I love her family; but one of them too much – 01

Let me say this up front. I love my wife. I adore her. Meeting her was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Hell, I love her whole family, who took me in and loved me like I was their son. They mean the world to me. Maybe that’s how I got into this predicament.

I had nobody growing up. I was a foster kid, shunted around from home to home. I had difficulty relating to people, and trust was impossible. I had girls in high-school, and more in college. I enjoyed the relationships, and loved the sex even more. But none lasted very long. I had trust issues, I couldn’t commit, and I was always suspicious. I guess I wasn’t very good boyfriend material.

Somehow, Kate didn’t understand that.

I met her in a study group. I was doing alright, but she was the star of the group. She was attractive in a nerdy kind of way, but goodhearted and kind.

I could write a hundred pages of how we came to be, but I would only look like an ass, and she’d get even more sympathy. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t drive her off, no matter how rotten or inconsiderate I was. And she got to me like nobody ever did.

It’s like the Jack Nicholson movie. She made me want to be a better man.

She had the patience of Job, and the persistence of Sisyphus. I couldn’t understand why, but then again, I didn’t understand love. It took her five long years to teach me.

She changed me. Made a man out of me. Not a manly jerk, but a real man. She wasn’t alone in doing it. She had help.

Her mother adored me, God only knows why. Her father took to me like I was his long lost son and best buddy. He taught me the manly arts, which I’d never been privy to. We worked on cars, and I learned why an open end crescent wrench was called a knuckle buster. I found out how hard it was to get the grease out from under your nails, or how it tried to take up permanent residence in the wrinkles on your knuckles.

I learned there was more to alcohol than whatever was on tap, from Adam. Both he and his father, my wife’s grandfather, took me out fishing for the first time.

They were patient, and I trusted them enough that I wasn’t afraid to look the fool. I learned the proper way to tie a fishing knot, the strange naming of hook sizes and how to select the right one, where to look for the fish, the times of day, the effect of weather, of storms, of warm spells. I learned how to set a hook after a nibble, and how to release a fish without hurting it, to be caught another day.

Kate’s grandfather William, Bill, had been a carpenter. He welcomed me into his shop. The day after I got engaged he taught me how to use a lathe, a plane, a sander, and the belt saw. He instructed me on the value of caring for your tools, how to sharpen a chisel and a saw blade.

He showed me how a dovetail works, and how to build something that lasts. Adam would visit, and the three of us would talk, but it was my duty to do all the work. I’d listen to their advice, and practice on lesser pieces, while my masterpiece slowly evolved. Nine long months I worked on it whenever I could, more than half of that spent on the intricate carving. I finished with less than a week to go, all of their lessons coming together. I felt better about creating that one piece by hand than I had about anything I’d ever done in my entire life.

When I took my wife home, the night of our wedding, she knew what it was. She was speechless, and in tears.

“All yours?” she asked.

“Ours. All ours. Forever.”

She took my hand, and pulled me along. The bed was massive, a four-poster, hand-crafted headboard, with our names carved into it. She ran her hand across the blank raised space beneath. “Our children?” she asked, her voice cracking.

I nodded. “I saw your father’s. It’s incredible.”

She shook her head, pressing her face against the stained oak. “No, this one’s even better. I can’t believe you did this.”

Kate let go of my hand, which she’d clutched from the moment we entered our bedroom, the huge king-sized bed filling most of the space. She ran her hands down the wood, following the curves of the six foot tall hand-turned posts. She inspected the joints, tested the drawers built into the frame, opened the chest which was attached to the foot of the bed. She looked under the lid, breathing in the cedar smell, examining where I’d tacked down the padded leather seat on top. Every little detail, she took her time to examine and praise.

She found her father’s sole contribution, on one end of the cedar chest, a carving of a man in a rocking chair, with a girl sleeping on his lap. She had to stop for a moment to get her tears under control. Her grandfather’s addition was less subtle. An incredibly accurate portrait of my wife, her mother, and her grandmother, all around the same age, when they got married. They were beautiful women, and he captured them perfectly. I was jealous of his craft, and grateful for his tutelage.

It was their tradition for the man to build his marital bed by hand, and to customize it for his wife. I had poured my love for her into the work, and it showed, in ways I could never verbalize.

She turned to me, her eyes shining, and hugged me. “You, Glover Shethloh, are worth every bit of fight it took me to land you,” she said, smiling. “Now wait here.”

She left me, confused, standing in my wedding tux, alone. She was only gone a minute, before she returned with a huge wrapped bundle, an inch wide red ribbon holding it shut. “My wedding gift to you.”

I opened it, and found what she’d spent her time on while I was working on our bed. It was a huge hand-quilted bedspread. Many of the squares had needlepoint designs. All the dreams we had discussed were displayed, a large house with a white pipe fence, the New York City skyline, a beach sunset, the Eiffel tower, more than a dozen altogether. As I studied each one, recognizing the hours of labor that went into them, I was humbled.

