My mother, The Betty, was still running the show days before her death in September of 2019. She made sure to remind me to be patient with my dad (I’ve called him Nubs since the day they married over 50 years ago), saying he can’t be rushed no matter what’s happening or how much you nag him. This was laughable-out-loud since her annoyed voice echoes in my head thinking of the times she urged him to get going. But since her passing, things seem to have moved at a whirlwind pace.
Nubs started dating a year or so after The Betty died. He was fixed up by friends and would report back to me after each date. It was cute at first, but I started wondering about the women and their intentions. After all, the guy was an awesome catch considering the swarms of singles on the hunt in Florida. He was an easygoing person, had his teeth, owned his home, still drove, loved to dance, see movies and plays, go out to dinner and talk to all kinds of people. After he went on more than two dates, I seriously wondered if I needed to have “the talk” with him.
Don’t laugh. Maybe unintended pregnancy wasn’t an issue, but I had read about STDs making the rounds in independent-living residences. I didn’t see Nubs as a player, but who knew about the ladies he was meeting. But, The Betty was a tough act to follow and no one quite sparked his interest beyond a few weeks at a time.
We did set up a few guidelines. Did she insist on picking up or at least splitting the check after a few dates? Did she offer to have him over for dinner within a reasonable time frame? How was her relationship with her family? Did she have respectful things to say about any former partners? Did her beliefs and values match his? This was all laughable, too — since no one in their right mind considers me a romantic relationship expert.
Then, Nubs laid eyes on Louise at a gathering held by mom’s friend Ronnie. It was a long shot, but they connected, and have been together ever since, having lots of fun and offering each other companionship. Louise has brought my dad into her large, lovely Italian family. They’re constantly on the go but each has their own life. Louise respects that Nubs might sit on the couch in his skivvies to watch football all weekend long if he wants to. That’s relationship goals for anyone.
But while the going has been smooth for them, it’s been tough for me and I feel beyond conflicted and crappy about it.
For the longest time, I believed no one could miss my mother as much as my brothers and I did and do — except for Nubs, of course. And now that Louise is in his life, am I the only one (I need to leave the boys out of this) who aches for her beef and barley soup, humor, unsolicited advice and sassiness? Am I the only one who walks into their house and can still smell and feel her presence? I want him to keep missing her as much as I do so someone will understand how empty I still feel. But I also want him to be happy and to have someone who cares about him as much as Louise does.
Time has indeed passed. The Betty didn’t have to maneuver through the pandemic, the 2020 presidential election, the January 6 insurrection, or the reversal of Roe v. Wade. All of that would have upset her deeply. In turn, Louise has been there for Nubs for doctors’ appointments as his night driving comes into question and his eyesight is failing him. She is there for him. Full stop.
Oh, and did I mention they have a lot of fun?
One more thing. Louise has my dad looking fly. He’s wearing stonewashed skinny jeans and henleys. He sports invisible socks with his boat shoes and has morphed from classic to trendy. It’s different for sure, but I like it. Just as I like Louise and Nubs together.
My mother would appreciate with all her heart Louise being there for my dad. And she would assure me that neither of us has been replaced. She would tell me to remember whose daughter I am, to be gracious, to be grateful, and to be positive. She’d tell me to understand that compartmentalizing their relationship isn’t betrayal, and that loving acceptance isn’t the same as forgetting.
And she’d definitely tell me to hurry up about it.
Natalie Haberman Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at [email protected].