As I headed down the familiar oak-lined drive to the estate sale, I expected to feel nostalgic, but the sudden and specific memory caught me by surprise. When I rounded the bend and saw my deceased in-law’s home, I was instantly transported back to the first time I was there, almost forty years ago.
Charlie and I were newly engaged. I was thrilled he was finally taking me home to meet his family, but his evident nervousness was contagious. What about his family made him reluctant for me to meet them? We were madly in love and shared all our hopes and dreams, but regarding his family, he’d always been vague and elusive.
I had snuggled up next to him as he drove. “Do you think your parents will like me?” I asked, hoping for a hint of what to expect.
He squeezed my hand but kept his eyes on the road. “Of course.” No one but a soul mate would have noticed , but I felt his unsureness.
“What is it, Charlie? What about your family are you ashamed of? Are they poor? Because if they are, it’s okay. You know I’m from a simple background myself.”
At the word poor, Charlie laughed. “Yes, they’re poor, but not in the way you mean.” That was all he would say. We drove the rest of the way in silence.
Charlie sighed heavily when we passed through an impressive gate and started down a long driveway. When I first saw the mansion, it’s beauty left me breathless, but I didn’t comprehend I was looking at his home. Charlie pulled up to the grand entrance. A uniformed man appeared out of nowhere and was instantly beside the car. Puzzled, I let him help me out and then followed Charlie to the house. The door opened for us before we knocked, and a silver-haired gentleman in a black suit bowed his head and motioned for us to enter. Charlie stopped in front of the gentleman and stared until the stoic man finally broke into a grin.
The man glanced nervously around the room before speaking. “It’s good to see you, Sir.”
“Don’t put on airs with me, James,” Charlie said laughingly as the two men exchanged a bear hug.
“Charles, dear, is that you?” The voice came from the ornate balcony above us and caused both men to pull apart and stand up straight.
The elegant woman whose words had interrupted the reunion started her graceful descent down the curving staircase. I stood timidly beside Charlie in the opulent foyer as realization slowly sank in. This was Charlie’s home. His family wasn’t poor. They were rich, very rich. I was overwhelmed by a variety of emotions--greed, joy, fear, insecurity-–as I waited to be introduced.
“Mother, this is Rachel, my fiancé. Rachel, this is my mother, Veronica.”
Veronica wore a suit I later learned cost as much as my first car, and her hair was twisted into an elegant french twist. I wiped my sweaty palms on my cotton sundress, a Woolworth special.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, trying hard to hide my country upbringing.
Veronica’s smile didn’t reach her eyes. She shook my hand and said the right words with perfect diction, but no enthusiasm. “The pleasure is mine.” She turned to Charlie. “I’m sorry your father is not here to greet you, but he’s out hunting. Dinner will be served at six. We’ll visit then. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a situation that needs my attention. James will take care of you.”
Charlie, James and I stood silently and watched her leave. Charlie looked at me apologetically, then turned to James. “She hasn’t changed a bit.”
“No, sir, she hasn’t.”
I was confused. I’d just learned I was marrying into a wealthy family, but I had a knot in my stomach. I’d never fit in with this lifestyle. Later that night, I confided my insecurities to Charlie.
“You’re right. You won’t ever fit in,” Charlie began. “Which is exactly why I love you so much.” Charlie tenderly brushed a lock of hair behind my ear.
As I parked in front of the mansion, I pushed that same lock of hair, now white with age, behind my ear. Charlie had been right. I never had fit in with his family. My in-laws’ hearts and lives were as empty as their house would be after the estate sale, but the love Charlie and I shared had grown richer with each passing year.
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