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!