I knew my stepfather but never really did know him. My mother’s relationship with him was probably as complex and complicated as any marriage. I am sure a marriage later in life, a second marriage where both have been widowed is very different from anything I have experienced. I think that overall, they were happy. I know the day he died suddenly and unexpectedly, they were happy.
As I recall they had gone out for a dinner. I know he had just finished his new shed that would become his workshop. He did wood carvings. This shed had electricity for his tools and lots of room. They had moved from a large house into a two-bedroom two-bath mobile home. The shed would supplement for storage as well.
My mother married her second husband in December before Bethany was born, one month before the beating and three months after I had remarried Alvin. It was a quick romance. It was so odd to see my mother with the blush of new love. Even odder was to see my mother change into a holiness woman with long hair, never wearing anything but a longer sleeve dress. Yet in many ways, she blossomed. She made candies and become quite adept at it. I suppose it was in part because they had no television. She worked with her husband cleaning doctors’ offices every evening. They bought a small camper trailer and parked it by the river in the little town of Easley. She even slept in a tent from time to time.
They made frequent trips to visit his mother. His mother was one of my favorite people in that family. I do love them all – they are all great people. Read more about them here. We all called her Granny Iddy. Her name was Ida. In her nineties, she was healthy, alert, spry and lived alone near her daughter in Bolivar Missouri. One of her greatest pride was her strawberry patch.
On various occasions, I would go with my mother to Bolivar to this woman’s house. I think in my heart she was like the grandmother I never had. She’d known tragedy and had already buried two husbands and daughter. Her daughter died tragically leaving three children after a porch collapsed on her while she stood on it. I would later watch her weep over her son, my stepfather’s, coffin. It seems that regardless of the age of the mother, losing a child seems unnatural and is grief beyond description.
In the cold of December as they embraced each other one last time before going to sleep, he slumped, he gasped, he died. I have a theology professor who said that every night we rehearse our death as we go to sleep – this was no rehearsal. As I think of what that night must have been like for her, I think of the scripture
Ephesians 4:26 26 Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry - but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don't stay angry. Don't go to bed angry. (The Message)
You never never know when you say good night or good bye when it will be the last time. My mother, only 63 years of age, was widowed for the second time. She never had the opportunity for love again. She channeled that love and affection to my children become a grandmother superior. As she aged, like fine wine she mellowed.
I was four months pregnant. My step-sister was four months pregnant. Once again, I attended a funeral of a father figure pregnant with a child. While we were not children of the same womb, we had bonded and became family. I don’t think any of us thought that day at the funeral home that the next time all of us would be together again would be twenty-nine years later as we gathered around the coffin of my mother.
We drove to southern Missouri to lay his body to rest. His mother was with us. She requested that the coffin be open in the cold dusk of that day so that family and friends who were there to pay their final respects could do so to an open coffin.
We returned to Hannibal in that Mercury Monterey. I wonder how my mother felt as she laid her head down on the pillow, alone, in the same bed where her husband died. The aloneness must have been deafening. The chill of reality was overwhelming. It no doubt matched the bitter cold of that winter.
Soon we would return to that trailer where he died to try to celebrate Christmas. That Christmas there was a minus 60-degree wind chill that whipped around that trailer. It was cold inside as well. The children had lost the only grandfather they knew. Nathan and Jason started vomiting. As children, they had no idea how to express their grief so it made them physically sick.