The Summer of the Great-Grandmother
- Duffin, Jacalyn
- Date of entry: Jan-13-2003
One 1970s summer, Madeleine L'Engle brings her mother to Crosswicks, the rambling country house where the extended family has spent extended vacations for many years. At ninety, the elder Madeleine is suffering from the ravages of the now vanished diagnosis, 'hardening of the arteries.' By times she is frightened, angry, or difficult; at night she cries out or tries to wander. Round-the-clock caregivers help with the strain, while the writer's own children and grandchildren figure in her journal with concern, affection, and wonder.
The presence of the dwindling old lady provokes detailed recollections--direct and indirect memories--of the lives of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, all named Madeleine--bringing the span of this narrative to six generations. Despite the grandmother's slow mental decline, death comes suddenly, while L'Engle is away and her son is left to help.
An autobiographical memoir, also called volume 2 of The Crosswick Journals. L'Engle describes the peculiar pain of having a parent regress to be more infantile than a grandchild. Widely acclaimed for her young adult fiction, L'Engle writes engagingly without bitterness or self-indulgence. Each of the recollected women seem like giant characters, strong-willed with precise proclivities and tastes.
Yet, 'memories' of events that took place before the writer was born must have been tales told to her as a child by her mother; they underscore the trans-generational nature of narrative and identity. In his prominent deathbed role, the startled but steady nineteen year-old grandson seems to represent an additional transfer, a handing over, across a traditional boundary of gender.
Privilege of wealth and class nonchalantly pervades this story. How many families have a chic Manhattan home and a country house large enough to hold four generations and several caregivers? How many can provide this best-of-all-possible end-of-life experiences for a demented parent? Dementia is not pretty, even for the rich; what it is like for the masses is only hinted at here.