SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read this series and would prefer to not have it spoiled for you, don’t read any further!
I assumed any female my age or slightly older was familiar with Virginia Andrews and the gothic horror
novels she was known for (most of which were written by a ghost writer after her death). However, earlier this week I stood in line at the local agricultural center waiting to sign my two older children up for 4H classes and struck up a conversation with the (older than me) lady who was next in line. When the topic of our current reading pleasures arose, I confessed that I’d picked up these trashy novels from my adolescence. Feeling embarrassed, I admitted that I was indulging in the FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC series all over again. She looked at me with a blank expression. I tried to explain what it was without going into great detail since my ten year old and her thirteen year old were standing right there. Still, she wasn’t familiar. Said she was probably too old. Really, though, I’m slightly younger than the people who read it the first time around, I’d imagine. Still, I thought it was the TWILIGHT of my generation. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
As any V.C. Andrews fan knows, Lifetime created a made-for-tv-movie of the book FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. It aired earlier this year. Then, what seemed like only a few weeks later, they aired the sequel PETALS ON THE WIND. Just like in the late eighties when the original movie aired, these new movies have me (and likely a whole bunch of others) rereading the series. And with the rereading comes the remembering.
To say I wasn’t close to my grandmother would the understatement of the century. In fact, I think I kinda despised her. She had married eight different men and had been married nine times (you do the math) by the time she died. Once her nasty cigarette caught my doll’s hair on fire. The doll’s name was Laverne after Laverne Defazio so anyone who knows me will understand that I loved the doll dearly. We brought the doll home, gave her a (hideous) hair cut, dried her in the drier, and she never called me “Mama” or took her bottle again after that. The doll filled me with rage any time I looked at her. A good grandmother would have done her best to replace the doll (or would have refrained from smoking near her little grand daughter to begin with). But no, my grandmother did neither of these things.
I used to think that the only thing I ever had in common with my grandmother were these books. She was a reader and I would guess that Andrews was her favorite writer. She and my mother both read more than I do, actually. There is this vivid memory of being home from school one day (perhaps it was summer break) and, having rented the original FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC movie on VHS, my mom picked up my grandmother, brought her to our home, where we had lunch and all watched the movie together. It’s one of the few times I remember spending time with my grandmother in my home.
Much like Catherine Leigh Dollanganger Marquet Sheffield, the thought of turning out anything like my grandmother might have been my worst nightmare. But like Cathy, as I’ve grown older, I’ve seen bits of her in myself. And it’s been horrifying. While I know that I’m a good person and she was basically not, it hurts me when I think about the sinful traits she managed to somehow pass down to me, even though I couldn’t stand her, spent little time with her, and never once looked up to her. Genetics are a weird thing. Today, as a conservative almost thirty seven year old Christian homeschool mother of three, I can honestly say my life is a stark contrast to hers. But for a few years there, it looked like I might turn out be just like her after all. I shudder at the thought.
Of course, that original movie, terrible as it was, happened to be a bit more kid friendly than the books. The movie horrified me just enough to where, when I was thirteen and my mom finally agreed to let me read the books, I jumped at the chance. All through junior high, I was lost in the many worlds of V.C. Andrews. Oh, I didn’t stop with the Dollangangers. No. I read about Heaven and Dawn as well. And I loved each series so very much that I became that girl. The one who passed the dirty books onto her innocent girl friends. I bet every girl at Gallatin Junior High who read the V.C. Andrews books in the early nineties read them because of me.
Rereading the first two books about Cathy’s story this summer has been a wonderful experience. In my next post, I will share the thoughts I’ve had about the books and the new movies. Until then, I leave you with a quote that sums up my relationship with my grandmother rather nicely.