Roof. Food. Clothes.
I heard him say
though embarrassed deeply
These three things
are all you need
the rest is luxury
The four adults stood in the near-empty room in deep, awkward silence. My mom, my new dad, and my two new grandparents had watched the big truck pull away, and weren’t saying anything to each other.
Earlier that day, just after lunch, my new grandparents had arrived to meet their son’s new wife and her three daughters. I was the youngest. Being only seven at the time, I didn’t understand my mother’s meaning when she told me they might not like me. I remember telling her that I liked everyone, and everyone likes me, so I was sure they would, too. She smiled and gave me a little hug and said ‘I hope so’.
Looking back at my youthful naivety, I realize she, and my Nana, had tried to explain to me what ‘catholic’ was and how my new dad’s parents didn’t want him to marry a woman with three daughters. My Nana had explained it to my older sisters, and they seemed to grasp the meaning. It escaped me completely.
My dad was from Portland, Maine. A place I imagined as a faraway land where handsome, happy men came from. I wasn’t far off the mark. Growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida did not give me great insight into snow-covered homes of Maine, where people were dependant upon each other through the blizzard conditions they faced throughout their lives.
Dad met mom when I was five. At that time my mom, two sisters and I were living in a house that had mice and other nefarious creatures. I recall the ones I feared the most (and still give me nightmares) were the flying cockroaches. But my new Dad would come over in his company truck, when he was supposed to be working, and kill them for me. He was my hero. I didn’t realize he had just stopped by to say ‘hi’ to my mom. It worked out to my benefit, nonetheless.
When Mom said yes to Dad’s marriage proposal, Dad bought a house with three bedrooms and one bathroom. It was pure luxury to my standard. My oldest sister, Sally, even got her own room.
Mom and Dad bought a whole house full of all new furniture, and we were threatened within an inch of our lives if we got caught jumping on it. Which, of course, we did. Then we got our butts whupped! So, the furniture was indeed off limits as trampolines.
I remember a little while later, Dad came home and wasn’t driving his truck. I asked where it went, and he said the boss kept it. But Dad said he was gonna get a new truck from a new place and I shouldn’t worry about it. I didn’t. He was my hero, and I didn’t worry about anything with him around.
My new grandparents had made the trip from Portland to West Palm Beach by car. Mom had expected them that morning, and tried to keep her three daughters clean for their arrival. But they didn’t get there until well after lunch.
I met my new grandmother, and I could tell she didn’t like me or my sisters at all. She smiled, but she wouldn’t let me hug her, and kept sniffing like she smelled something bad. My new grandfather allowed a brief hug, but said his back hurt from all that driving. After the three of us were introduced, we were told to go outside and play. I nearly ran. These two grown ups kept looking at my mom like they were mad at her, and I didn’t want to be there if my mom started yelling at them about being polite.
Sally sat on the back step while my other sister and I played. Soon we heard a big truck pull up to the front of the house. We went up the side yard and saw it was from the same store my mom and dad bought all the furniture from. Two big men got out and went inside to talk to my dad. They had papers in their hands and scowls on their faces.
As we watched, the two big men brought out our new couch and put it in their truck. Next they took out our new dinner table and chairs, then the beds and dressers. All the new stuff mom and dad bought just a little while ago, they were taking. I was going to go inside and ask why, but Sally wouldn’t let me. She made us go to the backyard and stay out of the way.
After we heard the truck leave, Sally let us go in the back door, after I promised I wouldn’t get in the way of the grown ups. That’s when I saw the four adults in the empty room. My new grandmother sniffed again, and walked out the front door. My new grandfather ran his fingers through his hair, looked at my mom and said, “Nice to meet you,” and he left, too. They got in their car and drove away without saying bye to us.
My mom started to cry. My dad put his arms around her and she buried her face in his chest and cried like I had never seen my mama cry before. He held her like that for a little bit, then I heard him say, “It’s OK. You told me before, we’ve got a roof, we’ve got food, and we’ve got clothes. Everything else is luxury.”
That’s how we were raised.
If I asked for money, I’d say “I need ten bucks”.
It was answered with “Excuse me? You Need ten bucks?”
“Yeah, I need ten bucks to go skating tonight.”
“No, you Want ten bucks. You only Need a roof, food and clothes.”
Those things my dad provided. And sometimes, he’d throw in ten bucks.