We moved in with Jay’s mama and daddy and she immediately started laying down her ridiculous rules. They ranged from ordering me not to throw tampons down the toilet, to telling me how much toilet paper I was allowed to use.
My routine was getting up, changing and feeding the girls, watching Jay get ready to go to work and dreading the rest of the day.
Her routine was getting up, making herself the usual grapefruit juice and Vodka cocktail and starting her day. She would putter around the house, fixing drink after drink and then go next door to see grandma Franklin, so she could complain about me. Rita and grandma Franklin both knew that I had absolutely no used for her. Like Rita, she was a meddler, albeit, as I said, she was a behind the back meddler.
She would whisper advice to Jay about how he and I were raising our children and I didn’t like that…..not to mention that she kept calling me by his first wife’s name. We had different versions of the same first name but she and Jay were divorced. Jay and I were married. It shouldn’t have been that confusing.
I never corrected her, but Jay’s brother, Joe did. Through the years, it transformed into me having the audacity to straighten out poor old grandma Franklin, who was only trying to be friends. It was just one more thing that could and was held against me.
I had also met Jay’s paternal grandma and I absolutely treasured her. Grandma Hutt was one of the sweetest, kindest people I had ever met and other than Ted, was the only person who immediately made me feel welcome. Our relationship enraged Rita and she was almost insane with jealousy.
One day Rita decided that we would pick up grandma and we would all go eat pizza. She ordered a pizza, a pitcher of beer and three glasses. She filled up the three glasses and sat one in front of me and one in front of grandma. I moved mine away and she angrily picked it up and sat it right back in front of me.
I was too disgusted to eat and my children certainly weren’t old enough to eat pizza so we just sat there and watched Rita eat a few slices and then literally guzzle that whole pitcher of beer. We were getting ready to leave and she handed me the bill. I told her I wasn’t paying because she was the only one who ate or drank. She caused a bit of a scene but eventually paid.
When we got back to her house, Jay’s daddy was there and she slammed the pizza box down on the counter and said “here. Eat this. YOU paid for it.” He had his usual “I’m deaf, dumb and blind” look on his face.
The next morning, I got up and started changing and feeding the girls. Jay needed a shirt ironed so he got out the iron and ironing board. Rita blew a gasket and told him that it was not HIS job to do that. He told her he didn’t mind because I was busy with the girls. After he left, she lit into me with a vengeance about my place, my job as a woman and particularly my job as a wife.
I absolutely could not take any more of her violent outbursts, so I packed up the girls and headed for grandma Hutt’s house.
I called Jay and told him I was there and that I was going to stay there. He didn’t give me any trouble and said he would call me when he got off work.
From that day until the day we left, my girls and I spent every single day at grandma’s house.
She was one of the few family members who actually acknowledged, albeit quietly, that Rita was not only an alcoholic, but was an abusive one.
She rarely commented and when she did, it was simply “I don’t know why Rita says and does the things she says and does.” She told me that one time she had angered Rita, and in retaliation, Rita stood at her front door and used her porch as her “spit can.” It was winter and it was freezing, but Rita stood there with the front door wide open. Jay’s daddy finally had enough balls to tell her to shut the door and come back in and sit down.
Grandma was virtually set aside. Rita was emphatic when she said “as long as my mama lives, we’re going to have Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at her house” which meant grandma Hutt was left out.
It was clear to me from the beginning that Rita made the rules in that household. I felt sorry for grandma . She never got to see her oldest son on Thanksgiving or Christmas day because she had been labeled unimportant. I could strongly identify with the unimportant label and it would for me in the coming years, not only be underlined, but capitalized.
I had gotten to know Jay’s aunt Fanny (the one Rita said that I didn’t want to end up like.) She was staying with grandma and we all three had a lot of fun. Grandma wore “coke-bottle” glasses and aunt Fanny and I would tease her by saying “when she takes her nap, let’s hide her glasses.” Grandma would just laugh and laugh.
Being around them was such a contrast to being around Rita. Never once did either of them criticize the way I fed, changed or treated my girls. They didn’t condemn me for having girls and they never demanded that I have a son and name him after Jay.
Grandma and I created a bond that remained intact until the day she died and I miss her still. I don’t know how I would have made it through that month, had it not been for this gracious, caring woman.
Jay had gotten praise and recognition at work for winning the fellowship. The newspaper had agreed to continue to pay his salary and award stocks periodically with the caveat that he would return to the paper.
We were both counting the days until it was time to leave, although I’m sure for different reasons.