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A TRUE GENTLEMAN

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April Ryan | Jun 11, 2018, 6 a.m.
Bill was a great stepdad.

A TRUE GENTLEMAN

Dad died December 15, 1963, a much too young forty years old. Mother and I were devastated emotionally at a time when death, dying, and grief were basically social-silence—ignoring loss, people asked, “How’s the weather?” Dark and cloudy, with pillows full of tears. Mother and I comforted each other at home, using masked smiles to get through days, weeks, and months with family, friends, or strangers. Her bravery was inspiring.

As a beautician, she had heard widowed stories of loss, sympathizing with their vulnerability. Remembering their experiences, she tried not to make major decisions for six months, preferably a year, needing to think clearly as time lifted our emotional fog.

Clients volunteered names and descriptions of bachelors, suggesting there would come a time when she should start dating. When she was ready, the phone rang with introductions. A variety of suitors knocked on the door, bringing an assortment of introductory gifts, one carried a large box of tasty doughnuts—thanks but no thanks—others brought bouquets of flowers, and boxes of chocolates. The long list of “not you, nor you, or you,” grew for various reasons.

Then along came Bill. I don’t know who introduced them, but he was tall, squeaky clean, and oh-so polite. He took Mom out for a few quiet dinners, then invited her to an evening at the opera. Mother was beautiful, and Bill handsome in his tux. I waited up, like a fussy parent. When Bill drove away, I excitedly asked about their night at the opera. Shaking her head, she announced, “I’m not sure about him. Every time there was a lull in our conversation, he talked about the new metatarsal pads in his shoes.” A short time later, the phone rang. Bill thanked her for a nice evening and asked her out again. She accepted, adding, “I hope you don’t spend more time talking about your metatarsal pads.”

Funny how getting to know someone develops prompts to change conversation. “Metatarsal pads” became a verbal signal, “Time to talk about something else.” We all three laughed at our private joke.

Bill planned a day trip on The Princess Marguerite passenger liner to Victoria, B.C. to celebrate his English heritage. I started the early morning day groggy-eyed and sleepy as we entered the ship, searching for coffee and breakfast on our four-hour voyage.

After a few hours passed, Bill and I walked the promenade deck. He stopped again at the coffee shop, buying a pack of cigarettes. I thought it was strange, he didn’t smoke, but he knew I tried to hide my smoking from Mom—she blamed Dad’s cancer on his years smoking. We found a couple of seats on the open-air deck, sat down, and he opened the pack of cigarettes, offering me one—I felt very “Bette Davis” as he lit my not-so-secret vice. In clouds of puffed smoke, he said, “I want to ask you if you’d approve of me marrying your mother.” All of a sudden, I felt very powerful, inhaling slowly, taking my time to say, “Yes, you’re good to each other.” I was happy for both of them.

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