I used to teach High School English. A story in a big red American over large textbook I taught was by Katherine Anne Porter, ‘The Jilting of Granny Weatherall’.
In those early days of my teaching career, I thought I had to teach the whole red text book. While and when I was reviewing the table of contents and seeing the title of this story with ‘Granny’ within it, I decided to not to assign it. Why would sophomore boys in a Catholic HS want to read about old people? As a twenty-one year, I certainly hadn’t heard of it or wanted to read.
But I assigned it ii the spring as I was running out of texts. It, this story, walks me today at 66 years of age. Deeply.
Married at the time, deeply in love with my wife, in a few years I would be a 26 year ‘jilted’ granny. I hadn’t weathered it all. But I was and am weathered by unfaithfulness, by jilting, by my own impossible to reach, touch, make specific amends. Through those years, I deeply hurt an innocent other person; ( I wanted to remarry after a long ( for me ) separation from Barbara; and made a marriage proposal to another; and then I jilted her, Kathy. The ‘jilted’ husband became a jilting finance.
I have tired to find her to make amends, but till this moment in 2020 haven’t be able to find her. Her image has been rising before me, like Granny Weatherall in this passage from Porter’s story. She is 80 years old with her loving family around her death bed. She, as I, had married after the jilting. These are her death thoughts,
‘The pillow rose about her shoulders and pressed against her heart and the memory was being squeezed out of it: oh, push down the pillow, somebody: it would smother her if she tried to hold it. Such a fresh breeze blowing and such a green day with no threats in it. But he had not come, just the same. What does a woman do when she has put on the white veil and set out the white cake for a man and he doesn’t come? She tried to remember. No, I swear he never harmed me but in that. He never harmed me but in that . . . and what if he did? There was the day, the day, but a whirl of dark smoke rose and covered it, crept up and over into the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows. That was hell, she knew hell when she saw it. For sixty years she had prayed against remembering him and against losing her soul in the deep pit of hell, and now the two things were mingled in one and the thought of him was a smoky cloud from hell that moved and crept in her head when she had just got rid of Doctor Harry and was trying to rest a minute. Wounded vanity, Ellen, said a f sharp voice in the top of her mind. Don’t let your wounded vanity get the upper hand.’
But Ellen, granny’s ‘f sharp voice’ does get the upper hand. The only hand. A covering hand, that no longer covers, but lets in ‘hell’- the memory of George.
A, my take away, from Granny’s story is that amends unmade will haunt you. They will haunt, ghost us in different ways, in various and surprising moments. Amends made can ‘haunt’ but in, for me, easy recalls, easy memories. But unmade amends carry; and are carried. They burden. Oppress.
Granny dues covered by her jilting; in Katherine’s story title the word is a present participle: active, ongoing, even to Ellen’s death. Death comes as a memory; repressed.
Today, I write out my jilting. I write out my unmade amend. I write it out.