Dorothy Neils 1925-2018
There comes a time in grief where you cease to feel (at least for me) the pain is so great that you just go numb and thinking and doing is impossible. My grandmother Dorothy Neils died yesterday. February18th 2018. With exception to my father, my relationship with my grandmother is probably my most complicated. I loved her deeply, and she did irreversible damage to me over the years. To me she was always a wonder, exceptionally smart, witty, driven, beautiful, classy, exceptional in the kitchen, hard working…. entitled, judgmental and hard. I think I have spent most of my life striving to please her and make her proud. She was for many years the sole female influence.
When my Dad died, and when Kenny died…. The words flowed out of me. I’ve been sitting here now for a day trying to figure out what to say, how to put it all into words. I cried yesterday after receiving the call from my aunt, sobbing, screaming tears for hours. There is a feelings of profound guilt, anger and…. sadness. I talked to her on Valentines Day. I called (I should have called more often) and a stranger answered the phone, one of the caregivers at the home, she had been lying down and was taking a while to get to the phone. She was disoriented and kept confusing me with my cousin. She asked if I was having a party for my graduation (which was 10 years ago… but Bridget has hers coming), she asked when I was coming… I was waiting for the snow to clear. (I should have found a way). She talked about wanting to go somewhere and do something and as always mentioned Glacier Park (even though her eyes were so bad she wouldn't really have been able to see it). We talked about this and that for about half an hour… she was tired and seemed confused so I let her go. I didn’t think it would be the last time I talked to her. You always think there will be more time. My birthday was on the 16th, the card I had from her said “when are you coming?”. … I am too late.
For as long as I remember Dorothy told me I was fat. It was a tirade on repeat through the years. “You’re fat, no man will ever love you if you are fat, you won’t succeed if you are fat!” It was then confusingly contradicted with, “Why aren’t you eating more? Don’t you like my cooking? Here have some pie!” Dorothy was short and for most of her life very petite and slender. Things I have never been in any way at any point. While 5’7 is by no means towering, it was significantly taller than she was. The smallest I have been since age 12 when I reached my 5’7 is a size 12 (and that was the result of pretty much starving myself and working out for 3 hours every day… and I still thought I was fat) Mostly I’ve sat between sizes 16-20… at my largest a size 24.
I’m not sure what size Dorothy was but she maintained it for years… I’m guessing about an 8. Appearance was very important, she never missed a day putting up her hair in curlers (right up till the last couple days I’m told), or putting on her lipstick. It’s kind of amazing in retrospect that my own lackadaisical attitude towards my own appearance most days didn’t cause more arguments. I suppose since I am fat, what I did with my hair, face and clothes didn’t matter. Her own clothes were always very elegant and stylish; she was always very put together. She never had her ears pierced but had a huge selection of clip on earrings and beautiful necklaces and the stunning rings that Kenny had given her which looked so impressive on her small hands. Kenny liked color so she usually wore something bright; she liked reds and browns the most.
When I look at pictures of Dorothy and of myself I see very little of her in me. I have her hair, the out of control combination of straight and curly being very thick and soft. She kept it under control with hot curlers every day and lots of spray. Maybe I got her smile. I definitely got her stubbornness. She and my father both had a habit of monstrous sneezes that came in fits, they would make the piano ring from across the house and they would go for 10-20 sneezes. She didn’t laugh very often but occasionally she would get the giggles and would giggle and giggle for ages.
When Dad went to Seattle to look for a home for us I stayed with Ken and Dorothy, this was around age 8-9. They had an old calico cat named Yaffa (sp?) We had our cat Sarah who was still a bit of a kitten at that point and she was staying with me. I remember we were at the dinning room table working on homework and Yaffa was in her basket on a chair and Sarah decided she wanted to cuddle and jumped up with her (she kept trying to make friends) Yaffa let out a fierce yowl and chased her off and up the stairs. Dorothy laughed and laughed.
One of my favorite stories, long before my time, was that Kenny and Dorothy were on a road trip and Dorothy had been napping in the back of the car. Kenny stopped for gas and Dorothy woke and got out to use the restroom. Kenny hadn’t realized that she had got out and got back in the car and took off. Kenny didn’t realize for quite some time, meanwhile Dorothy was back at the gas station laughing hysterically.
I get my love of cooking from Dorothy, which she passed on to my Dad, who then passed on to me. She was exceptionally skilled in the kitchen in both cooking and baking. Her pies were incredible. Even in my last conversation with her she was complaining about not being able to cook anymore. She showed love through food. She wasn’t great about vocalizing it or through physical affection. It's rather a wonder I don't have any pictures of her cooking.
She loved theatre and in my dreams of acting she was always supportive. She was with me driving to Montana when I got the call I had been accepted to Cornish and she bounced up in down in her seat and started crying. In that moment I knew she was proud of me.
Kenny was her world. They loved dancing together; I learned the foxtrot and basic swing from them. She gave up so much of her own dreams, and life for him. My father and uncle were so important. I know she had such bigger hopes for my father than how he turned out. His death crushed her and Kenny but she remained strong taking care of Kenny. When Kenny died she lost much of her strength and will.
I know she’s out of pain now. I’d like to think she’s reunited with Dad and Kenny. She was 92 and had a full life. She was very involved with the PEO and enjoyed being a school counselor and even enjoyed doling out samples at Costco in her later years.
I think my cousin got a kinder, gentler Dorothy growing up and I’m glad for her, and also kind of jealous. I always strove to please Dorothy and always felt I fell a little short. Still I know she loved me and I know she wanted me to be happy and do well. I’m sorry I didn’t have more time with her. I’m sorry that the last few years were so hard. I’m sorry that I could never quite manage to be the skinny, successful girl she wanted me to be. I’m really sorry I didn’t get to see her one last time.
It's hard to believe they are all gone. Father, Grandfather, Grandmother. It was a dysfunctional family, but it was mine. I loved them.
Christine Neil's Lee
2/21/2018 09:07:24 pm
10/20/2022 11:20:59 pm
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I've been blogging on and off for years. This is my area to explore food, wine, travel and various thoughts on life. My goal: Be True. Be Kind. Dream. Inspire. Discover. Create.