October 2006 I meet Stephanie for the first time when we have our Meet the Parents Tour. All I know about her is what I have heard from Primo via Sly and Doris: She's lazy. Fat. Speaks improperly.* Doesn't cook. Doesn't expose her children to Culture. Bad Mother. Bad Person. Woe is us that Jack brought such a Lowlife into the family. And their wedding. Trashy. Can you believe how trashy it was? All that food! And the dancing! And the way the people were dressed!
This from people who cannot leave a surface uncovered with tchotchkes - mainly frogs - in their own house and thought pressed board tables with hummingbirds were the height of elegance.
But I digress. I meet Sly and Doris and they are cold and rude to me. Then Primo takes me to Stephanie and Jack's house. They are still married. The divorce doesn't come until next year. I don't know if Stephanie has started her affair. No, an affair is not a good thing. I am not excusing it but I will tell you that there is more to that story. It's not my story and I don't feel comfortable telling it here, but if Stephanie and I ever collaborate on a book, trust me, you will want to buy it because wow is there a lot of stuff when you throw in Jack's mother (Sly's first wife) and her second husband. Let's just say buy stock in Jack Daniels and leave it at that.
So. My first meeting with Stephanie. What happens?
She opens her arms, grabs me, hugs me, says, "I finally get to meet you! Come over here! Let's talk!"
She is interested in me. In my life. How did Primo and I meet? Are we getting married? We don't know yet? We've been dating a year! Come on! Where am I from? What about my family? Can Primo and I come over for supper? Oh, why can't we spend more time together?
I like her.
And I am suspicious when I hear the stories about Stephanie's many failings as Primo and I continue to date and then marry. They do not jibe with the Stephanie I am getting to know. Shortly after Primo and I marry, Sly has a serious medical problem and needs daily help that Doris cannot give. Stephanie calls every day to ask what she can do. Sly and Doris do not accept Stephanie's help but complain that Jack does not offer.
"If they want Jack, why don't they just ask him?" I ask Primo.
"They think he should call them," Primo answers.
"So they'd rather complain than call him? And why won't they accept Stephanie's help?"
Primo shrugs. "I don't know."
"I think I know. I think if they take her help, they will feel guilty about trash talking her all the time."
We visit for Thanksgiving in 2008. The "I never did like the white meat" Thanksgiving. After hearing Sly and Doris complain about how Stephanie doesn't cook for her kids - how she gets home from work and just makes them sandwiches or the like and again, she is a Bad Mother - I decide to do some investigating. Primo and I take the kids bowling. It's his tradition with Michael, Maria and Pia. I casually ask the kids what they eat for supper.
"Oh, pot roast. Salad. Meatballs and gravy. My mom is an awesome cook."
"Every night?" I ask.
"Yes," they answer, puzzled as to why I would ask such a dumb question. Of course their mother makes them supper every night. She's their mother. They eat supper. Duh.
That evening, back at the ranch, Sly launches into another diatribe about how Stephanie does not feed the kids decent meals. Just gives them hotdogs and sandwiches. I can't stand it.
"You know, Sly, that's not true. I asked the kids about that today. Stephanie cooks. She makes meals. I don't know where you got your information."
Primo nods in agreement. I leave the room before I say anything to make things worse. But I am tired of hearing Stephanie maligned.
I tell Stephanie this story in December. She laughs. "They just want to believe what they want to believe about me. They still complain that Maura and I don't know how to load a dishwasher! We loaded it that once and it got clogged not because of how we loaded it but because it's a crappy dishwasher. I know how to load a dishwasher! Maura knows how to load a dishwasher!"
She's right. I've heard the complaint about the dishwasher. It was years ago. And yet the story lives. Honestly.
She continues. "I was there once and Doris wanted me to make the broccoli. I knew that no matter how I made it, they wouldn't like it, so I just told her I didn't know how to cook broccoli. And she believed that! So whatever."
* You know - with a specific regional accent. Let's say a New Orleans accent. That's not it but for the sake of this blog, I am changing names and certain facts, not that Sly and Doris wouldn't recognize the events I describe here. Or maybe they wouldn't. Maybe they think that everyone's family is like this.