A matriarch in her own country

I enjoyed talking with my nephew at the Southwestern Christian Writer’s meeting held in Durango. My nephew is an associate pastor with Calvary Chapel. He was invited to talk about his book, “The Christ Virus.”

Dave Slade, my nephew, shares his father’s name. They both live in Albuquerque. Everyone thinks Al’s brother, David, wrote this Christian book. Never. We both laughed at what kind of book his father would write. It would be something like “One Thousand Pick-up Lines,” or “How to deal with your Exes and Exes and Exes,” or “Sugar Daddies Need Love, too.”

I told my nephew I wrote about his father wearing black leather. He reminded me that in one month, his father would be 80. He said, “Grandma Slade was something else, too. You should write about her and this crazy family of ours. Do you remember all the funny things she used to say?”

“No, I was too mad at her to think she was funny. But, the only way I dealt with her and Al was laughing at all their nonsense. If I didn’t have a sense of humor, I would’ve killed both of them. I could write a thousand stories about those two. So, maybe it’s time to write about This Crazy Family of Ours.”

When I arrived home from the writer’s meeting, I had an email waiting for me. It read, “You have a gift for humor. Finish that second book and think about sticking something together about our crazy family.”

I sent an email to him, “Al’s mother always thought a book and movie should be written about her life. She wanted to play her own part. She would turn over in her grave if she thought I would be writing her story.

“I’ve just scratched the surface with David Slade in his black leather and his girlfriend with the saggy knees. Touching the Matriarch is another story. It’s like standing on Holy Ground. I’ll have to take my shoes off for this one.”

From the first day I met Al Slade, his mother let me know I was not of their class. They had doctors and lawyers in their family. Funny, to this day, I’ve never met a doctor or lawyer in the Slade family.

No one was good enough for Mama’s two boys. She called them Poor Little Al and David Warren. She told everyone on many occasions how she almost died giving birth to Poor Little Al. From that day on, Al owed her big. And, My Sweet Al believed he owed her his life.

I should’ve got the first hint when Al and I began to date. He decided I should look like his mother. Can you believe it? She was 50 and I was 17. He told me his mother was a model for Neiman Marcus in Dallas and she knew how to dress. She dressed in expensive clothes and name brands and he wanted me to wear his mother’s clothes. Talk about Norman Bates and the Bates Motel.

While we were dating, he brought me several of her dresses to wear. He said I would look fashionable like his mother who was a southern belle from Tyler, Texas. It was 1959, the days of hats and gloves, fur collars, big shoulder pads and 3-inch heels for every occasion.

She told me up front she wore a size seven shoe. Any foot bigger than hers was way too big. She bought expensive shoes from Paris Shoe Store on Nob Hill. She spent her days shopping at Kistler-Collister Dress Store and Margo’s.

And guess who was with her? My Sweet Al, my future husband. He spent hours growing up, waiting by the dressing room door for his mother to come out and model for him. He waited to see the latest styles on his mother, the former model of the 1930s. He loved beautiful clothes, too.

My own mother didn’t help matters. She said, “Look at how a boy treats his mother and you will know how he’ll treat his wife.”

I watched how Al treated his mother. He treated her like a queen, a matriarch of her own country. He lavished her with Vogue magazines, chocolate and flowers.

When I came into the picture, everything he did for me took away from her. Poor Little Al was caught between the queen and the girl he loved. The more he reached out to me, the more she pulled at him. I’ve always given her the credit for holding our marriage together; she didn’t know it, but she made me determined to stay in it and fight for My Sweet Al. She fought to destroy the marriage and I fought to save it. And the story begins …

Final brushstroke: I should’ve got the hint, but when you’re 17 and in love, nothing matters, except I wore a size eight-and-a-half shoe. I could never fit into her shoes, and she never let me forget it. Now I’m writing her story; talk about sweet revenge.

Reader comments

From a reader: “About your article, ‘Black Leather.’ A man pushing eighty wearing black leather, a woman would have to be rea—–ly drunk and in a dark room to be attracted.” — S.O., Pagosa

This story was posted on May 1, 2014.