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In the Slade family, there are three Davids — Al’s father, his brother and his nephew. In order to keep everyone straight, Al’s brother was called David Warren by his mother, but is now known as David. Al’s nephew was called Davey until he grew up, now known as Dave. But to me, he’ll always be Davey.
At our last writer’s meeting, Davey and I laughed about all the nonsense of the family. We have these stories between us about this crazy family. I told him, “You won’t believe it, but I’m wearing the mink coat.”
His response was, “How did that happen? I didn’t get anything.”
“I guess, I was the last one standing.”
Davey and I were always the outsiders. He was from a first marriage, raised outside of the grasp of family ties until he was 18. I came into the family at 18 by marrying my Sweet Al. Davey and I have always had a kindred tie — we didn’t belong in the family. Not by our choice, but by the matriarch of the family, Grandma Slade.
Grandma Slade had her own value system. Neither Davey nor I quite fit on the family tree. When Grandma Slade talked about her will, we were never included. The other members wondered if they were or not. She was always changing it. It was a standard joke among the family: “Are you still in Grandma’s will?”
She was always mad at someone in the family, and with a sharp pencil on a long yellow tablet, she cut them out. She had beautiful antiques and family heirlooms. There was an ongoing list of who she didn’t want to have them.
Al and David’s names were permanently written in ink, they were not negotiable, even though her sons didn’t live to her likings. David went through women like changing shirts and my Sweet Al fell in love with someone she didn’t choose and who didn’t measure up to her standard.
One of her biggest pet peeves about David was how well he treated the women he dated. It was important that whoever he dated look perfect. If they were going to accompany him to a social event, they had to look their best.
He’d give the girl his credit card to use at his favorite dress, jewelry and shoe stores. He made sure they wore expensive clothes and beautiful shoes to match. They had their hair, face and nails done at his favorite hair salon.
David’s mother was always mad that he spent his money on silly young women who didn’t deserve to be treated with such lavishness. After all, they might not be in the picture the next week and she believed they were all after his money.
She thought David Warren should buy her expensive clothes and pay to have her hair and nails done at his favorite salon. After all, she was the mother and had done so much for her two boys.
Over the years, David went through many young wives. His mother was in a state of flux. She’d give her family heirlooms to him and his new wife to adorn their home. Things changed, the wife didn’t love her son anymore and she wanted her things back.
No one was good enough for her two boys. David bought his third wife a long fox coat and also a long mink coat. The ship hit the sand. Grandma Slade let everyone know how displeased she was. “How could he buy some little snip two fur coats? I’m his poor mother, and I don’t own a fur coat.”
Grandma Slade stewed over it for months. Finally, she decided, if her own son wouldn’t buy her a fur coat, she would have to do it for herself. She went down to the best furrier in Albuquerque and put a long mink coat on layaway. The price tag was $10,000.
“I’m going to have to pay it out the hard way,” she boldly declared. “David Warren should have bought me a fur coat before he bought that little floozy one. She didn’t earn it, but got it anyway.”
That wife lasted five years and took all the mink and fox coats and jewelry with her when she left.
By the fourth wife, Grandma Slade refused to attend their wedding. The fourth was 25 years younger than David. In Grandma Slade’s mind, she was a little gold-digger and no way would she get any of her family heirlooms. She actually lasted 20 years in the family.
I told Davey that his dad was giving Grandma Slade’s summer cottage to his fourth ex-wife.
Davey said, “I didn’t know it. He’s a fool.”
I said, “And Grandma Slade would have turned over in her grave if she thought ‘the little gold digger’ was getting her summer cottage.”
It wasn’t about longevity if you belonged in the family or not, it was all about how Grandma Slade thought of you. My Sweet Al loved me and I had captured his heart. David’s wives had his money and spent it.
She contended that Poor Little Al didn’t know what was good for him. She did. All she ever wanted was for Al to be happy. And she knew who would have made him happy, and it wasn’t me. She should have picked his wife for him.
When Grandma Slade passed away, I was still standing beside My Sweet Al after 32 years. When I told my nephew I was wearing Grandma Slade’s mink coat, we had a good laugh. I told him, “Believe me. That mink coat was a thirty-two year lay-away and carried a big price tag, and I earned it the hard way.”
Final brushstroke: A good marriage is worth working for. I guess if you live long enough, things come to you, either by sticking it out, by default or by earning it the hard way.