day I took him, back in 1997, to meet some of my art professors at OWCC, he was proud of me and even reveled in the small glories I had in art classes, exhibitions, and art advocacy endeavours. And I know that when, on that same day I applied my own makeup to my blind step-grandmother's wrinkled 78-year old face, and fixed her wiry salt-and-pepper hair with my curling iron - I know that that day I was loved, maybe even for who I was and not just for bragging rights.
I have heard from other family members that he bragged about me [once he acknowledged me as a descendant/note: apparently he questioned that fact as my father left when I was a tiny baby] - he has apparently said that he thought I had made a good match with Don and that my homes were beautiful and that my children, his great-grandchildren, were the prettiest babies he had ever seen.
He never told me any of that to my face, though.
He did not live gently. His 92 years were successful if you look at his homes, his vacations, his many grand and great-grandchildren, his more than 50 year marriage to my step-grandmother - but to me, he was always poor in spirit. Cantankerous and self-absorbed, an avid and mythical storyteller - he claimed to have hidden John Dillinger's gang in his barn, he claimed royal ancestry, he acted like a Mafia Godfather. We had so many passions in common: our ancestry/genealogy, art, travel, history, and books. I have mourned the inevitable loss of my Grandfather, my 'dream' of that Grandfather - for 10 years and counting . . . I knew this day would come, but I never expected the soul-stopping sorrow - I thought I had "been there, done that".
My journey as his grand-daughter started as I sat on his knee while he sang "Trot-Trot-To-Town-We-Go",
and sat at his feet while he spun stories of little girls with my name
wondering the forest in a Little Red Riding Hood
, and later still - I stood at his elbow gazing up 6 ft. high into his blue-Creekbaum
eyes - desperate for approval and love. Desperate to be included with that magical and economically rich family that belonged to my birth father.
Regardless of the 10 years to prepare myself for this day, I am sad. I am confused. I hope I did the right thing by standing up for my family members in that climactic telephone call, even though he couldn't hear ill of himself or others. He did not dwell in truth, but in fantasy and a utopia that he built within his solipsistic world. I am the dirt he tried to sweep under the rug. As seen above, when I visited
The Topock Maze, [as it was named, covers 18 acres and is made up of windrows five feet apart from each other.
A late 19th century unpublished ethnographic report said that Mojave people put men into the center of the maze and left them to find their way out without crossing the windrows. Edward Curtis wrote in 1908 that, "It is believed that by running in and out through one of these immense labyrinths, one haunted with a dread [ghost] may bewilder the spirit occasioning it, and thus elude them."]
I did my first ritual of ridding myself of the hurtfulness of our estrangement. As I carefully chose a fragment of desert-varnished stone, as I wrote his name in watercolor pencil, and as I slowly placed it name-side-down back on a windrow - I prayed that all the pain would wash away with his name during the next rain shower. In 2006 I created an installation based on this day - aMazed - which includes handmade paper, penned with your objects to be cleansed of wrapped around a piece of slate and tied with sinew. This interactive performance is healing and seeks closure.
aMaze, slate, handmade paper, sinew - indoor or outdoor - interactive, 2006
As he is laid to rest in the majestic mausoleum he built for himself in the 70's . . . (he was a renowned stone mason and memorial designer) . . . I will continue to cause him to roll over in his grave, er - I mean mausoleum. I do have the distinct and rare knowledge that I believe I am the only person to have stood up to him and not to have been thrown against a wall (note: I realize he couldn't do that over the phone, but he did the next best thing).
I think he thinks
he had the last word. Not really.
I am still here;
and, he -
he will soon be rotting in his mausoleum
I get the last word by teaching my children that
kindness is a better way -
that love does not
go hand in hand with guilt.
That I am proud of my husband and my children for their intrinsic creativity and vivacious personalities - and not only because of their jobs/salaries/accomplishments or for what makes me more WORTHY.
Also - I get the last word - because my work has been hung and been displayed in international exhibitions and high end museums. And - I have another 40 - 50 years to take it even further.
So, thanks, Emery, for the backbone you trained me to have while you emotionally beat me to the ground again and again. I am still standing . . . the line of life . . . and you are horizontal . . . the line of death. Now that you are gone, I can possibly find some peace. There is a completeness in those lines, when they intersected like we did with our lives - they created on the most universal symbols of time . . . the cross, literally the intersection of LIFE and DEATH. Now I can stand alone.
I can reach as high as I endeavour.
And, dude, never once in my entire f#$*)$
42 years did you EVER spell my name correctly! There was never a 'c' nor a second 'e'!!!!