THE NEW MOMMY
By Sharon Angleman
As the leaves
began to blush and dance among the trees in the fall of 1968, my life
also began a similar transformation that would forever change who I was
and how I viewed life and all its mysteries. My two younger siblings
and I acquired a new mommy. We were living with our natural mother
and her second husband when our father took a new bride.
When I heard the sudden
news I was shocked, of course, as I had always expected my parents to
someday reunite. After all, they had remarried each other once already.
But, I had grown to love my stepfather also, so I decided to accept nuptial
as a simple endowment providing an additional set of grandparents to stay
with when things at home became disrupted, as they always did.
Modern therapy might have
made things different our mother, but concerning psychological matters,
these were not modern times. Electric shock therapy was still practiced
then, and this odious method of treatment had already proven futile for
my mother. She found herself unable to cope with the demands of
parenting three children and a husband who trusted only heroin to quite
the memories of an honorable service in Vietnam. So she allowed
my father and his new wife "temporary" custody of us.
The reasoning behind this
was to allow my mother and her husband time to reorganize their lives.
Instead, however, soon after our departure she found herself in Alaska
with a new husband, and her ex-husband laid the haunting memories to rest
once and for all with the aid of a .38 caliber pistol.
I only remember meeting
the new woman, Jean, twice before moving into her home, although others
tell me it was more than that. The day we were to make our big move,
our mother dressed us in our Sunday best and packed our things in a large
cardboard box. I remember feeling unsettled looking at this box
and thinking that all that we were was in it, packed up like the groceries
delivered to my grandmotherís home.
My mother relinquished
her three children and their cardboard box to my fatherís parents.
We waited at their home for several hours before finally, with rapidly
beating hearts and noses pressed against nicotine-covered windows, we
saw the green 1964 Bonneville the new woman drove pulling into the driveway.
My brother and sister ran
to the front door squealing and flapping their arms in the air, almost
busting through the screen door. To them, this was just another
great adventure. I lingered behind a little, wanting to appear more
grown-up, all the while wishing that I too, could race and jump into the
arms of my dear Daddy.
Almost as soon as they
arrived, we were off. The drive to the new womanís home in Houston
was almost five hours from the coast of Corpus Christi, so I had plenty
of time to discern my stepmother from the back seat without being observed
Her thin, mousy hair was
piled on the top of her head in small finger curls held in place with
a million bobby pins. Every now and then she would absent-mindedly
push an escaping pin back into the confines of her homemade curls.
The hair style made her face appear painfully pinched and labored.
The skin was thin and drawn and held creases of cracked face powder.
Tiny lines of frosted pink lipstick were beginning to bleed into the pleats
around the thin lips covering tobacco stains and silver caps. When
she smiled or laughed I was always reminded of the Cheshire cat in ĎAlice
She wore sluggish blue
eye make-up that made her already cold gray eyes appear washed out and
lifeless. Dark hollows beneath them added to the stony, callous
appearance. The eyes were not lifeless, however, they were keenly
sharp and focused, like a birdís eyes, beady and searching, as if in pursuit
of prey or naughty little children. When I did collect the nerve
to look into her eyes, I had to be careful not to instinctively suck my
I could tell we were finally
near the end of our odyssey when the car slowed and we began to make more
turns. I saw a huge, stylish water tower. It was blue and
sleek and lacked the guide wires and trellises I was accustomed to.
In fancy script the tower announced its location as Clear Lake City, and
I knew we were almost there.
As the car rounded its
final corner, we passed through two large brick entrance walls.
They curved gently inward to welcome motorists to the modern new subdivision.
I saw before me the widest, longest and whitest concrete avenue I had
ever seen. I looked around in childish, wondrous fascination.
All the lawns were neatly
manicured. The trees were all small and provided no shade at all,
so different from the towering oaks that formed a cool canopy over the
cracked asphalt streets of home. To the left was a large, empty
lot. There were no wildflowers or bushes as one might expect, only
tall clumps of tired, wounded grass and stakes with bight orange paint
"Children," Jean said,
"Do you see that first home past the meadow? Well thatís my home.
Thatís were we live."
When she said this she
pointed one long, slightly crooked finger almost through the windshield
before she began to wiggle it up and down as if scolding a puppy.
I noticed how she stressed the my in Ďmy home.í Daddy glanced timidly
toward her, and I saw a strange veiled look in his eyes before he turned
"Itís lovely," I said.
I tried to sound excited
and dazzled, but Jeanís cutting, beady glance told me my ambivalence and
nervousness had indeed been detected.
There was something strange
about this house, this neighborhood. Every house on the block was
different. Some were two-storied, some had small diamond shaped
windows near the roofs. They were all large and very perfect.
It seemed peculiar that so few people were outside for such a beautiful
October afternoon. It seemed strange also that no one waved or smiled
as we drove by.
We turned into a long driveway
marked by smaller versions of the brick entrance walls of the subdivision.
Mitchell and Debbie sat squirming and whispering to each other in what
I recognized as their "private" language. Excitement and wonder
radiated from their small round faces.
Mitchell tugged gently
on my sleeve. "Look Sharon," he whispered, "itís so big and white,
just like the ones in the stories you tell us!"
