The tale of the un-wicked step-mother


Louise was a young, newly married woman. Despite her parents disapproval, she married into a rather well to do family in Ashland, KY. Her husband’s family owned a successful furniture store and she was to be one of their buyers.

The idea of buying trips to Chicago and New York thrilled her. Such a far cry from her upbringing. The oldest of 3 children, her family moved often to small towns in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Her father worked for the railroad and, in the early 1900’s, the railroad was king.

Her middle class upbringing was strict and uncomfortable for her. She longed to see the world and make her mark. She was able to go to college after graduating from high school, and in 1931, that was quite an accomplishment. First, because the country was in the midst of the Great Depression and second, because she was a woman. But Louise was quick, intelligent and curious, and did well in her studies to become a teacher. Turned out, she hated teaching. It happens…

I don’t know how she met her husband or when they were married, but by the 1940’s she was in full blown career mode as a furniture buyer. She was a beautiful woman with impeccable taste, cultured, well read and could have easily been mistaken for a woman who was born into a society family.

But somewhere along the line in the late 40’s or early 50’s, her marriage went terribly wrong. Details are sparse, but somehow her husband managed to obtain a divorce from her without her knowledge. Scumbag doesn’t even come close… She received word from him from some Caribbean Island – he was supposedly on a business trip – that not only were they divorced, but that he had married his secretary.

Talk about your bad, FML days.

Although she gave up her buying job, she kept their beautiful home surrounded by acres of trees in the exclusive Bellefonte neighborhood of Ashland. This is where I came to live in 1965 after my mother died.

Louise was my step-mother. She would have been 103 this week. Yikes!

My father, divorced from my mother a year earlier, married Louise in 1960 after my grandmother died. My father lived with his mother in Pittsburgh, where I lived, but within months of her death, married Louise, and moved to Kentucky.  And he was out of my life for the next five years.

I’m sure that, in 1965 at the age of 52, Louise never expected to have an 11 year old girl as a live-in step-daughter. It must have been an incredible shock. More like a huge, massive earthquake.

Now, when I think back, I thank God that she was such a kind, understanding woman. I was incredibly broken and confused at the sudden loss of my mother and my move to a new state to live with people I barely knew. She was patient and gentle with me, and over the years, I grew to love her. Not the wicked step-mother at all, you see.

And she grew to love me like the child she never had. It wasn’t the same sort of love that I have as a mother for my children, but it was as much a she could love me and still be loyal to my father.

He was always her first priority.

In many ways, Weezie, as I sometimes called her, protected me from my father’s emotional tantrums. He was not a happy man. To this day, it’s still a great mystery as to why she married him. She was much too good for him.

Sadly, my happiest memories of my home are when he traveled for work. Louise and I would just chill, eat pizza (which he hated) for dinner, and totally enjoy the lack of tension that was always present when he was home. It was blessed, temporary relief.

I was thrilled to go far away to college and escape his dark moods and temper. But I felt more than a few pangs of guilt leaving her alone with him. And it took it’s toll on her.

So I moved on with my life, got married, had children. We settled down in one city, and she and my father moved from city to city trying to find a place to make him happy.  I used to call them gypsies. Louise loved my kids, but, to appease my father, kept an emotional and physical distance. They rarely visited. We always had to go visit them.

In the late 1980’s, symptoms of dementia started rearing their horrible, ugly heads. Once a voracious reader and crossword puzzle enthusiast, Louise had trouble finding simple words. She couldn’t pay the bills anymore. She started night wandering.

My father, not surprisingly, could only complain about how she was disrupting his life. Seriously. He couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just “straighten up and fly right”.  I won’t go into details, but she used to call me, sobbing. It broke my heart.

And, as always happened with my father, we had to handle things in crisis mode when everything exploded in 1991. Again, no details, but he went to Chicago to recover with my sister and we moved Louise in with us in southern Ohio.

Eventually, she went to an assisted living facility for several years, then to an Alzheimer’s unit at a local nursing home when she started wandering outside at night. My father eventually moved to our city to be closer to her, but had no intention of letting his life be burdened with her condition. He lived in a lovely senior community.  And, as so often happens, in a strange twist of karmic fate, she outlived him.

