Study Guide

Grandmother in The Usual Rules

By Joyce Maynard


Wendy's grandmother on her father's side isn't exactly the kind of warm and fuzzy granny who knits sweaters and bakes cookies on Christmas. She's a hard woman who is judgmental and eternally disappointed in Garrett—and by extension, in Wendy. In fact, the first time Wendy's grandmother sees her in many years, she immediately makes a snide comment about what her granddaughter is eating. How rude.

Wendy had chosen pumpkin pie and a smaller slice of pecan.
Some of us don't seem to be thinking much about our figures, she said.
For the love of God, Mother, she's thirteen years old, Garrett said. Couldn't you wait till she was at least fourteen before you get to work on totally annihilating her self-esteem? (22.82-84)

It's easy to see why Garrett stays away from his mother and has a hard time getting along with her. All his life she's been so disapproving and hard on him; she's never been the loving mother he needed. But when she dies, he still goes to her funeral dutifully. While there, he learns something amazing about her—she did some great deeds before she died and never told anyone about them:

The big surprise was this black woman that used to take care of your dad when he was little. She came all the way from Boston with her son and got there right in the middle of the service. It turned out your grandmother paid for the son's whole college education and now he teaches at some private school in New Hampshire. The man's mother got pretty emotional about your grandmother evidently. Called her the most generous woman she ever met.

Your father never even knew, Carolyn said. (29.22-23)

Despite her hard, unloving exterior, Wendy's grandmother did have some redeeming qualities—and tried to do good in her own strange way.