A great love story?

The Year of the Book 7-day writing challenge is ON!  Here’s my entry for Day 1.  To play along, just write something every day this week and let me know by replying here.

I’d like to imagine there are numerous love stories to be told from my family’s history. The evidence, however, does not bear out such an hypothesis.

My maternal grandparents, Coleman and Lela, slept in separate beds for all the years that I knew them. My paternal grandparents, Yannis and Demetra, slept on separate continents.

My mother, Shirley, left my father, Vassilis, after he stabbed her in the belly when I was a baby. She hid with her sister for a while, then returned home to West Virginia and the parents she thought she’d escaped after graduation.

My alcoholic father also returned to his Greek homeland to be supported by his own mother and siblings. Vasillis later married a wonderfully kind woman, a nurse named Georgia. She took care of him both physically and emotionally. But when she ran out of medicine for her own illness, Vasillis would not let Georgia’s sister in the house to deliver the needed meds. And she died.

The closest thing to a love story I can tell you is that my mother eventually remarried when I was eight or nine years old. Lloyd made her laugh. He took her out to the movies. He gave her a life beyond just working two jobs and taking care of me. She moved out of her parents’ house again, though I remained there until the end of elementary school.

I would sleep over with mom and Lloyd on the weekends. I tasted my first spaghetti and my first pizza during those weekends. Most everything was roast beef or chicken and potatoes in grandma’s kitchen. I was a picky eater, and so I can’t honestly say I enjoyed having strange food on my plate. Now however, I make spaghetti mom’s way when I want comfort food.

The weekends with Lloyd and Shirley let me spend more time with my mother than I had spent with her in all the previous years combined. We would play board games or card games many weekend evenings. After I moved in with them, before seventh grade, we would eat dinner together in the living room. Mom would cook and Lloyd would set up tray tables in front of the sofa and his recliner while we watched television. It was a new kind of family dining for me. It represented freedom, I suppose.

But oh, how they fought. My mother had a vicious temper, and she never forgot a grudge. Lloyd was easy going, but also succumbed to alcoholism and cigarettes. I remember mom waking me some nights to ride with her into town to fetch him from one of the bars or taverns. Once, she left him overnight at the jail when he was picked up for DUI. I was too young to recall if the loss of his license was the reason he lost his job, but it’s hard to imagine otherwise now.

I was often sad for my mother. Finances were a constant struggle. I learned early about switching utility payment envelopes and checks so that the electric payment went to the phone company, buying at least an extra week’s time to come up with some money.

After high school graduation, I came home weekly from West Virginia University to teach a couple of local flute students. I would have dinner with mom, and then drive back to college. We always ate at a restaurant. Mom never cooked much beyond spaghetti or pizza.

When I moved to Ohio for more school, the trips home became less frequent. After I married Keith, we would visit two or three times each year, staying only two nights at most. A larger dose might have been lethal for all involved.

I can’t say I ever really knew my mother, but I believe her relationship with Lloyd grew much stronger after I left home. I was horribly condescending toward my step-father and his hillbilly tendencies. Perhaps my absence freed her to love him more completely.

Oddly enough, when my mother died, I finally came to love Lloyd as well. Where Shirley portrayed only confidence and self-sufficiency, Lloyd was vulnerable and able to accept the help I had to offer. We became friends and talked on the phone each evening.

So perhaps the great love stories of my family are left for me and my son to discover along life’s journey. Or perhaps they are simply to be told from the perspective of a single point in time, when the relationship gods shined a kinder light upon my ancestors. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that we all must have something to grieve in order to sufficiently relish a fleeting moment’s joy.

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