W hen I was 10 my father remarried, and with this new woman came a tsunami of new things. My kid brother and I knew the tides were changing when virtually overnight Dad stopped playing honky-tonk and feeding us one of two things for every meal.
Before MaryJane's arrival, we spent a lot of time in the garage with Dad, who would at some point \yell over the crooning of Hank Williams, "CINNAMON ROLLS OR STEAK?!" -- louder if we were standing right next to him. We'd yell back what we wanted, and then we'd all get back to "fixing" whatever was in pieces in the garage. Sometimes it was a rare motorcycle, sometimes it was a fancy French Citroen from the '60s, but it was always exploded all over the garage, always drawing visitors from outside, and always stupidly expensive -- which might explain why he lived in a mobile home.
The insane meals and car projects both went the way of the dodo right after Dad got remarried in his friend's backyard and moved into a nice condo on the waterway.
Now opera thundered in the background while we shoved salmon and Brussels sprouts around on our plates, fiddling with the cloth napkins that kept sliding off our wee laps and onto the floor.
Road trips no longer ended at amusement parks or motorcycle rallies. Instead we went to Shakespeare festivals and rare bookstores. This woman was changing everything.
But despite the gross lack of cinnamon rolls and that deplorable showing she made at our first Christmas together by stuffing our stockings with "traditional European treats" like toothpaste and soap (we cried), I loved the effect she was having. I'm not sure it's possible to be existentially bored at 10, but this little nihilist was only too happy to let the Old World fall to make room for the new one.
She introduced me to ballet, she let me stay up late and watch BBC "Mystery" with her and she bought me enormous books I could barely carry, trusting I'd understand the content inside.
I wonder now sometimes how she felt, if grappling with us was harder than she made it look, if sometimes she would run to the bedroom, shut the door and slink to the floor with her hand over her mouth, asking herself if we'd been raised by wolves. Hopefully, she just thought of us as endearing little street urchins straight out of a Dickens novel, dirty, foul-mouthed, and lacking in manners, but hungry for more.
I've been thinking about MaryJane and all the changes ever since the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, and that's because one of the other new things she brought into our lives was Uncle Steve and Uncle Ken. They weren't really our uncles, but half the people we referred to as family weren't blood related to us anyway.
What set them apart, what made them new and different, was they were the first openly gay people we'd ever met. Ken was a window dresser at Macy's in downtown San Francisco, and Steve was a hair stylist. Their house was filled with art and small dogs and shrieking laughter fits and I loved them. And on their 10th anniversary, they went to Paris just like any other couple might. But despite the rings they wore, Steve and Ken couldn't get married. It fills me with bone-crushing happiness to think of all the Steves and Kens out there who now can.
And although MaryJane passed away many Christmases ago, (the stockings that year had chocolate tucked into crevices left by toothpaste and soap), I like to think she'd be as pleased with this new change as I am.