Generational Memory and Property (a story about my grandmother)

I’m never sure how appropriate it is to share personal stories in English classes, but over Easter weekend, something happened that I felt related too deeply to our class not to document in a blog post.

Important context to the story: my grandmother is an 88-year old widow with 8 children and 20 grandchildren (a true generational matriarch). Her role as the leader of the family, however, is complicated by the fact that she lost her husband of 65 (yes!! 65!!) years last summer, and currently suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, which is degenerative in nature. She has, as a result, grown more confused and distanced from reality since her husband’s passing, a trajectory that has been difficult for us to watch.

Over the past weekend, my grandmother told my mother that she was sad her family didn’t come to visit her anymore, and that she wanted to give her children money at her Mother’s Day party. In a state of confusion, she said that she wanted to give each of her 8 children two million dollars so that each of them could buy a house. My mother had to gently explain to my grandmother that she doesn’t have 16 million dollars, and that even if she did, giving her children money wouldn’t make them visit her.

Although this anecdote is personal and sad in nature, it revealed a lot to me about the way the dreams my grandmother had for her children are inextricably linked to home and property. The story reflects a profound nature on my grandmother’s part to occupy the role of a provider as a matriarch in that she wanted to give to her children the finances to create a home for their own immediate families.  It also expressed volumes about the way not only memory, but desires, become distorted through degenerative memory loss, as my grandmother thought she had the money to provide homes for each of her children.

The story reminded me (quite helpfully, l think) of the Turner house as well as Melissa’s family tree. Like the Turner house, my grandparent’s family home in Queens (which was also the home my grandmother grew up in) was once bustling with more family members than I can count on two hands, but is now only inhabited by my grandmother and her caretaker. The house, as a result, feels haunting in the sense that each room (even each object, really) harkens back to a deep history of a family that is no longer present in the home.

Further, my mother’s gentle reminder that money won’t incentivize her siblings to visit their mother circles me back to King Lear, when Lear makes the fatal flaw of allocating his property to his daughters based on how convincingly they can express their love for him. Like Lear, my grandmother made a moving error in judgment by thinking that she could receive love and affection from her children if she offered them money (even though I hesitate to compare my grandmother to Lear any further). Here, the affective desire of a parent trying to provide for their offspring (or kingdom) becomes powerfully complicated by property and money.

I don’t have any clear solutions after hearing this story (other than it inspired me to immediately call my grandmother), but I do feel that the connection between my grandmother’s desire to provide homes for each of her children and the readings/discussions we’ve had in class prompt me to think more carefully about the link between generational memory and affection.


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