The Newcomer

Ah, sweet memories

Memorial Day has come and gone, but our memories of those we honored earlier this week linger on.

I would have had a dad if a German hadn't shot my mother's fiancé dead in France. Well, I did have a dad before that-so don't be calling me any names-but he died of tuberculosis when I was only three years old.

My mom did re-marry when I was 12, and I can't say I welcomed a step-father that was almost a stranger to me into my life at that age. To tell the truth, I considered him an intruder that anchored my mother and me to a house in Walla Walla after we had been living a gypsy life that took us to Texas and California, and bound us as close together as sisters.

Of course, those were war years that took a lot of people away from home, and mother and I would probably, almost surely, have returned to Washington and family there after the war even if she hadn't re-married. However, with that new guy in the picture, I quickly lost my sisterhood status and became a kid again...and a step-kid at that.

He was a lackadaisical dad, leaving mother to make and enforce the rules. Mother actually had only two rules: "Don't sass me" and "If you don't want something stolen, don't leave it around to tempt people".

I never had anything stolen and got backhanded across the mouth only once for 'sassing'...but that was by my grandmother who got cranky while traveling cross country in a car loaded with four kids, my mom and this step-dad. Actually, I considered myself innocent, but I will say the slap sure quieted the three littler kids down in a hurry...and my mom didn't have anything to say either, but she did shoot me a sympathetic look.

The three little kids were a gift from this new step-dad and my mother, a gift that robbed me of my only-child-in-the-family role.

Actually, I took to the little dumplings. I often took the oldest to the wrestling matches at the armory in Walla Walla with me when she was three years old and was often mistaken for her mother.

When I started dating the man who became my husband, even he had a passing thought that perhaps this child was mine. If she wasn't, why would I drag her along when he took me on what could have been a romantic picnic in the mountains?

He had a point, but mom had two more like her at home, which pretty much established that my mother was still fruitful and populating the city of Walla Walla even though she had this great big girl just out of high school.

So, about all this step-dad had done for me up to this point was confuse my life-but it was tolerable because he worked away from home all week and was only home weekends. So, during the week, we snacked on cocoa and toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and a hit-and-miss supper of whatever we decided to throw together. On the weekends, we breakfasted on hearty mounds of home fried potatoes, eggs, ham and the toast and cocoa I welcomed as familiar comforts. Dinners were equally robust, with beef roasts, ham or fried chicken or rabbit on a menu that included mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy and cobblers with ice cream for dessert...with a little of mother's homemade fudge to nibble on during evening card games.

I shudder to think how fat a teenager I would have been, if that man had come home every night of the week!

This step-dad, who never really took the role of father, and I never grew into our relationship until I became a married woman. Then, we accepted each other as equals and he became grandpa to my children, who appreciated his Missouri wit and corny jokes as I never had.

Once when I told my step-brother that I had never felt as if his father were a dad to me as I was growing up, he clued me in.

"Sissy," he said, "Dad never was a father to any of us until we grew up."

Now that man is gone. He lay down on the couch one day and his heart stopped. The family tried, but couldn't contact me for about 10 hours. When Mother finally tracked me down, she was in a panic. She couldn't find her husband's dentures and the mortuary wanted them and she said she knew that I would know where she should look.

I thought a bit. Then told her to look under the edge of the couch.

They were there, right where dear old dad had tucked them when he slipped them out of his mouth before his nap.

It was the last thing I did for him...and I was glad I could do something.

Ah, memories. Nothing like a Memorial Day to help us remember our personal heroes.


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