Continued from Date nights

Illusion (1958)
I gave my heart to my love
And asked only to be loved.
Then I found to my amazement
My Love was someone else’s love.
I’d given my heart into a void
And there was nothing, nothing but emptiness for me.

I never noticed when Mr. Tracy stopped coming to our house. It was inevitable that our plumbing would eventually get sufficiently updated and repaired. As the years piled up, I’d occasionally hear mother’s rumblings about small-minded people in small towns. She claimed that all the women were scared to death that she, the new “divorcee from the East,” was out to steal their husbands. That notion was so preposterous to me, on so many levels, that I never took her seriously. I assumed that she was exaggerating as usual. Just like I assumed she was imagining things when she would jerk me along beside her as she practically ran from store to store downtown, muttering that so and so dirty old man was ogling her. Oh mom, I thought, who do you think you’re kidding? You, with your old-fashioned hair-do, sheltered from the Wyoming wind with a silk scarf in the summer and a woolen scarf in the winter? Why would any man look at you a second time?

When I started school, I realized that my mother was as old as my classmates’ grandmothers. Even though she was not yet 50, her fashion sense froze in the styles of her ingénue days. Her hemlines were too long, her waistlines too exaggerated, and her hair was Greta Garbo when everyone else was Jackie O or Nancy Sinatra. My mother was impervious to trends and cared little about what other people thought of her. She never failed to embarrass me by confronting my beleaguered teachers and lecturing them on how they weren’t doing their jobs. It is true. I was slow. I must have appeared like a complete dolt compared to Joan who had skipped two grades because she already knew so much when she started school. I, on the other hand, was always one of the last to reach academic milestones like learning the alphabet and multiplication tables. But I enjoyed school. I enjoyed my teachers who were invariably kind and encouraging to me. And I enjoyed getting out of that house and away from Joan.

Mother didn’t believe in Kindergarten, so in September 1959 I got my first taste of school. I had dreaded that first day as much as I dreaded going down the dark staircase to the even darker basement to retrieve something from the pantry for Mother. My friends had learned how to write their names already. I knew how to feed a baby lamb and clean the cat box. But Mrs. Tracy, a short, broad woman with the obligatory old lady shoes, was kind and generous with me. Oh how quickly I fell in love with my first teacher!

And oh how ignorant I was! I never put together in my child head, that Mrs. Tracy might be attached to the famous, recently widowed MR. Tracy! Then one day, Mrs. Tracy must have left something at home, or perhaps needed to sign an important paper, because our class had a visitor! Mr. Tracy, the plumber, knocked on the door. I could see his head in the glass window at the top of our classroom door.

“Mr. Tracy!” I squealed with abandon—charged and ready to leap from my chair and rush in for a hug. But Mrs. Tracy abruptly clapped her hands and told the class to take out our crayons and start coloring the handout she’d given us earlier as she strode to the door, exited, and firmly closed the door behind her.

And poor mother, when I got home that afternoon. How could I have known what my excited chattering about Mr. Tracy’s visit to our classroom felt like to my mother? How could I have possibly dreamed of the complicated gyrations of adult friendship, love, loyalty, and impatience? How could I have known that the sudden appearance of Jerry in our house was not because Mr. Tracy no longer had time to care for the bird, but simply because the new Mrs. Tracy wanted nothing to do with Jerry. The bird had been given to Mr. Tracy’s daughter by her mother before she died. There was a ton of emotion wrapped up in that one small ball of feathers.

It would be years before I finally connected the dots to realize that upon initially arriving in town, my mother, lonely for male companionship and sick to death of caring for people, had enjoyed a quick, hot, romance with the newly widowed plumber. He, attracted to the exotic new legs in town, was eager to lasso a new bride. He needed a wife. He needed a mother for his young daughter. His need was urgent. But my mother, having been unlucky in love, was cautious. She no longer had the luxury of a devoted father who could erase her mistakes. She was aware of whispers around town about the rich new trollop who’d moved into that house on Garfield. She was also aware of her inheritance, which could not be jeopardized with a hasty liaison. So she said “not yet” to Mr. Tracy’s over-eager proposal. How it must have pained her to discover two months later, that Mr. Tracy had married . . . that he had married a short, dumpy-looking, first-grade teacher who took over his house, his life, and his daughter without a backward glance—and then had the gall to steal her own youngest child’s heart as well!