Helen (Bobbish) Garzia Braund
That’s my grandmother. Her parents, Celia and Michael (Mikhail) Bobbish immigrated to the United States from Russia a decade or so the turn of the twentieth century; I don’t know the exact date, but I know my grandmother was born in Illinois, round abouts 1920/1925. I also know that the date of birth on her death certificate is off by a decade because my Great Aunt Mary, who was known by her friends to be the older of the two, didn’t want her friends to know how old she was, so when the funeral director asked me for my grandmother’s age at time of death, my aunt piped up with the wrong year! I love my family.
And I really mean that, although yes, they sometimes had me shaking my head.
My grandmother raised me because, long story short, when my mother had me at 19, she was in no way ready to be a mother. (I’m not wholly unsympathetic, I was 25 when my daughter was born and felt completely ill equipped to do the job!) Although she was briefly married to her fourth husband during my lifetime (I only barely remember him), my grandmother took care of me mostly on her own. She wasn’t perfect—I definitely wish she hadn’t let me eat the way she let me eat, it set me up for a lifetime of battling atrocious eating habits—but overall she was an amazing woman.
She was one of nine children (technically ten, but there was one who died shortly after birth), and fell somewhere into the middle of the bunch. Her mother died when she was ten or twelve years old—I still have my grandmother’s portrait of her mother hanging in my hallway, just like it used to hang in my grandmother’s hallway. Since I’ve never been a photograph collector, I don’t have very many photos of my family; mostly what I have are memories.
I remember being very little and backing up into a bucket of dirty mop water…the rest of the story (as filled in by grandmother years later) is that she’d just given me a bath and put me in clean clothes and was mopping the kitchen floor. She wasn’t amused.
I remember her telling me about marrying her first husband and moving to Michigan; all of her siblings ended up here, too. I suppose at the time, the Detroit area economy was better—certainly it was better than the little coal mining town where they grew up. Her brother’s worked in the mines, at least for a while—I’m pretty sure her father did too. I remember her telling me about the times the mines collapsed and people died, although fortunately no one she was close to. Still, it was scary stuff.
I remember my grandmother telling how in the 1950’s, she had enough of her husband’s abuse and divorced his ass at a time when women just did not do things like that. She had two daughters, the youngest (my mother) was only about ten years old. The divorce rate in the fifties was about twenty percent and it was still frowned on by society, especially when it was the woman who initiated divorce. Women—mothers—just didn’t do that. After leaving her husband, my grandmother went to work waiting tables in a cafeteria, which was where she met the love of her life, her second husband Ramon Garzia. Yes, it’s really spelled with a “z”. Ramon was from Mexico and worked for Chrysler. When my Great Aunt Mary split from her husband shortly after my grandmother ditched hers, Ramon introduced Mary to his friend Jesse. Mary and Jesse were my godparents and I’m pretty sure that even though we’re not related by blood it’s from him I that I get my love of gardening, because he had the biggest home garden I’ve ever seen. Other people’s relatives tell “fish stories”—my Uncle Jesse told a story about a giant zucchini that his father grew and with every telling the zucchini got that much bigger. I didn’t think it was possible until the year I sort of missed a zucchini in my garden. It was at the very back of the yard and I just didn’t see it until it was almost three feet long!
Anyway, my grandmother was married to Ramon for about eight years when he died; she said she sent him off to work one morning and he never came home. He suffered a stroke and was gone before they could even get him to the hospital. Although she was married twice after that, and one of them in my lifetime (although I was quite young), Ramon is the man I know the most about, because she spoke of him the most frequently. (Grandma’s philosophy was that if you couldn’t say something nice about somebody, you shouldn’t say anything at all. She barely spoke against her first husband except to say that he was a rotten husband—I’ve often suspected the abuse was worse than she let on. But back then a man couldn’t—legally—rape his wife.)
