NEW NANAWaneta drove with purpose, face rigid and knuckles white, like the bicycle-riding witch in The Wizard of Oz. My sister was in the car and said, “Mom, what’s going on with you?”

“I found out where your dad’s girlfriend lives!”

Patty knew that big trouble was ahead.

I was married and gone by then, so I didn’t witness the drama firsthand. I wrote the story after hearing about it from my sister, my dad, and my mother, all of whom played a part.

Hearing their versions made me glad that I lived far away. But I felt sorry for my younger sister. With our brother off on his own adventures, Patty had no one left to absorb the fallout from our parents’ antics. I hoped the protective spells I’d cast over her before leaving home would see her through.

My parents had been each other’s first loves. They wed young and embarked on a wacky love affair that spanned twenty-seven years. My mother’s temper tantrums often launched her into reckless decisions, such as repeatedly filing for divorce. As a result, my parents ended their marriage three times before finally making the split permanent. It was a crazy way to exist, but that’s how they did it. Their third marriage lasted the longest, and those eleven years were as filled with pandemonium as any of their shorter unions. When Mom threatened divorce once again, Dad went his own merry way and started dating a nice, calm lady named Lucille.

When my mother learned that her ex-husband was seeing someone else, she was beside herself. By the time she picked up my seventeen-year-old sister at school, her simmering anger was about to boil over into uncontrolled rage. Hunching forward with the steering wheel clutched in a death grip, she raced through the neighborhood, intent on locating the woman who had unknowingly become her archenemy.

Patty was worried sick about what was coming next. That feeling was all too familiar.

“Forget about it,” Patty told Mom, hoping to divert disaster. It was like reasoning with a rock. Mom became deaf when she was enraged.

“I think he’s there now!” Screeching to a stop in front of a house with Dad’s car parked in front, she backed up a little, then sped forward to bash into his door.

Patty screamed, “Stop!”

Her plea had no effect. Our mother kept backing up and bashing, backing up and bashing, until she decided that hitting the vehicle straight on would do more damage. Ignoring my sister, who was nearly hysterical, Mom sped around the block and bashed the target of her rage at full speed. Patty was shaken. The police had arrived in time to witness the last big crunch. Reminiscent of the movies, one of them approached the window and said, “Ma’am, turn off the motor and step outta the car!” Dad and Lucille showed up about then and took my sister inside the house.

“Ma’am,” the officer explained, “we’ve gotta take you to jail.”

Mom begged for mercy. “I’m not a criminal. I’m sick. I’ve been under a lot of pressure, and I need to be in a hospital, not jail. Here’s my minister’s phone number. He’ll explain. He’s been counseling me.”

“Apparently it hasn’t helped,” the officer muttered before contacting the police dispatcher by radio.

Mom’s minister suggested they contact her doctor. He even provided the phone number. The officer told the dispatcher to explain that Waneta Peal had been arrested for willfully damaging Mr. Peal’s car. “Tell him she has to go somewhere and ask him if it should be the hospital or jail.”

Mom later said to me, “My doctor told the police to lock me in jail overnight. Can you imagine?”

“Uh, yes, I can.”

“Not me. I called him back the next day and dismissed him as my physician.”

“Was he angry with you?”

“Nope. He thanked me. Can you believe that?”

I just smiled.

Eventually, Lucille became Dad’s second wife, and my mother moved to California to be close to me. She never forgave the new Mrs. Peal for stealing her man, but she learned to live with it. And whenever she was in Iowa visiting relatives, she and my father met privately at their favorite tavern for a friendly chat and lots of laughs over cold beers.

After a few years, Dad and Lucille also divorced. My mother was triumphant. She and Butch soon had another friendly get-together, this time to talk seriously about becoming a couple again. My brother, sister and I were in three different states, so they called each of us separately to see what we thought of their plan. I was first on the list. It was evident that my father wanted to get remarried, but Mom did not. She wanted them to live together so their social security checks wouldn’t change. Dad said, “We shouldn’t live together if we’re not married.”

In the background, just like in the old days, Mom was yelling her opinion. “I don’t mind living with your father, but I’m not marrying him again!”

They were sixty-eight years old, and their grandkids were all mature adults. No one would have faulted them for sharing rent. But Dad must have felt it was more moral to wed and divorce repeatedly than to reside with a woman out of wedlock.

When Mom refused to change her mind, Dad reconciled with Lucille because he was not meant to be alone. My mother, on the other hand, got so used to being alone that she became a freer spirit than she had ever been. That’s saying a lot because she had always been the queen of freedom.

Years later, Dad ended up in a full care facility in Belle Plaine, Iowa. He was alert and active, read the daily paper front to back, and kept informed about current events. But his memory for some people had dimmed. While he was there, Lucille died. When someone gave him the newspaper clipping from the obituary column, he said, “Who’s this?”

“Mr. Peal, that’s your recently deceased wife.”

“I don’t think so. My wife’s name is Waneta.”

He tucked the clipping into his wallet and occasionally pulled it out to inquire of visitors who Lucille might be.

He didn’t remember us kids either. When I visited, we had lovely conversations, but he couldn’t recall if I was his sister or his daughter. However, his memory of my mother stayed as sharp and fresh as a glass of spring water. He said, “If you live in California, you must know Waneta.”

“Yes, she’s my mother.”

“I’ll never forget her.”

Together or apart, my parents never lost touch. Mom stayed in California and drove her old Buick to Iowa every spring to stay with family for a month or two. During one of her annual Midwest road trips, she saw Dad at the convalescent home. After returning to California, she said, “Your father couldn’t keep his hands off me.”

“Really?

“No kidding.” Then she shared their conversation, which turned out to be their last.

“Waneta,” he said, “you oughta move in here. The food ain’t half bad.”

“Butch, I can’t move in here. I’m in California now.”

“Dang it, Girl, listen to me. There’s an empty room right down the hall.”

“Butch, a person can’t move in here because she wants to. A person has to be sick, and I’m not sick.”

“Heck, Girl, I ain’t either, but here I am. All you have to do is sign up at the front desk.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Oh, yes, it is. That’s how I got my room.”

Since he may have thought he was in a hotel, Mom considered telling him that she had inquired about vacancies and, sadly, there were none. But he had already switched to another subject.

“Waneta, I don’t think they make beer or cigarettes anymore ’cause I can’t get ’em anywhere.”

Mom told me that when it was time to leave, she gave Butch a nice, long hug. She said, “Betty, you know what?”

“No. What?”

“If I did live there, your father would be in my bedroom every night. Good grief…the man is seventy-eight and still has the hots for me.”

I had to laugh. Did she view that as a blessing or a curse?

NEW NANA 2

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For another story about Dad in the convalescent home and his true confessions about Mom, read “First Love: Conversation with Dad” in Dancing in My Nightgown: The Rhythms of Widowhood page 50 by Betty Auchard, published by Stephens Press, LLC, Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

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