… always with the same person." ~ Mignon McLaughlin
Before Clark dumped me (okay, okay, he didn't dump me), we were trying to make arrangements to meet. "How about Tuesday?" he asked.
"Can't on Tuesday. I have a wedding to go to."
"A wedding? Who gets married on a Tuesday?"
"My dad." I started grinning.
"Oh." Small pause. "How many times has he been married?"
"Three." Very nonchalant was I.
"To the same woman."
"Wait, what?" Clark asked.
Yes indeedy folks. My parents have each been married three times. To each other. Though my dad is very quick to point out that they only got divorced once.
It's true, though. The second marriage was kind of shady.
Originally, my parents married on June 24th or 26th of 1970 or '71. As good as I am at dates, I always forget this one. It was a typical wedding of the 70s. My dad and his groomsmen wore ruffled mustard yellow shirts under their white dinner jackets with black pants, and the bridesmaids wore lavender.
Obviously, my fashion sense did not come from my mother.
Wedded bliss had my mom being a little weekend domestic engineer who carefully planned menus around her McCall's Cook Book (she still has and uses it to this day) and what was on sale at the local Scott grocery store (now Oakridge at Webster and Crooks for those of you paying attention). She'd carefully plan out her menus, spend time cooking and deboning chickens, and would make an entire pot of chicken fricasse that would give her at least two meals. Very thrifty of her, yes?
And then my dad, in a moment of well-fed maritial bliss, ate the whole pot. In one sitting.
My mom quickly learned to buy bread and peanut butter for those nights she planned a meal that should last two nights and that Jim ate in one. Jim, on the other hand, always complimented her cooking. Even on the recipes he didn't like. "Sue, darling, you can just put that recipe right in the back of the box." He once told me, "It's not that your mom's a bad cook. She's a great cook actually. It's just that some recipes are better than others."
And onward Jim and Sue continued until the spring of 1975. My mom, pregnant with me and having major difficulties, had left her civilian job with the Army and was on bed rest. They'd just purchased their first (and to date only) house, and had taken up residence in the would-be dining room as the only bathroom was on the first floor and all of the bedrooms were on the second floor.
One day, shortly after leaving her job and insurance provider behind, she had a doctor's appointment. Where she was informed she wasn't on my dad's health insurance.
For those of you who know my dad and how much I help him out (seriously, one day the man called me at work to ask what Amazon's web address was), you can imagine how easy it was for him to not have my mom on his health insurance.
He tried to make amends and immediately went to HR the following morning. "I need to put Sue on my insurance," he told the secretary.
"Sure, Jim. Open enrollment is in September when school starts back up. We can add her then."
"She's pregnant NOW!" my dad wailed.
"Um, Jim, I don't know what to tell you."
"Well, what do you do when teachers get married in the middle of the school year? Do they have to wait until open enrollment to add their new spouse?"
"Of course not!"
And a lightbulb went on in my dad's head. "Okay, thanks!" and off he ran.
That afternoon on my dad's lunch hour, in front of a couple I always called Aunt Val and Uncle Art, my parents got married for the second time. And my mom was added onto my dad's insurance the next day.
Within the next twenty-four years Jim and Sue had three children, stood by one another through the long-term illnesses of not one but two parents, adopted two dogs, four cats, three gerbils, and a large array of goldfish my aunt sent us home with after taking us to the Shrine Holiday Bazaar. They took three kids ranging in age from 5 to 16 on a cross country trip to California and back in the summer of 1992. Three years later, they drove down to North Carolina with their two youngest while their oldest worked on Mackinac Island. Jim continued teaching and Sue, well, she was a homemaker who was President of the PTA for two years, headed up Girl Scout cookie sales, implemented Campbell's soup labels at the elementary school, and knit and crocheted and sewed and did needlepoint.
From the outside, it seemed as if they had an idyllic marriage. From the inside, yeah, not so much. Without airing the family's dirty laundry, Jim and Sue were troubled. And finally, my mom called it quits in 1999.
My dad, ever afraid of change, moved into the very apartment he and my mom last rented before buying our house. My mom, eager to update something more than just the couches, did a complete overhaul of our living room and my dad (again, change is evil) took all of the old furniture to his place.
And slowly, the Mandleys found a new sense of normalcy. A year after the divorce, I decided it was time to move to Chicago and within a month, I had a job and moved (God those were the days). Mike was struggling with college, Meagan was entering middle school, and Mom was holding everyone together. My dad concentrated on two things: work and his kids. He was at the house all. the. time. Much to my mother and brother's dismay of course. My sister, on the other hand, loved it and oftentimes referred to my dad as her best friend.
We still spent holidays together. All five of us, plus Dipshit and whoever Mike was dating at the time. Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve with my grandmother aunt and uncle, Christmas with my grandfather, and Easter wherever and whenever we decided to have it. My mom still attended my dad's family's annual New Year's party and was invited to all of their family functions. And in fact if it weren't for their separate households, no one would be the wiser my parents had ever divorced.
In fact, I was out on the Pontoon boat with my cousins Shawn and John (M. for those family members who are reading; for the rest of you, YES, we do have to clarify which John we're talking about as we have seven or eight of them floating around at any given reunion) during our reunion in 2009 when suddenly, John turned to me. "You do realize no one in the family believes your parents are actually divorced, right?"
Shawn snickered. I sighed. "I know. But believe me, we're all much happier that they are."
And then, almost four weeks to the day after that conversation I had with Shawn and John, the unthinkable happened.
Jim and Sue's middle child, their only son, died.
In a happy world, or at the very least a fair one, no parent should ever have to bury a child. But the world isn't a happy one, and it certainly isn't fair, and my parents had to.
In some families, no matter how close they are, the death of a child pushes everyone apart no matter how hard they try for it not to happen. In my family, it brought us closer. That's not to say that suddenly we had no more arguments, and butterflies fly out our ass and all that. But Jim and Sue and Meagan and I did what we do best. Some of us let go for a short time and wrapped ourselves in misery, some of us struggled to keep it all together and try and keep as much on track as possible. Yet no matter who chose what to cope, we still laughed and cried and told stories and grew quiet for a few minutes with reflection. Together.
And suddenly, my mom didn't mind as much that my dad was always stopping by. And my dad, well, he took my mom's inane conversation habits in stride and listened and drank beer and kept his mouth shut while my mother went on and on and on.
This has been going on since Mike died actually.
Until February. When my dad went on a vacation to Arizona to see his college roommate and came back and proposed marriage to my mom.
Without going into too much detail about the marriage settlement, I can tell you that my mom accepted. And the two were married, for the third time, on April 10 of this year. They still maintain separate households, as for now that's the only way we can all live peacefully, but who knows? I may end up with a roomate (Meagan) if for some reason Jim and Sue decide to merge households again.
I was talking to my mom last week and she was voicing some complaint about my dad to me. Teasingly I told her I didn't want to hear about it because after all, she was the one who had married him three times.
"Remember that psychic we had here at the house a few years ago?" she asked me suddenly.
"Well, I was still living in Chicago when she came so it was more than a few years ago, but yeah. What about it?"
My mom laughed. "Did I ever tell you she told me I'd be married three times?
I started laughing. "Um, no. No, you failed to mention that one, Mom."
She laughed again. "I guess I should've asked if it would ever be to a man who wasn't your father, huh?"