From my grandmother I learned how to be strong, how to not put up with a situation if I was unhappy in it. She left her third husband, Mr. Braund (I’ve no idea why she kept his name) because in her words, he promised her the sun, the moon, and the stars. “Marry me and…” Well they got married and all that she got was a big fat nothing. She figured she was better off on her own, so she divorced him (my best guess on the timeline is that that would have been in the mid-sixties because I was born in ‘69 and I know he was before my time). Her fourth husband (early 70’s) did nothing but gripe at her. “My sister cooks it this way, my sister does it that way, my sister would never…” So go marry your sister already! I don’t think they were together even a year. The only thing I really liked about him was that he lived right across the street from my Great Aunt and Uncle (Mary and Jesse) so I could go over all the time. The only thing I really remember about him personally was that he smoked a pipe and I loved the smell.
After that, Grandma dated a few guys, but I think she was pretty much over the whole marriage thing.
My grandmother taught me to cook and to sew; she taught me to think for myself. Somehow, even though she was incredibly narrow minded and conservative (we’re talking a HUGE fan of Rush Limbaugh), she allowed me to be open minded and liberal. She honestly believed that there were three religions in the world: Christianity (which is what you SHOULD be), Judaism (it’s not really their fault, they’re born that way), and “that cult that broke up the Beatles.” I’m pretty sure she meant Hinduism. Needless to say, when I told her I’d become Wiccan, it did not go over well. No, I wasn’t a Devil worshipper…no, I didn’t worship rocks and trees either. No I am NOT an atheist. No, I already said I wasn’t a Devil worshipper.
About a month later, I came out as bisexual. I’m not sure, but I think that actually went over a little better—but no matter what, she never once threatened to kick me out or even hinted that she could ever love me any less. She just didn’t want candles and incense in the house and if I could kindly not tell her about my girlfriends, she’d really prefer not to hear it. There’s a lot of my grandmother in Ivan, Pasha’s father from Hanging by the Moment. Because we fought. Not so much about my sexuality (although of course she didn’t understand it), but about everything. My teenaged years were tumultuous. Sometimes I think we weren’t happy unless we were fighting—but another thing my grandmother taught me was to never hit below the belt. Never say something in anger you’re going to regret later, because once it’s said it can’t be unsaid. She taught me to fight fair. And she taught me how to apologize for being wrong and accept the other person’s apology when they were wrong.
She taught me that you can be angry with someone, fight with them, holler until the windows rattle—but still love that other person so much you would never stop, never kick them out, never say “I hate you” or “You’re not mine”.
Helen Garzia Braund passed away in 1994 after a miserable seven or eight month battle with cancer. It wasn’t really much of a battle; the chemo wiped her out, so she stopped after one treatment. I was with her when she passed. We’d been at the hospital most of the day—Grandma was too stubborn and independent to call me so my Aunt Mary phoned me at work to tell me how bad things were and she thought my grandmother needed to go to hospital. My first (by then ex) husband came and helped me get her there and sat with us for a good chunk of the day before I finally sent him home. Grandma died just after midnight. I remember going back to her house and sleeping in her bed because it made me feel close to her. The next day began the task of going through the paperwork and getting everything in order.She’s buried next to Ramon.
Because of my beliefs about life, death, and reincarnation, I haven’t been to the cemetery since her funeral. (And even my grandmother said that when you die you’re not really in the ground, that’s just the body). But I still miss her. When things are rough or I don’t know what to do, she’s the first person I wish I could call—because when she was alive I called her all the time (or at least every time I had a problem).
Oh yeah, and all six of my grandmother’s pall bearers were wearing pentacles, because I enlisted a bunch of my friends to come help. I’m sure it was a sight ;-) But by then we’d come to something of an understanding. When she had a problem, she asked me to light a candle for her. When I had a problem I asked her to light one for me. She lit hers in the church, I lit mine on my altar. She had to be the most tolerant intolerant person I’ve ever known.