Coming from a long line of long lived people, she was 88 when she died. By that time she could no longer recognize me or my family, was in a wheelchair, completely non-verbal and required total care. It was a great mercy when she passed. Yet I still grieved this beautiful woman who loved me second only to my own mother.

Happy birthday Weezie! Your beauty was so much more than skin deep… Thank you for teaching me how to be a woman of substance and for your love that helped heal my broken heart and spirit.

You were one bad ass lady!

My outlaw in-law


I know that I promised that AGMA’s next blog post was going to be about Roman toilets.

While it’s an important subject that needs further investigation and elaboration, something’s come up that demands our immediate attention.  And it kind of has to do with Rome in a twisted, round-about way.

Do you have an outlaw in-law in the family?  We do.

Of course…

My MIL married her husband at age 15.  That boggles my mind. How is that even legal?  But this was back in the late 40’s in the hills of North Carolina where I think child brides were common. Probably all too common.  At least she didn’t marry a cousin.

My husband was born when she was the only 17.  And she had had all three of her children by the time she was 22.  I could barely take care of houseplants and keep them alive at 22.

As a result, she is “young” for having a 65 year old son.

When her husband, my father-in-law, passed away ten years ago, she went into a deep funk.  Now mind you, they really couldn’t stand each other.  There was nothing but nasty bickering when we were around them.  Quite a bit of venom was spat about.  Good times. But I guess when you’ve been together with somebody for 56 years, it’s not easy to say goodbye no matter how much you couldn’t stand the sight of them.


It took her about two years to get her bearings and realize that she could do whatever she wanted to do.  She didn’t have to ask permission anymore.  Spend all night at the casino if she wants.  Go to plays and musical shows.  Buy a double-wide in the mountains. And travel.  She just loves to travel.

And that’s when the trouble started…

At this point I have to reiterate that I am a “value” traveler.  I like bargains.  I’d rather take $3000 and go on two “value” trips than one upscale trip.  It’s just the way AGMA rolls.

She doesn’t like to travel alone so she invited us to go on several tours with her to Scotland and Ireland.  The tours were very nice, but pretty expensive; not in keeping with the AGMA travel mantra of “value”.   We kindly, politely turned her down.

Then she offered to pay our way.  For both trips.  My husband was wary.  Very wary.  He’s learned over the years.  “TANSTAAFL!” he said.  He said we’d “pay” if we went – one way or another.  I just felt sorry for her that she was so lonely, and encouraged him to accept her kind gift.  Think of the joy and pleasure it would give her.  Yeah right…


She’s difficult to travel with, especially in these later years now that the demon of dementia that has started to rear it’s ugly head.  She’s terribly picky about what she eats.  She took it as a personal insult when she was offered lamb and/or salmon on both the Scotland and Ireland trips.   She hates lamb and fish.  For Pete’s sake, it’s Scotland and Ireland – all they eat is lamb and fish!  But she gets irrationally angry.  Like a child.  Nasty.  Charming…   She also gets horrific jet lag and sleeps for nearly two days after flying across the Atlantic. And she gets confused very easily.  On one trip, she couldn’t remember how to get back to her room in the hotel from the dining room.  Ah oh.  On another trip, she brought English Pounds to a Euro country and got upset because they wouldn’t let her pay with GBP.  Get the picture?

Now comes the Rome link.  Wait for it…

Evidently, our recent trip to Rome was the straw that broke her camel’s back.  My husband’s sibling reports she became furious after we told her we were going to Rome.  Turns out she’s terribly angry that we haven’t invited her on any of the trips we’ve gone on over the past couple of years after “all she’s done for us.”  Yeah.


You pay now or you pay later.  My husband’s a wise man.

So she did the rational, sensible, practical thing.  She immediately booked a trip to Rome for a week.  By herself.  Leaving a week from the date she booked it.  Leaving yesterday.  We got a text today that “all is good”.  Oh my God, my head hurts…

My husband tried to talk her out of it, offering himself up as a sacrifice.  He said he would go on a tour of Italy with her in the Fall. Too little too late.  She is stubborn.  She is irrational.  She is losing her ability to keep herself safe.

My outlaw in-law.

Aging parents…

The *hit is getting ready to hit the proverbial fan.