38: To My Other Mother

38: To My Other Mother

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

To My Other Mother

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

~G.K. Chesterton

When you married my dad, I was twelve. We didn’t meet then, you and I, for I lived with my mother. Dad emerged occasionally, a shadow from the past — a smiling face in a photo in Mom’s cedar chest.

You made no difference in my life. You and Dad inhabited one corner of the earth, Mom and us kids another. We still ate peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every day, and wore holes through the soles of our shoes.

That first year, the shadow I knew as Dad visited; you waited in the car outside. For a long time afterwards, I cherished the memory of Dad’s hug as we sat together on the sofa. Soon after that first visit, black patent leather shoes appeared in my closet. At first I wondered where they came from… until Mom said Dad had sent them. How special those shoes were! No laces to tie; instead, small pearl buttons decorated the clasps on the narrow straps. I thought of Dad whenever I wore them.

Six months later, when Dad visited, he took my face in his hands, studied my smile, and concluded that I needed braces on my teeth. Embarrassed, my smile shriveled; then Dad tickled my lips again, and I giggled. Once again, you waited in the car outside. That was the day we met. Mom practically dragged me to the car. “Can’t you say hello?” she prodded. I dropped my head in adolescent shyness, and squeaked, “Hi.”

You turned into a smile with a name that day, not just a lady in the car. As you and Mom chattered away like old friends, I wrestled with the problem of what I was supposed to call you.

Several weeks later, Mom made an appointment with the dentist. That dreaded dentist trip, a weekly worry, stretched into a two-month ordeal, but at least I didn’t need braces.

Then there was the coat. Dad had never given me an Easter present, but shortly after I met you, a large box wrapped with brown grocery bags and string was delivered just in time for Easter. When Mom lifted the lid, I squealed with delight. There was the prettiest, softest, pink coat I’d ever seen — and it was mine. With the cool satin lining caressing my skin, I buried my hands in the deep pockets, and twirled around the living room. As if that wasn’t enough, later that same day the florist delivered a pink and lavender corsage of flowers, which was also from Dad. It’s funny that Dad had never thought of these things before marrying you.

Mom said this called for a celebration, and we went shopping together. Now that Mom didn’t have to buy the coat I needed, she used the money instead for my very first new Easter outfit — a navy blue dress with a white lace collar.

Time passed. I graduated from high school, got my first job, married, had children, and eventually pursued a career. Contact with you was sporadic during these years. Although you didn’t know it, I enjoyed the occasional times we spent together. I’m not sure why — perhaps I was curious about you back then. Of course, Mom was first in my life as always, but you never seemed to mind.

You were patient. Because you understood Mom’s need to be my only mom, you waited behind the curtain, and whispered the cues to Dad. Many times in the midst of trouble and turmoil in my own home, Dad appeared on the scene just in time to make a difference. I remember the urgent financial crisis that resulted from my husband’s incarceration, and Dad’s help. About this time, God stepped into my life, bringing peace to quiet the storm. When a special delivery letter arrived from Dad with a generous check enclosed, my faith surged. Knowing you now, I can’t help but wonder what role you played in each intervention.

My faith was shaken when my brother died, but I had to be strong for Mom’s sake. When we gathered at the funeral parlor to stand at the casket, you stepped back again. Yet we were on one level. Grief only crawls; it cannot climb. You stood among the backdrop of my friends that day, waiting to help if you were needed.

Seven years later, my mother died. We stood together at the grave to mourn my loss. This time you were at my side.

Eventually, my own nest had emptied and I was alone. Because of my growing relationship with God over the years, I didn’t mind the solitude so much. But you and Dad were there for me. I watched you shower gifts upon my grandchildren; if I tried to refuse the folded bill that Dad slipped into my hand, you protested. It didn’t take long for me to discover that the “care packages” containing groceries, favorite junk foods, and treats for my doggie were your idea, and not Dad’s. I could always depend on you for licorice and cheddar cheese crackers when I attended an out-of-town conference.

Dad and I grew closer in recent years thanks to you. You urged him to call if we hadn’t been in touch; you planned your vacations to coincide with mine. In a way, you were still whispering the cues, right up to the time of his death, when again you and I stood together at a gravesite. I no longer stumble over the word “stepmother.” You’re my friend, and you have made a difference in my life.

~Penny Smith

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