I met my in-laws when I was 12. Michael and Mae moved to our town to pastor our church. Of course, I didn’t know then that they were destined to be my in-laws. I found that out when I was 15 and the church decided I should marry their son.
I liked Michael. He seemed nice and caring. Mae was very unusual. She ruled the household…and Michael. “Yes, dear” were his most used words.
Right away, the church discovered that Mae didn’t like the color of the parsonage… inside or out. She had Michael take the drapes down and carry them to the trash behind the church. When folks began arriving for church on Sunday, they saw the discarded drapes lying on the ground. The families who had no curtains took them home.
Next came the furniture. Again, the poor families took what they could use in their home.
When I “dated” their son, Ray, our dates consisted of attending church, eating Sunday dinner at his house, or spending Saturday evening watching television.
It was at those Sunday dinners I learned about gossip. As we ate, Mae would tear apart what the congregation had said, worn, or looked like.
I learned hypocrisy in their home. One of the church’s rules was “no television”. It was “of the devil”. The television antenna’s were the “devil’s horns”. So imagine my surprise the first Saturday evening I was invited to Ray’s house. Ray’s bedroom was upstairs. Michael, Mae, Ray and I climbed the stairs, entered Ray’s bedroom and the television was rolled out of the closet. We spent the evening reclining on the bed watching programs like “Gunsmoke”. Before I left, the television had already been rolled back into the closet.
One thing I found very unusual about Mae was that she never got dressed. She spent the day in her thin negligee. That made me very uncomfortable.
Mae wanted a daughter. She found one in the child welfare system. The little girl was named Charlotte. The battle for custody of Charlotte went on for seven years. Mae finally won.
Now she had a live dolly to dress fancy and play with. She changed her name from Charlotte to Janet Kay. Mae sewed Janet Kay frilly dresses…a new one each Sunday. Complete with hat and little white gloves, she put her on display.
Ray and I married and moved away. Occasionally Michael would have a meeting to attend and pay us a visit. He was very enjoyable to have as a guest. He was the dad I did not have.
Having Mae as a guest was a totally different story. She would arrive complete with white gloves. The doorsills, window tops and picture frames were given the “white glove test”. Of course I never passed.
When Ray and I had our first child, Mae made it very clear she was to be “Nana”, never grandma…and Michael would be “Popo”.
I miscarried and Mae came to stay for awhile and “help”. Yet it seemed I spent more time taking care of her than my children…or myself. But I went too far when I suggested that the thermostat was set too low for the air conditioning. The children were cold.
Mae called her brother, who lived in the same town and ordered him to come get her. She was being mistreated. She stood in the driveway in the hot Oklahoma sun…in her negligee, pillow in her arms and waited for him to come pick her up.
Then came the day Ray left me. I waited all night for him to come home. In the morning I called Michael and Mae to tell them I didn’t know where their son was. Michael was on the phone with me, but I could hear Mae telling him what to say.
“Where did you think he would go when you kicked him out? Of course he is here with us.”
Then came the words that rocked my already unstable world.
“We never want to see you or those children again.”
Years later, at Thanksgiving time, when my children were gathered at my house, one daughter received a phone call telling her that Popo had died. Instantly his last words to me came to mind. Because of the turmoil in my life at the time, I had never grieved losing him. Now the tears flowed in buckets.
I decided it would be too awkward to go to the funeral, so I sent flowers “To the Only Dad I Ever Had”.
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