"Yes, so B-I-IG!" Debbie
mimicked in chant.
"Yes, it is beautiful,"
I said. "And Iíll bet itís even better inside."
I said this more to convince
myself and ease my own extreme apprehension. The newness and suddenness
of events had left me in a dull sort of shock. But Mother had promised
she would visit often, and I had missed my father so much since the second
Our father stopped the
car and got out to open the double garage door. Mitchell and Debbie
scrambled and tripped over each other to get out and to the door as well.
I followed behind then unhurried. I was, after all, not two or three
as they were, but seven, and I should behavior like the grown-up girl
that I was.
By the time they escaped
the confines of the smoke-filled Bonneville, Daddy was unlocking
the smaller door that lead into the house. The children sprinted
past him in get inside, almost causing him to lose his balance.
With a feeble smile, a weak, craven laugh passed through his lips.
"Children!" Jean bellowed
as she came up behind us. "Do not run through this house, and never,
ever enter with your shoes on, only with your stockinged feet."
"Oh," I said. "They
didnít mean to Jeannie, weíre sorry."
"And how do you know what
they meant to do and how they feel, young lady?"
I turned and looked at
my father, still fumbling to get the keys out of the lock. He busied
himself with the task as if it were his lifeís work.
"Well," Jean said, "itís
all right this time."
Her tightly pinched face
softened somewhat as she looked down at me. "And call me Mommy from
now on, not Jeannie," she said with her tightlipped Cheshire grin.
"I am your mommy now. Kindly remember that."
I turned once again
toward my father, who had removed the keys and was entering the house.
I thought for a moment that this new womanís brutish barking at rendered
him temporarily deaf, as he in no way acknowledged the events that had
"Daddy," I said, "Mother
told us before we left that she would always be our real mommy, but that
now we had a stepmommy too. Thatís right, isnít it? Daddy?"
My fatherís eyes were fixated
on some unseen object on the floor that traveled just in front of his
slow and shuffled stride. As he walked toward the kitchen counter
to deposit his keys and wallet, I appraised his walk and his body.
He seemed somehow shorter and smaller than I remembered him being last
week. The shoulders that I had so loved to rest my head on looked
abjectly burdened. The legs that had bounced me in the air when
I sat on his ankles toiled stiffly across the white kitchen tiles.
And his eyes, which were now dully glazed and heavy, continued to stare
at the unseen object that was always just inches in front of his feet.
"Well, yes," he said in
a barely audible voice and then cleared his throat. "Yes, you do
have a new mommy now."
"Thatís right, Sharon,"
Jean said. "And it would be best for everyone that you remember
that. We will not mention Ďreal mommiesí or that poor excuse named
Liz in this household ever again. Is that clear, young lady?"
My head began to feel flushed
and hot. Even though Jean was only three feet from me, my senses
slowly started to perceive her as yards away. The entire room seemed
to be moving away from me and growing smaller. She said something
else that I did not quite understand. Her voice sounded as if it
had traveled through a large metal tunnel, resounding until it was engulfed
and muffled out by its own creation. The tiles below me felt as
if they were starting to slip away. My eyes reached again for my
father, my ears strained to hear the comfort of his voice annulling the
blasphemy Jean had just spoken, but his only concern was the consent audit
of his unseen object.
"Iím waiting," Jean said
"Oh, uh, yes," I said,
not certain what I was answering to.
"Yes, what?" Jean
"Um, I, yes...," I stuttered.
"Yes, maíam," she said.
"Yes maíam," I said as
I too discovered the fascinating unseen object, just inches in front of
my own feet now.
The thick and suffocating
atmosphere was broken when Mitchell and Debbie ran back into the kitchen
from the formal dining room. Jean raised her hand high above her
head as if in salute. The children ran carelessly into her and tumbled
to the floor at her feet, giggling as they did.
My father began to slowly
follow his object through the living room toward the back of the house
were I assumed the bedrooms were.
Jean grasped both small
children by the shoulders of their clothing and pulled them to their feet.
Their eyes widened and their tiny mouths began to form little "oís" as
they tried to wiggle free from their new mommy.
"I will not repeat myself
again," the new mommy said. "You, all three of you, will obey me,
and you will respect me. This is my home, and I have been kind enough
to let you live here. You will follow my rules, is that understood?"
The yes and yes maíam parley
repeated itself before we were sent to unpack our belongings. Because
the decision for us to change residences was made so quickly, Jean had
not had time to furnish the bedroom the three of us would occupy.
Three canvas cots had been set up as temporary beds, and a bookshelf had
been moved in to serve as a makeshift dresser.
As I laid down that night
with my doll Betsy, who I would never see again come morning, I told her
that things would be all right. The tears I shed, however, revealed
that even I did not believe this. The strange house I lay in emanated
pulsing, ominous puffs of air from vents near the ceiling. Jean
had not allowed my "dirty quilt" on the cot without a proper washing,
so I pulled up the thin sheet to prevent the drafts from saturating my
already chilled body. The musty smell of the cot and the steady
sound of my siblingsí slumbering breath provided a small sense of comfort,
but as I closed my eyes, I had the queer feeling that when I woke, the
child that I was would somehow be gone.
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