I am resuming our saga of courtship and marriage hopefully close to where I last left off. My Viking is a fast mover – I think I’ve mentioned that before. So, one hot summer day in June of 84 he came by the house to see me. “I did something today,” he says. “Something you may not like.” Time for 20 questions – which soon turned into 40, then 80. The man was seriously nervous about SOMETHING – but was being cagey as to what. Eventually I got it out of him that he’d bought me some jewellery. What kind? I ask. “Well you can take it back if you don’t like it” sez he. Which of course told me absolutely nothing about what it was. Finally he told me it was a ring – again I ask What kind of ring? Did it have a gemstone or was it a band? Just what in the name of the seven lost books of magic was this thing??? Literally 2.5 hours after he got to the house and this conversation started he says I guess I need to ask you something first….. and he popped THE question. What I can’t figure to this day is why he had any doubt what my answer would be. OK yeah, we hadn’t been dating long at all – but just because you get engaged doesn’t mean you have to get married right away. In my mind there was plenty of time for that. We took a quick trip to the jewellers where he showed me the ring he’d put on layaway. It was lovely – small and delicate. I officially got the ring 3 months later when he appeared at my work and slipped in on my finger in front of all my co-workers. AAWWEE! And then – time to meet the family……. here’s where the trouble started – cue the soap opera music in 3,2,1….
He’d told me his family was different than mine, – product of a shotgun teen mom/sailor marriage that turned sour pretty quickly. My father in law came home from a 6 month deployment to find his wife 4 months pregnant with the Vikings sister. Hmmmm…… I later heard reports from family members that his mother was a less than stellar caregiver…Contentious divorce ( big surprise) with my husband and his sister literally being fought over in the airport, when his Dad took the kids and went to Tacoma WA. The Viking ended up being raised by my father in law and his second wife – who had 5 kids of her own from previous marriages. They had one more together to “cement the clans” and my husband ended up in the middle of 8 children. He never got along well with his step mother unfortunately. They butted heads pretty much from the get-go. He was 4 when his dad remarried. The short story is that my husband started running away from home when he was 14. He left home for good at 17 and moved out here to see if he could have some sort of relationship with his biological mother. So his biological mother was the first one I met. We actually didn’t live too far from each other, and I found out that he had a much younger half brother. His mother took great care to make sure I heard her version of the story and I was naively sympathetic. My soon to be husband wanted little to do with his step mother – and therefore his family on the west coast, so we focused on the family out here.
I should say I am the product of a divorce also. But my parents divorced when I was 19 years old under much different circumstances. There were no custody issues, no backstabbing, no Jerry Springer-worthy moments – it was all relatively civil and drama free. So, I confess to being very much a fish out of water when it came to knowing what to say or how to deal with the venom, the lies, and the vipers nest of unresolved issues I got thrown into merely by saying yes to a marriage proposal. I was in way over my head. The Viking is fond of saying he likes most of his in laws better than some of mine. (Most of his family turned out to be pretty cool, but there are a few doozies in there….) When he says this I can’t help thinking about Bilbo Baggin’s Birthday Speech in The Fellowship of the Ring – ” I know less than half of you half as well as I’d like. And I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” LOTR moment, finished – thank you.
The first in a series of missteps with the biological mother occurred over a set of plastic handcuffs I thought would be an awesome gift for an 8 year old. Obviously my future mother in law thought differently because I got the first of the sniper kamikaze phone messages to the effect that presents such as these were an invitation for the 8 year old to misbehave and she wanted nothing further to do with either me or the Viking…. oh the writing on the wall – sad to say it was in ink invisible to my eyes at the time. I insisted that we apologize profusely (thats your MOTHER honey) and we thought the fence was mended; and it was – for a little while anyway.
At some point we decided to let the folks on the West Coast know we were engaged and made the phone calls. A little awkward at first- at least for my part, given all the stories I’d been told by the Viking. But they seemed welcoming and when asked what they preferred I call them said whatever I was comfortable with. In my family in laws are called by their first names unless the relationship is extremely close. I grew up hearing my father call my grandparents Virginia and Fran. My paternal grandmother lived with us and my mom always called her Gramma. So anyway that’s what I did – started calling them by their first names. It wasn’t long before my mother got a phone call from his stepmother (who forgot about the time difference and woke my Mom up at 1am). “We’re so hurt that Donna doesn’t call us Mom and Dad.” My mother suggested she take it up with me – since by that time I’d moved in with the Viking anyway – AND I was well over 21 to boot. She never did call, but I started calling them Mom and Dad when I spoke with them – always referring to them in conversation by their first names. And I made sure to tell them both that they should have told me they had a preference from the start. Of course, my mother in law insisted she had….. Argument. On. The first of many. The Viking just laughed and said “I told you so – why do you think I’m 3000 miles away from all that”?
I quickly discovered that if his stepmother didn’t legit have something to be upset about – she’d stir the pot and get something created. *Sigh. For example: Our wedding announcement was a little tricky. Both the Bride’s and the Groom’s parents were divorced. How to word things. My mom and I decided to just list the blood relations and leave it at that. We used the current married name of the groom’s mother, and referred to my mother as the former Mrs. of my father. There. All figured out. NOT. When his stepmother got the announcement in the mail she blew a gasket. “I raised that boy! My name should be on the announcement!” Did she have a valid point – possibly – but given the nature of the relationship between her and the Viking??? Proper etiquette is not as simple as common sense sometimes. My mother in law was the type of person who pitches a fit if they aren’t in what they consider their proper place in a receiving line at a wake. I remember she literally saved every sympathy card and flower card sent to her father in law’s services and made sure everyone knew who sent what. Everyone also heard about it if someone hadn’t sent something and she thought they should’ve. The Viking’s biological mother was not really showing her true colors yet – so I figured I was lucky to be batting .500 in the mother-in-law department. It only took a few years of marriage for me to realize I was in Double Trouble. Lucky, lucky me!
- Tales from the Northland, or – How I Met and Married the Viking (dje1231.wordpress.com)
- Tales from the Northland: A Viking Courtship (dje1231.wordpress.com)
- Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That! (dje1231.wordpress.com)