I started recognizing the tiny initials, indicating which ones her mother, her sister, and her grandmother had contributed. It was masterful. She showed me how it could be used to hold a down insert in the winter months, and used empty as a simple bedspread when it was warmer. I could see the pride when she pointed out the details I was too ignorant to understand. What I did know was that it was equal to the gift I’d given her, if not more.

She helped me remove the bedspread I’d bought. Her father’s insistence that I buy something inexpensive, since she’d want her own linens and spreads, now made sense. We left the sheets on, but put our wedding quilt over the bed. We stepped back and took it in.

It was us.

I was the rough hard wood, slowly shaped into something worthy of her. Aided by her family. She was the beautiful quilt, dozens of different pieces I had slowly learned to understand, melded into a thing of beauty, all her secrets exposed. She covered me, hiding my faults, protecting me, completing me.

We had been lovers for over four years, but that night, on that bed, under that cover, it all changed. I was home.

Throughout our years together, that bed was our savior more times than I care to recall. When we’d fight, all we had to do was sit on our bed, reminded of the love and patience, our family, our goals, our intentions. I’d caress the spread, examining the new pieces she’d added over the years, our three children, the Alaska cruise, our favorite little B&B. She’d touch the headboard, with each new name carved in. I’d apologize; she’d insist she was wrong. And we’d forgive each other in her family’s way, on that bed.

Most of the family get-togethers were at her grandparent’s home. They had a big old house, with a huge chunk of land in the heart of the newest, most desirable suburb. It had been a country when I met Kate. But the city had grown to absorb them. It was a place of serenity, in the middle of insane growth and bustling activity.

We met as a family often. Her sister had been married once, and had no children. Our three, two sons and a daughter were loved and spoiled enough for any dozen children.

Her father, grandfather and I were best friends. We fished, we hunted, we worked in the garage, or in the old man’s carpentry shop. I learned so much from them, I could never pay them back. They gave me something I’d never expected to have growing up, something I’d given up on. A family.

The women were good to me. Affectionate, caring, thoughtful, and protective of Kate and my relationship. When I fucked up, and it was more often than I care to admit, they would sit me down, and tell it like it is. They loved me enough to be brutally honest when needed, and to gently guide me when appropriate. I was reminded of our wedding quilt, which Kate studied regularly, looking for problems, fixing anything before it got too bad.

That was our marriage, and we had a loving family which helped ensure no string unraveled, no gaps appeared, and nothing was torn. Some might call it meddling, but I never considered it that. Alright, I might have on a few occasions, but I never dwelt on it. I understood it was done out of love.

I love my wife, and I loved her entire family, all three generations, as if they were my own, the family I never had, that welcomed me with open arms and filled a gap in my heart I hadn’t known existed, until Kate.

* * *

We’d been married twelve years. I was thirty-seven, she was thirty-five. Our oldest, Bill, was eleven, Adam was nine, and our angel Hailey, named after Kate’s mother, was six. My wife had fought me on the names, but it was one time when I wouldn’t back down. I would honor the men and women who had raised her, and loved us, and I wouldn’t set foot in our bedroom until it was settled, knowing how often I lost an argument once we were in bed.

I did give in a little on Hailey. I wanted to name her Kate, after my wife, and her grandmother who she was named after. She didn’t want to name her daughter after herself, and offered Hailey, which was the one time I compromised.

Kate’s father had just retired, and we were all concerned about our grandparents. Her grandmother seemed to be suffering from memory loss, and we were starting to see the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s. It was devastating.

We did all the medical tests, visited an array of doctors, and tried different medications. They seemed to help a little, but it was sad to see her slipping away. We didn’t talk around it, in denial. It was not our family’s way. We were honest with her, and with each other, as much as it hurt.

We all helped where we could. Kate, her sister and her mother took over much of the cooking and cleaning, spending considerable time over there. The kids were weekend fixtures, and Grandma loved to have them around. Nothing made her happier.

Dad and I, along with the two namesakes, handled chores, yard work, errands, car work, whatever was needed. Grandpa always insisted he could handle it, but more and more of his time was being spent with Grandma.

I worked from home much of my time, as a software contractor, and whenever an emergency popped up at the old homestead, I was happy to deal with it. We only lived a couple of miles away, in one of the new neighborhoods that seemed to pop up two or three times a year where we were.

The men still went out together, five of us now, for an occasional fishing trip, a day hike, or some hunting. I watched Dad and Grandpa impart their wisdom upon my boys, and I once again thanked my lucky stars that Kate never gave up on me, even when she probably should have.

Grandpa, at seventy-nine years old, was spry and healthy as a horse. He still worked in his shop every day, and supplemented his retirement income with his artistry.

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