As I’ve chronicled multiple times over the course of B&V, I was single until my late 30s. I’d share more of those stories but those records are sealed until 25 years after everyone I’ve ever known is dead. I was slowly getting my act together and turning away from my life as a “rounder” when I met the Rock Chick. She had a daughter and was cautious around me or any other newcomer at first, so things developed slowly. Eventually she realized I was harmless and things began to progress a little more quickly. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s another story.
As I got to know her, I realized the Rock Chick had a much different childhood than I did. I was the product of a solid, Catholic marriage. My parents are together to this day and seem to like each other. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City in what I now refer to as “the bubble” of Johnson County, Kansas. While I would never describe my childhood as idyllic (the struggle is real, folks), from the outside looking in, it wasn’t exactly a difficult upbringing.
My wife grew up in the country, on a farm, in a very small town. I think describing her childhood home as a “town” is actually generous. It was more of a wide stretch in the road. She grew up in the shadow of Kansas City but was far enough away it must have seemed light years away from civilization. At least she could pick up the local radio stations and got a good grounding in rock and roll music. Her parents for many reasons, alas, didn’t stay together. She is, what is now called, a product of divorce.
After the split, as is common, the two warring parties never seemed to get along. The Rock Chick’s mother Rose rarely had anything nice to say about her father Bud and Bud rarely said anything at all about Rose. After the Rock Chick moved to Kansas City her parents never spoke again. Child support was the only thing they spoke about anyway. Soon Rose decided to move out West with her son, my wife’s half brother, to live amongst the Grand Tetons. We rarely see my mother-in-law. On one of her brief visits to Kansas City, for a family reunion, I found myself chatting with Rose. I was hitting the vodka lemonades pretty hard, but I still remember the conversation. We were looking at a wall of family photographs from the past, and she commented, out of nowhere, “I always wanted to be a movie star.” I smiled and responded, “That’s cool… were you in drama, were you interested in acting?” Her response was in my mind, telling, “Oh, no, I just wanted to be a movie star.” Hmmm… Rose was apparently Kim Kardashian before there was a Kim Kardashian.
As a side note, this was the last family reunion my wife subjected me to. I don’t even attend my own family’s reunions, thus is my disdain for the entire institution. At one point, I was talking to her uncle who it seems was trying to win a Wild Bill Hickok look alike contest. He had the hat, matted hair, big mustache and looked frankly, dirty. The Rock Chick, sensing I was miserable, ran up and asked if I’d like another drink, a curious strategy as I was already half in the bag. Her uncle said to me, “I wish I had a pretty woman bringing me drinks…” I smiled and said, in a low, serious tone, “If you really want that, may I suggest a shower, shaving off that mustache and perhaps a wardrobe re-do…” Needless to say, we haven’t been invited back but I digress.
When I first met Bud, my father in law, I was a tad intimidated. He asked me two questions in order to determine whether I was ok or not. Did I like beer, which I passed with flying colors, yes of course. Secondly, was I a Republican? I think I failed that one. Regardless, he seemed to like me almost instantly. He was one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met. We would sit around his cluttered kitchen table for hours, consuming more beer than I should have with an hour drive home ahead of me and talked about subjects grand and small. Eventually I got to the point where I’d go down to see him by myself. It was on one of those trips I asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “Well now, she’s the apple of my eye. If you ever hurt her, I’m a marksman and I can kill you and you wouldn’t even hear the bullet coming…” With that he shook my hand and the deal was done.
A while later, I actually went through with it and married the Rock Chick. It was a destination wedding so we had a reception two weeks after that back home. It was a wonderful evening. I can still remember dancing with my new bride for the first time to Rod Stewart’s version of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately.” There were many people who believed I didn’t even want to be happy, so actually being happy was quite a surprise to everyone involved.
There was some tension at the reception however. Both of my wife’s parents were slated to be there. They hadn’t been in the same room in decades. We sat Rose and her half brother on one side of us, on the Rock Chick’s side. And, to be safe we sat Bud and his date (the man got the ladies) on my side. This may have been a tactical error as he had me running to the bar all night to refresh his beer… wait a minute whose wedding reception is this? The tension we’d felt at the beginning of the evening quickly dissipated as the Rock Chick’s parents never so much as spoke. As far as I could tell they didn’t even look at each other.
The next day, as is her usual pattern, Rose said, out loud, “Well, I’m not sure what happened to your father. He’s clearly daft. He looked right at me, and it was as if he didn’t even know who I was. It’s like he didn’t even recognize me, We were married for over ten years. I really think he’s losing it.” Well, obviously this didn’t set well with me. I am clearly on Team Bud. I cut her off in mid rant. “You can say whatever you want about me, but that’s ridiculous. He’s a good man, and he’s not daft.” I was angry and indignant. This pattern of her bad mouthing him was ending on my watch. I went full on Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” mode in defense of Bud. I had hoped to put this feud to rest.
About a month later, I drove down on my own to see Bud and drink some beer. Soon the subject of the reception came up. I had been ready for him to bring it up and had promised myself if he maligned his ex-wife, I would defend her as well. It was only fair. He leaned over the cluttered kitchen table and got a serious look on his face. “I tell you what, man, at that reception of yours, I must be daft. I looked right at Rose and didn’t know who it was. I didn’t even recognize her. We were married a long time…but I didn’t figure out it was her until I was on my way home.”
So much for my spirited defense of my father-in-law. What have we learned… sometimes people who have known each other a long time, know each other better than I think. Oh, and never jump in the middle of a feud, ever. And last but not least, maybe these two belonged together after all…