cartoon by Ronald Searle
February 1976. My father remarried six years after the death of our mother, whose story should have come first, but I thought this would be more interesting. I mean, after all, when you talk about the death of a parent, it is somewhat of a downer. Talking about my father's second wife would be something of a downer as well, if it weren't for the facts involved.
My old mommy died at the ripe old age of 29. I was still in single digits when she died, and after a succession of government-paid-fer nannies and babysitters, my father finally settled on the last of the babysitters, who at the time of her deflorestation (by my father....I accidently heard the whole thing, egads!)
was a scant 17 years of age.
R. aka "Bra" was a lovely young woman, with long, straight, shiny hair, smoldering brown eyes...big eyes. Big, batting eyes. After the braces came off, her teeth were like a brilliant, whitewashed picket fence. She had Osmond Teeth, and she stood at 6 ft naught, a full half foot taller than my father. Yes. I said a full half foot. It might have been almost 8 inches. Who's counting?
Bra became my new mommy, after finishing ROTC and turning 19...just beyond the reach of her parents and the law. We sat in court as the judge pronounced a sentence of marriage on them. I was 14. My new mommy was but 5 years older than me.
I could never figure out the attraction of Bra to my father. I could never figure out the attraction of all the girls before her to my father, either.
Short, balding, with a greasy black lop of hair evenly spaced with hair goop into a plasticized combover. He smoked. He had a beer gut. He had Horribly Crooked Buck Teeth. In fact, if my father were some sort of vehicle, he would definitely look like THE truck on the left.
So, go figure. Why do all the ugly guys get all the hot chicks? In a word, the same dirty old man that captured Bra's heart captured my mother's heart, too. Music. The man is a musician.
Look at all the rock stars. Mick Jagger gets the model. Stephen Tyler is so ugly, that you have to look at him through a pinhole in a shoebox to keep from going blind.(Scroll down to #3 in the list.) Not only do these monsters get the girls....they proceed to breed with them...and the children manage to defy the odds of becoming ugly like dad...well, with the exception of Ozzie Osbourne's kids. Eeeeesh.
So it was with my father. All he had to do was play the piano, and the girls would be put into a semi-hypnotic trance and suddenly pledging their eternities away in order to be his wife.
But at least my father tried to do right by marrying her....not that it prevented us from becoming the laughing stocks of the schools we attended.
Bra came from a neurotically perfectionistic background. She was the only girl in a family of screwed up boys. She often bore the brunt of her mother's unassuageable wrath and her father's indifference. T'is true, that the definition of the word "shrewd" is this: The epitaph of a man who was married to a shrew.
Bra could do no right in her mother's eyes, and as a result, she sought comfort at our house...we were exactly the opposite of everything she'd known at her house. We were slobs, we always seemed to be wise cracking and playing jokes on one another. In spite of our lack of material wealth, we were a happy noisy clan. I can understand why she would like coming over to our house. And why she would want to marry my dad. He paid attention to her. Her dad never seemed to acknowledge her...or anyone else for that matter. So she became a fixture at our house. And then she became MY MOTHER.
The Battle was joined on the day she became the Enemy. I mean, it was all right to hang out, but marrying my dad? We as his filial interests declared war on them both. And nobody won this war.
The First Act of War: Weapon of Choice: Call her Mommy and See what Happens
RESULT: "I am NOT your MOTHER! I am your FATHER'S WIFE! YOU ARE NOT TO EVER CALL ME MOTHER!"
"Stop it right NOW!"
"Momma? Mom? Mummsy Pie?"
"Jack, make them STOP it RIGHT NOW!
"Kids, show your mother some respect!"
I am NOT YOUR MOTHER! If you say it one more time, I will ground you for TWO WEEKS!"
Two weeks later, we were devising other weapons of war. It was decided in council chambers...in my little brother's bedroom, that is, that the weapon of choice this time around would be music....the very honey pot that lured her into the lair of the dirty old man in the first place.
First weapon in the musical arsenal: Grandmama's Tin Clarinet Which She used in the Official Marching Band of the Women's Auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan of Shawnee Mission Kansas. I saw a picture of dear Grandmama resplendent in her white KKK uniform, her blessed white face surrounded by a white hood. It must have broken her racist heart when my father started playing all that darky music and hanging out in nightclubs. I can almost imagine her putting her hand to her head, looking at the posters of Sarah Vaughan and Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie on his bedroom walls. Where did she go wrong?
Another story for another time.
NEXT: MUSIC DOTH NOT HATH THE CHARMS TO SOOTHE THE SAVAGE BREAST.