Fudge That Grudge, by Beth Miller
September 10th. The 253rd day of the year. The day that the Empress Elisabeth of Austria was assassinated in 1898. The annual moment set aside to celebrate TV Dinner Day (oh yes!). This year, though, it’s special mainly because it’s publication day for Beth Miller’s new and wonderful novel The Good Neighbour, and I’m DELIGHTED to be hosting her blog tour stop.
So set aside any plans you’ve made for National Swap Ideas Day and have a read of Beth’s contribution to my occasional series known fondly as Not The Guardian Family Section:
‘Your father…’ my mum would say, accusingly, as though it was my fault. That I had chosen my father badly. ‘Your father behaved like an absolute shit.’
My mum never recovered from my dad leaving her in 1991. She metaphorically shrugged on black widow’s weeds and stayed there, sucking a lemon occasionally for light relief. Despite the years that passed following their split, she never reached any kind of acceptance of the situation, and certainly never managed any rapprochement with my dad. In fact, she never saw him again, and his name was verboten in conversation with me or my brother, unless she was having a rant. ‘Your father behaved like an absolute shit.’ She isn’t much of a one for swearing, so I always found this super-shocking; though to be fair, he had behaved like an absolute shit.
Characters are supposed to have arcs, to change and develop, to move throughout the course of a book from A to B. But in real life, people sometimes get stuck at Point A. Nonetheless, I always lived in hope that Time, that alleged great healer, might one day help Mum move on.
I had forgotten who I was dealing with.
My mum was the world champion grudge-holder. Sure, the Guinness Book of Records wouldn’t validate it, but I bow to no-one in this assessment. Ha, your aunty hasn’t spoken to your nephew for twenty years? Big deal. So your granddad still won’t go into a certain pub where the barman slighted him in 1962? Chicken feed. My mum held a grudge against a woman she met during the War. That’s the Second World War, not some recent Johnny-come-lately war like Vietnam. Whenever this woman’s name came up – not her specifically, just her name, Doris, attached to some innocent person on the telly, for instance – my mum would say, ‘Ooh, that reminds me of that horrible Doris…’ And she’d be off, recounting the whole (somewhat uninteresting) episode from 1941 yet again. Mum liked to take her grudges out regularly and give them a dust. I wish Frozen had been released sooner, so I would have known to bellow out ‘Let it Go!’ every time she did this. I’d have been singing it a lot, as much as a five year old in an Elsa costume, probably, because my mum had a lot of grudges.
My Aunt M, for instance, who Mum fell out with at a funeral in 1977, and never spoke to again. Or the grudge against another aunt-by-marriage, Aunt S, which began in the late 1960s, and which is one of the few grudges which has a clear origin story. Aunt S was newly arrived in this country from behind the Iron Curtain, barely speaking English, and she put some ham in my grandparents’ fridge. She hadn’t been permitted to practice Judaism in Romania, and didn’t know the rules, but my mum decided this was an act of hostility, and thus added another grudge to her list. This list included our next-door neighbour when I was a child, an Italian woman who was scared of spiders. She moved away when I was about ten, but Mum never forgot the grudge that she had against the woman for, well, I can’t remember what for, now. The neighbours who moved in after were a new source of grudgeness. When the man next door died, Mum hadn’t spoken to him for fifteen years. An old boss, a friend’s mother, a wide variety of people at the synagogue, my mum held grudges against them all.
I am speaking of my mum’s grudges in the past tense, but that’s not because she has died. She is elderly, sure, but very much alive and would like a nice bag of Maltesers if you’re visiting. However, she has started to lose her memory. And that’s been a very interesting process, because she has forgotten who she has grudges against. At a family event recently, I watched as Mum chatted and laughed with my cousin, a man she has always, well you know what she’s always. When he moved away, she caught my eye and mouthed at me, ‘Who was that?’ She had forgotten who he was, so she had forgotten that she didn’t like him.
My dad died last year, and when my mum heard, she was sad. ‘I miss him, you know,’ she said. ‘Really?’ I said, surprised, as she’d not mentioned him in anything other than hostile terms for almost quarter of a century. ‘You haven’t seen him for a while, have you?’ She looked surprised. ‘Yes, I have, of course!’ she said. ‘We were married.’ She had forgotten the intervening twenty-five years of hard grudgery that she put in after they split; she only remembered the good times.
This left me with two thoughts. The first is that while losing one’s memory is universally considered to be a tragic thing, I think it’s had a bad rap. In Mum’s case, it means that she no longer remembers upsetting events; she is definitely a happier person than when she was in constant touch with all the slights and disappointments of her life. The second thought is that it’s clear that holding grudges is utterly pointless. What a royal waste of time, to spend years disliking someone, only to completely forget about it at the last minute, and go to your grave thinking how lovely they were. You might as well put that energy to a different purpose. You could use it to like people, for instance. Or eat more Maltesers. That’s the life lesson I’m taking from all this, anyhow. I’m just off out to the sweetshop, and to smile at some people I’m not that keen on.
The Good Neighbour is published by Ebury and available from all good bookshops. You can also buy it on Amazon. Do consider leaving a review there. It’s always appreciated by the author!
You can read my review here.
Not The Guardian Family Section is the place for all of those articles that the actual Guardian Family has inexplicably missed. Do get in touch if you have an idea for it!
And don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour! It runs until next Tuesday: