DONALD, My Stepdad

My folks, Bruce and Gilberta were married for 25 plus years with a family of four children.  They were kids when they married, about 20 and 19, I think. My Dad died of lung cancer at the young age of 46.

After some time, my Mom, a working woman with a lifetime before her, began to date occasionally. We kids sometimes liked her choices and sometimes not. Hardly mattered, she was always her own person. She broached no other opinions that did not mesh with her own, especially from her kids who could hardly be smarter than their adult Mother.

After the last child graduated high school, Mom settled in a home near her job and found interests among her co-workers and others she began to meet. A few temporary men, on casual dates, came and went. Then came Donald.

Donald lived at home with his Mom….really. Donald was about the same age my Dad would have been and they met at a dance class. Donald had not gone to the dance class eagerly. He had gone because his Mother thought he should and at the request of a lady friend who had tried and was still trying to entice Donald to the altar. Donald never liked making decisions [he is 91 now and still prefers someone else make his decisions – I have acquiesced], but the single decision he did make and stick to, was NOT MARRYING EVER.

Donald’s lady friend encountered a big problem at the dance lessons and that problem had a name – Gilberta.  Gilberta was into dancing [she taught me in our living room as a young teen], she loved the big band era and she insisted on the man leading. [It is the only time and place, she ever let that happen.] Donald never wanted to lead and Gilberta insisted, on the dance floor, that he should and their romance blossomed. It blossomed on their terms. She had made an unfortunate mistake in briefly marrying a guy a few years after Dad died. It ended poorly and she was quick to get Dad’s name back and erase those ‘frivolous’ few months out of her life. Therefore she had no plans to ever marry again.

Donald was sticking to his first and only life decision also, but dancing was an entirely different decision, already made. They danced at lessons.  They partied with the crowd. They watched movies. She cooked – he was an expert at eating.  Mom showed concern for Donald’s Mom and Donald’s Mom finally gave up the idea of having grandchildren, and Mom was quick to loan hers out to them both.

Donald was great at playing the grandfather figure. Mom had my two kids for grands, but my siblings dutifully came through during the Donald years and he was Grampy Don to five little ones as they came along. He was present at all the family get-togethers, the holidays and the summer vacations around Mom’s pool.  Donald [and Mom,too] loved garage sales and shopped those grandkids with delight. Donald would show up for late breakfast at Moms. He lived across town and he was and still is a “Man of Routine”. He would go do something, come back after lunch or for lunch and hardly ever missed supper with Gilberta. Truth to tell, he had a razor at Mom’s, but we never mentioned that.  They were dancing and life buddies, partners in every sense, till death did part them.

Gilberta, the inveterate smoker, even after her first husband died from them, suffered and died from lung cancer too, in 2002. She and Donald had about the same lifetime, on their terms, as she had with our Dad.

Donald is 91 this year and Donald is still missing his partner. He has his routine. Of course, his Mom is long gone, but he still lives in the same house he bought her in the 70’s. Donald has never missed a meal and he tries to fund the Illinois lottery single-handedly.

I live in Georgia, but I have never missed a visit to Donald, every trip home, since we moved. He has had some health issues, been in rehab at the nursing home and he spent a brief and unbearable visit to assisted living. He wanted to be home. And he wanted someone to decide he could be at home. So Donald, after all this time, got a step-daughter. We both agreed, I was the logical choice and he had never had one. [I knew my Dad wouldn’t mind. It had been 40 years since I had a Dad.] Time being of the essence, when the doctors and nurses had info I needed to know, saying I was his step-daughter paved the way…..everywhere.

When Donald hated the assisted living apartment and wanted to go home, I just hadn’t the heart to send him back to the ‘squalor’, as I described it to him. His house was a snapshot of 1970 something, when he bought the house for his Mom and him.  While Donald was surviving the assisted living, I threw out all his furniture, his drapes, the carpeting, the kitchen floor linoleum. I threw out piles of shoes, clothes, jackets and all the accumulation of an old bachelor without his partner to keep him up-to-date.

I bought him new used furniture. I had new tile and carpeting installed, cheap but serviceable and I made him pay the flooring bill. I bought new curtains and bedding and bathroom stuff. I found a wonderful lady that I knew who would clean regularly and keep his house ‘up’. I found him a companion, Buddy, the cat. Donald was adamant that he didn’t want or need a cat. I was adamant that Donald needed someone to look after and it had to be easy on him to do. Since Donald didn’t make decisions, I, being Gilberta’s daughter, won that round. Guess who LOVESSSS BUDDY? They are a pair!

Donald got to leave the assisted living. He lives at home with Buddy, follows his routine; Shannon’s restaurant, lottery tickets, groceries, every day. He loves his ‘new’ house. It stays clean. He watches a lot of TV and often donates money to Jimmy Swaggert. When I groaned a little about that, he said he thought it was a good idea to grease the palms, because he wanted to be sure when he died that he could dance again with my Mom.

As long as my trips home to check on Donald continue, I am still doing  something  for my Mom. When Donald leaves this earth, I expect the spotlight will be on that single couple out on the dance floor.

I love you Donald.

3 thoughts on “DONALD, My Stepdad

  1. (Again, speaking in code: ever contrite; ever not far from snarkiness–as in “alter”? Now on to important stuff–I just love Donald. I loved hearing you tell me in person about “rehabbing” his house and I love reading about it again. I don’t really believe in luck per se, but you are a blessing to each other–in the deepest, most profound meaning of that word. The other thing about your writing, your real mastery of the craft (envy, envy, envy) is that the story is front and center, your touch so deft that you never get in way of the story. As Jan says, well-written, indeed.


  2. Touching story. Enjoyed your blog posts. Fun to reminisce about the good ole days. I grew up in Atlanta too. When I say I’m going home, home is always Atlanta even if I have lived in Michigan for the past 40+ years.
    JQ Rose


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