Sunday, July 17, 2016

Stepmother

My father struggled for a year or so with two very young boys and widowhood and then met a slightly older divorced woman at work. She was attractive enough and was more than willing to take on two young boys. Within another year they married, she quit work and became a stay at home mom. She started spending the summers at her father's cottage at the beach and keeping the boys with her there while my father worked all week and came to the beach on weekends. My brother was still in need of more parental attention, but he was cute and stayed near his step mom much of the time. I needed less supervision and was on my own except for meals and a place to sleep. This went on for about another fifteen years during which time my father built a cottage for us near the family one where we had been staying.

When we would go back to the suburbs and school stepmom, B, would stay home and knit (she was always knitting), watch TV, go bowling or play bridge with her friends, she did some light housekeeping, laundry, and cooking, but my father eventually took on much of that, especially on weekends. She would stay up late at night watching TV and knitting. My brother and I would get ourselves up, dressed, fed, and ready for school before she got up in the mornings. That pissed off my grandmother to see B send the boys off to school without a warm breakfast especially in winter. Dad would leave about 7 and we would leave for school about 7:30. Sometimes she would be up and sometimes not.

All this may have been forgivable to some people.  The thing that I ( and my brother) had trouble dealing with that was really irksome was her inability to admit wrongness or any mistake. She was also a horrible bigot against any  non-WASP person. She was an authoritarian and while that is necessary to some degree as a parent, she took it to an extreme.

By the time I was fifteen I could barely stand to be in the same room for any length of time. Not that that is atypical for a teen, but we were opposites on almost everything which never changed. I learned to tolerate her views eventually, because I saw her so seldom after I graduated from high school. I worked away from home and went off to college even farther away. My father was at least sympathetic to my plight and helped me hold on until I became of age. How he held out was more than a miracle.

He did love her "in his own way", he told me after she died, but I suspect his loyalty was like mine. He made a vow and intended to keep it, no matter what. They rarely fought, but her control issues and what to me looked like laziness made her less than an ideal mate.

B had a son who was about ten years older than me. I kind of liked him, his wife, and their kids, but didn't have that much interaction. As I got to know them better I saw he was abusive to his wife and lost a lot of respect I may have had. They divorced after their kids grew up and he flitted around the country as a carpenter and heavy drinker. He was living in Hawaii when he died at age sixty. His oldest son had moved there to be with him and adopted the same lifestyle. They would ask B to send them money for beer and she would usually oblige sending them a hundred or two every month.

When she was dying she insisted that smoking didn't cause her lung problems. She was on supplemental oxygen for about the last five or ten years of her life. How she made it to 91 I'll never know. The miracles of modern medicine, I suppose.

She was very jealous of my father. If he paid any attention to another woman or got a friendly hug from anyone who was not a relative she would see red. My father did have a woman or two that were confidants and B couldn't stand that, even in the last couple of years when she was mostly bedridden and he cared for her like a 24 hour nurse. He may have had an affair at some point years ago, but I never knew one way or another. My brother thinks he did.

The last ten or fifteen years of her life were made possible by my father's care giving abilities. Of course, that took everything out of him and he died about five months after she did. That was ten years ago.

I know she meant well, but was unequipped as a compassionate human being to do a great job. I have been able to let go of most of my resentment and learned to be kind to her and tolerate her views for the sake of my father. It's all over now and long past time to move on.  

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