This is how Jean's kitchen really looked...

The pristine look of my Step-Mom Jean’s kitchen in reality…

 

It was a nasty thing to do but I was feeling a bit ill-natured. What can I say, I was a teenage boy.

I inclined my face to just the right angle so I could see the reflected light from the overhead fixture, then slowly dragged my finger across the brown metallic finish of the kitchen stove hood, squiggling my name in the light greasy coating on its surface.

This is how she thought it looked after I fingered my name in grease on the stove hood....

This is how she thought it looked after I fingered my name in grease on the stove hood….

 

A Scrooge-like pleasure pulsed through my body.

It was the passive-aggressive approach of a hormonal, acne-stricken 16 year-old adolescent to a fresh, unwelcome presence in the house.

My house. Not her’s.

My retired Dad’s new wife Jean – he married her just over a year after my Mom died from a heart attack – was a clean freak, and I had found a chink in her hygienic armour.

Jean cleaned everything top to bottom three times daily. The house was cleaned more frequently than the air exchanged. How had she missed cleaning this surface?

When my mother was alive just 18 months earlier, the discovery of a light film of animal fat on any kitchen surface would have been commonplace.

She wasn’t a slob by any means, but Mom didn’t give her life over to the deity of Mr. Clean.

I know this because my job on most Saturday mornings before or after my Peewee hockey game, was to go about the house, joyfully spraying over-generous wafts of Lemon Pledge aren’t those spray cans single-use only? –  on any wooden furniture surface and buffing it to a wonderfully citrus-scented sheen. There was always a light layer of dust anywhere I went with my cloth.

“Larry, you only need a very light spray to remove the dust and make it shine”, Mom would say.

Yup“, I ignored her, as I continued on my merry aerosol-aplenty way. I loved how the Pledge hit the wood surface and magically bubbled up into a white foam like painful hydrogen peroxide on a nasty, gritty wound.

Lemon pledge

Many of us at some time in our lives find the need to adapt to a new face sitting across the dinner table in place of our Mom or Dad.

It might be through divorce or separation, or as in my case, the death of a parent.

I imagine sometimes this is easy, but in most cases, it’s difficult to transition a Mom or Dad.

These are the people who changed our diapers, walked us to school on fog-soupy days, held our hand when we jittered nervously, waiting in the dental office.

Our lifelong security blanket has been taken away forcibly and suddenly, and tossed into the trash. We realize how Linus feels when Lucy steals his blanket, except it’s not as funny as in the Peanuts comics.

In its place a shiny new substitute has been handed to us. And it doesn’t really matter how nice or beautiful or competent or loving the substitute is. We know it’s not the original that we bonded with from our moment of birth, the familiar smell, the sound of her/his voice will never be the same.

It’s a bit funny in my case because I kind of welcomed the entrance of someone – anyone – into our lives. My Dad and I had lived as solitary bachelors for a year (technically my brother Gord lived at home still, but with a fiance in his life, he was seldom seen) and it was an uncomfortable co-existence.

Really, it would have made a great sit-com if there was any humour to be mined. Two guys, one bald and retired in his late 60’s, the other a long-haired 70’s-era kid. Think of the fun possibilities! I can hear the laugh track rollicking over our stunted, confused conversations. Think Jack Nicholson living with Justin Bieber. Who wouldn’t bust a gut over those conversations?

Somehow the sit-com scenario played out more like a dull, lonely drama in real life. So what did we say to each other? Not much.

There was a lot of silence and conversations kept to the required minimum of “Will you be home for supper?“, or “I’d like you to cut the lawn today“, or more threatening, “You need to get your hair cut.” That last one was a constant thorny itch to make a moody teenager’s blood boil.

Get a haircut

Then when Jean, an old family church friend entered the picture, it was a good thing.

My Dad needed companionship that a 16 year-old son had no ability or intent of providing. Jean was a talkative, cheery presence that filled a major gap left in an eerily quiet home after Mom’s sudden departure.

She was just what the doctor ordered to make an older, lonely fellow’s life something whole once again, and he too filled a chasm that existed in Jean’s world after her husband died a few years earlier from emphysema. It was a win-win for them both.

I just didn’t see it that way from a younger son perspective. She was perfect for my Dad, but not for me.

I was living in a perceived hell I hadn’t asked for.

I missed my Mom terribly.

I’d never had anything resembling a close relationship with my Dad. I wanted an escape but had no clue how anything could possibly change.

And then, like a Disney wand had swept through with its magic, it happened.

My older sister, Betty, who had lived and worked in B.C. for a few years, decided to move back to Ontario early that summer to be closer to our family. In a moment of weakness, and probably, with her social sciences background, feeling great pity for me, she suggested that I move into an apartment with her, and, well, the rest is history.

By the end of summer and the start of my Grade 13 school year (Ontario was the only Canadian province that held onto that tradition), my Dad and Jean were happily living alone in their love nest, while I shared a small nearby apartment with my saviour, my sister.

I completed my Grade 13, then studied at college for a couple of years until I was a certified Medical Laboratory Technologist winging off to my first professional job in Yellowknife, NWT.

In looking back, I never really disliked Jean. She was a bit like a stray puppy with a waggly tail that pushes its way through your back door one day unexpectedly. She wasn’t perfect. But I wasn’t perfect either.

puppy on doorstep

And fortunately, when she discovered my little scrawled trail of grease on her presumed pristine stove hood, instead of unleashing a burst of anger at me, she laughed and laughed at the humour of it all.

She continued to talk and laugh about it for the next few years of companionship she offered to my Dad in his declining years.

Bringing a new woman into our home wasn’t the easiest, smoothest move my Dad ever made. There were difficult, tense moments.

Oily, slippery, dirty moments come about in all our lives. We need to hang on tenuously by our fingernails sometimes and remind ourselves that eventually, this too shall pass.

I may have harboured some bitter, resentful feelings towards my Dad for “replacing” my Mom. But I got over that simmering emotion years ago. Now I can smile knowing my Dad’s last years were happier and more contented with Jean around, even if the stove hood was a bit greasy.

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