My Ex-Future Father-in-Law
When I first met Jim, I was 19 and dating his son, the oldest of six kids. I didn’t see much of him at first, as he would sequester himself in his bedroom watching his small TV on weekends and evenings. With four boys and two girls between the ages of 6 and 20, who wouldn’t?
He seemed to be gruff and old school. The great fear of the kids was that Dad would come out of his room to yell at them if they misbehaved. He wanted his dinner, expertly home-cooked by his wife, at a certain time, and often his menu was different from the rest of the family’s. Like I said, old school. He worked, she stayed at home with the kids. That’s how it was in those days. This wasn’t my cup of tea, but they treated me like a member of the family and I couldn’t argue with that.
Two of the sons, Boyfriend included, were musicians and had a band, which practiced in their basement. Like a good rock ’n’ roll girlfriend, I spent a lot of time upstairs chatting with the family and the other wives/girlfriends or watching TV while the band was banging away downstairs. I spent most of the time talking with Mrs. W, but sometimes Mr. W would come out and sit in his recliner to watch the big TV and join in the conversation.
Turns out Jim was a closet art enthusiast and he never missed the Saturday afternoon painting shows on the PBS station. And he played accordion.
I spent a lot of time at that house over the next few years and I always enjoyed my talks with Jim. When the band wasn’t taking over his basement workshop, he taught me how to replace a lamp socket and an electrical plug. I later parlayed this knowledge into the confidence to replace outlets and switches and rewire ceiling fans in my own house.
The “gruff” Mr. W was really a softie. At the time, I still lived with my family 30 miles away. I would come into town on Friday night or Saturday morning and go home Sunday night, sleeping over at one of my friends’ homes. That meant I would be driving from the W’s house to a friend’s house late at night after we got back from a nightclub or a band gig. It was Jim’s idea that I should stay overnight at their house on those nights, because he was concerned about me driving around alone late at night (Boyfriend didn’t have a car). Old school, indeed — not many parents would be cool with their son’s girlfriend sleeping over.
But I spent those nights sharing a double bed with Boyfriend’s 6- and 16-year-old sisters. It was rather cramped and uncomfortable at the time, but it seems really funny now.
I was reminiscing about those covers-pulling, calf-kicking nights with the two sisters last week at Jim’s wake. He died last week, after a couple of years of illness and decline, 14 years after losing his wife. Oddly enough, he died on Boyfriend’s birthday and 12 years — to the day — after my own father’s death.
Boyfriend and I broke up after about six years together, but I continued to visit his parents at Christmas time every year. Mrs. W always had a gift for me — usually something nice from the retail clothing store where ex-Boyfriend worked — and Mr. W always had good conversation. We had this visit every year until Mrs. W died, then I continued to stop by for a few years until Jim moved out to the far-flung area where I had lived years ago.
After that, we exchanged Christmas cards every year until two years ago, when I didn’t get a card from him. I know now that his health began to decline at that time.
As it turned out, Jim never became my father-in-law. But I like to think he would have been a good one.
Eileen P. Duggan