Little Boy Lost and The Wicked Stepmother or My Father and His &%#@
Yes, I am angry. Don't think I was miserable and unhappy when Mama died. I wasn't at all. Hell, I was 'Lady of the House" overnight and I played that role to the hilt - for a while. At least until I figured out my father was still a drunk.
Actually, daddy was two different people: He was a prince and a bastard all rolled into one frame. I never knew who I was going to encounter for one minute to the next. He was the classic "Mama's boy" and to prove it, let me tell you one little story. My mother wore a diamond ring that was made up of lots of little tiny diamonds clustered together in the shape of a heart, and it had a seam down the middle. I asked her why the ring seemed to be in two parts, and her answer was, "Your father had two rings made. One for his mother and one for me. Each ring was half a heart and we wore them until she died and then he had the two rings put together." True story. Very telling on my father.
My mother was a star in the community and my father was jealous of that. Jealous of her talents and the love the community felt for her. He wanted to be the center of that universe - the man-god fathering progeny to carry on his name. My mother was looked on as a failure because she couldn't conceive. But in his mind, the community thought he was less of a man. And that false shame was doubled when they adopted me and I was walking, breathing proof of his lack of manhood - or so he thought.
I tell you all that to make clear what I'm going to tell you now. Here goes. My father had a mistress for 15 years before my mother died. He saw her every Wednesday afternoon when he was (supposedly) out of town on business. Right. Mama knew about this woman but never uttered a word, not that I knew. After she died, I was told that some of her friends talked with her about this woman. But I'm getting ahead of the story.
Two months after Mama died, Daddy decided he and I would go on a Caribbean cruise out of Miami. So we got in a plane in Macon, Ga to fly down to meet the ship. For some reason the plane made stop in Waycross, Ga. Waycross is where, if God wanted to give the earth an enema, he would stick the tube. And we landed there in a blinding summer rain storm and the plane's front landing gear broke and we had to sit upended in August heat and humidity until another plane could come from Jacksonville to get us. Daddy was drunk and I was 14 dealing with a drunk. Charming. But I had become his keeper, or "The Lady of The House".
The whole cruise was one drunk-a-thon and ended with a return flight to Atlanta instead of Macon and a trip home on The Nancy Hanks. Only in Atlanta, there was this woman in our hotel room. I don't remember her name. But it was this trip which made me know I couldn't stay home with him and go to school. I had to get out of there. So I called my uncle, The Attorney General, and said, "Get me out of here. Get me into GMA." And so I returned to College Park - outside of Atlanta - for the ninth grade.
Now this is where the story gets like a soap opera. My uncle's executive secretary was my father's cousin. And she had a hot line to home and would tell my Uncle and Aunt all the gossip going on with my father while I was away at school. And, of course, my Aunt told me every word. A 14-year-old in 1958, long before there was a show called "Dallas". So I was regularly being filled with the dirt back at South Fork. Here is some of it. All true.
The night my mother died, that woman moved out on her husband of 20 years. Just left a note on the table and took her young daughter and ran. She was making her move. And my father went right along with it. First, she convinced him that her daughter was his child. Time proved her wrong. And she threatened to sue my father for "breach of promise" if he didn't marry her. At Christmas vacation, I told him there were so many fish in the sea, why her? And his answer? "We can teach her." What the hell did I have to teach her? How to be Mama? Please!
So I got myself kicked out of school and he married her in South Carolina within a week. He asked the Methodist minister to marry them and the minister refused saying, "You two have never been seen in public and I cannot marry you." He kept his money of that church for years.
They came home from their honeymoon and the first thing she did, the very first thing, was to defrost some of Mama's spaghetti sauce and serve it. I was horrified. The next thing she did was call the drug store and when they answered, she said, "This is Mrs. Wall." That was the first time she had said that and the first time I heard it. I was sickened.
She didn't like me. She hadn't liked my mother and she knew I was opposed to their marriage. In fact, early on I said to her, "I thought things would be different, but they aren't." I knew I had to get out of there again. And I did. I went away to a wonderful Episcopal Boys school, which I will write about soon.
My father continued drinking very heavily after he married this woman and when it was time to come home for Thanksgiving, I came. He was in the hospital drying out from his latest drunken binge and I was left at home with her.
Sitting in the family room, she said to me the following. And I quote verbatim.
"Your mother knew nothing about raising a child or running a home. You are proof of that. You are the thorn in your father's side and you are not worth the family name. BUT the one thing that makes it all right is that you are not really his son."
Needless to say, I was dumbfounded and just went to bed. The next morning I went to my godfather and told him what she had said. And I told him "I'm afraid to tell Daddy that, I'm afraid he will have a heart attack." "Tell him," my godfather insisted. None of my parent's friend could stand this woman and they literally would not associate with her. She was reviled because she had married him for his money. So I did as I was told.
When Daddy got out of the hospital, we went to his office and I told him exactly what she had said. He thought for a minute and then said to me, again I quote,
"Your mother was the finest woman who ever lived and I will never love anyone the way I loved her.....and you ARE my son."
And he went home and beat the hell out of that woman.
After that fire had calmed, a couple of days later I said to my father, "Daddy, I don't want anything from you when you die but this house. I want to stand here and watch her drive away for the last time." And his reply was, "Son, I don't think she wants this house." And I looked him straight in the face and said, "She married you for it." And that, as they say, was that.