The Step Family

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January 6, 2012 by Tiffany A. Robbins

“Have a beer with me,” TJ said as he lit up a cigarette on the lawn of our parents’ house. The evening was typical of a sweltering Alabama summer. The nearby honeysuckle gave off its sickening sweet scent attracting even more bugs.

I hadn’t intended to drink that night since I would be driving to my sister’s house to sleep, but TJ’s pleading expression convinced me. He’d been chastised by his mom and sisters for his lifestyle ever since we’d arrived for my father’s funeral, and I had no doubt their judgments against him were not unique to this occasion. I was the only other one there who dared to fess up to our Southern Baptist family that I consumed alcohol on occasion. Poor TJ didn’t want to drink alone, and I couldn’t blame him. We’d just returned from Dad’s viewing and we were all finding comfort were we could.

My sister must have seen the look in his eyes as well. “I’ll drive,” she told me, and we all sat down in my father’s various lawn chairs under the crape myrtle tree.

We were an odd group of siblings, thrown together by a marriage and separated by distance. Yet as the empty cans of Bud gathered between us, our common bonds emerged.

“Johnny was the meanest bastard I’ve ever known.” TJ said. His assessment of my dad was spot on. None of us could do anything except laugh in agreement.

“Remember that summer we tore apart your Jeep and rebuilt it?” I asked in my alcohol induced reminiscing. “Two weeks it took us to remove that one, single leaf spring from it. We’d spent hours every day wailing on that thing with the sledgehammer and the pickaxe and the chisels. Then every day, Dad would come home from work and yell at you for being lazy and not getting the stupid thing off.”

“Longest two weeks of my life,” TJ laughed and gave us his signature smile. “But you know, Mom told me recently about the day we finally got it off. Remember, we finally just took the handsaw to it and cut if off. Mom said that Johnny was standing behind the carport wall watching us and he was jumping up and down and pumping his fist in the air right along with us when it finally broke loose. He never would have shown he was proud, but it’s nice knowing that he was anyway.”

My eyes were moist as he handed me another beer.

“I think he was hardest on you.” I told him. “Maybe it’s because you were the only boy. I know he always wanted sons and all my mom gave him were girls. Or, maybe, it’s because you were the youngest and your mom always coddled you so much.”

Our sisters all shook their heads in agreement. Dad had been downright cruel to TJ. He was only mean to the rest of us.

“Yeah, he was nasty alright, but once you girls were all gone and I finally got my driver’s license, I had a lot of fun rebelling against him. You should have seen the veins in his neck bulge and his face turn red. Why do you think I started smoking and drinking?”

I had to smile. TJ had finally learned how to cope with my Dad and he was healthier than most of us for it.

“You know,” I said, “I overheard him telling Grandma and Grandpa one time when I was little that you were the most worthless one of us, but that you were the only one who would amount to anything. I never knew just how right he would turn out to be. He had to have been so proud of you, TJ. I know the rest of us are.”

TJ finished the last swig of his beer and added it to the pile. Then he said, “I think I’m going to take Mom up on her offer. I think I’d like to do Johnny’s eulogy tomorrow.”

*This is a somewhat fictionalized real occurance. To my family: this is not meant to be offensive, but rather theraputic. I love you all and I love my dad. I considered changing names, but we all know who its about & I appreciate honesty.

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