Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My First "Second" Mother

The year I turned five, my dad left for a long time. I don’t remember how long, but he was back to celebrate my sixth birthday in September. I’m not sure about the fifth, or Christmas, or the spring. My mother told me I didn’t cry, or ask for him, but once when I was trying to learn to tie my tennis shoes, I knelt on the cold basement floor and tears flowed from my eyes. She thought I was grieving my father, but I never said a word.

When my father returned, he pulled in the driveway in a new car. He loaded my brothers and me in and drove us to his new house. It was much nicer than ours. He introduced us to our new stepmother, Fa, and our new baby sister, Samantha. I’d never heard the name Fa before. It was short for Mary Francis, a name she hated and looking back, it really didn’t fit her. It was 1967 and not only had I never heard the name Fa, I‘d never met or heard of anyone who actually had a stepmother. I’d heard of stepmothers in fairy tales and Walt Disney movies, but acquiring one for myself wasn’t even at the bottom of my life agenda.

Fa had a robust laugh and stood with her arms folded and legs braced shoulder width apart, to support her already swaying back. She was young; younger than my mother, but she was definitely a mother, so she was fine with me. My mother was a very pretty woman who always looked younger than her age. However, my mother had a more serious demeanor; she was a single parent in 1967 with three children to raise. She had her work cut out for her. Fa, on the other hand, laughed quite a bit. She was fun to be with. She liked to throw parties and do silly things like tie packages of Double Mint Gum to a tree so the girls could skip around it and pretend to be the Double Mint Twins. I looked forward to my week in the summer and after Christmas visits.

Fa was the first of my three stepmothers. I loved her because she gave me the one thing I wanted most in the world, two baby sisters. I loved her because I was five when we met, and my father handed her to me like a gift, so I accepted. My father was good at that, handing us wonderful gifts after a long absences, and I adored him. No matter how long it was between visits, or how wealthy he became while we remained staunchly middle class, I adored him. Fa and the girls were my first big gift, and I adored them too. The two weeks a year we spent together, we were a family. We sat down at the dinner table together every night, in the dining room, as a family. In addition, I got to be the big sister to two precious little girls, which somehow made up for the fifty weeks a year my mother and brothers and I sat down to dinner, alone. I didn’t miss what I couldn’t remember.

When I was transitioning from child to teen, Fa was my second mother, and she very wisely guided my father toward developing a relationship with me. He enjoyed hunting and other male bonding rituals with my older brothers, but was at a bit of a loss with a preteen daughter. Fa instructed him to spend a day with me, shopping and going out to lunch each time we came for a visit. It became our tradition, and luckily for me, my father had exquisite taste in clothing and jewelry. He was also the funniest man I’ve ever met, and those afternoons were always full of laughter.

Fa passed away last week. I will always remember crawling into her bed and watching Johnny Carson when I had trouble falling asleep, and eating lamb with mint jelly at her dining room table. Watching television late at night and eating roast lamb were things I never did at home. The odd thing about having a step family was; my first family, my mother, was perfectly adequate. In fact, there was never any competition for my affection between the two women. For whatever reason fate had thrown a second family into the mix for me, and I was lucky to have been given another mother who cared about me and looked after me while I was with her. I will always be grateful to Fa for the years she cared for me, and for the gift of my sisters.

By the time I turned fourteen, Fa was no longer my stepmother. Once again, Dad surfaced after a long absence with a newer, more expensive house and a new wife. He kept the Mercedes convertible though. Over time I didn’t really keep in contact with Fa, but knew of her through my half sisters. The few times I ran into her over the years were always pleasant and full of laughter. Even at my Dad’s funeral almost fourteen years ago, she made me laugh. That is what I will remember most about her, her ability to make me laugh, no matter how sad I felt, or how bleak the situation. Fa radiated an energetic, joyful love for her daughters. She was my first “second” mother, and I thank her for the legacy she left of devotion to motherhood and finding a reason to laugh each day.

No comments:

Post a Comment