I woke up with the birthday boy this morning. Jeromy is 38 today. He is not excited about turning 38; he says it’s as good as turning 40.
I never know what to buy him for his birthday – or any other holiday, so I normally let him write the menu. He always makes it easy.
This year, he chose pork steaks, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and brownies – good ol’ southern, heart-stopping, rich fare. Anything with white gravy is an Oklahoma staple. Most of the time, he chooses chicken fried steak rather than pork steak. We are a healthy crew.
When I gave Jeromy his birthday hug this morning, he said he couldn’t believe he is 38.
“I’d like to go back to when I was 20,” he said.
“Whoa, there! Not me,” I said. “I was married, pregnant and didn’t have a clue when I was 20. Neither did you,” I reminded him.
He thought for a minute and decided 20 might be a bit too early in which to recoil. He decided the age of 28 would be a good age in which to morph.
I thought about when I was 28 – recent college grad, living in Junction City, Kan., single mom, looking for love, confused but loving life. Sounds like a bad singles ad. I’ll pass on going back to 28 as well.
One of my ex-mothers-in-law told me once that she wouldn’t relive her twenties for any amount of money in the world. At the time, I was 24, so I couldn’t understand what was so terrible about being 20-something. Now, I get it. Reliving my twenties would be like starting a new job all over again. I love learning, but I hate starting new jobs – training, introductions, new things to remember, different routines. It’s exhausting … as were my twenties.
The times Jeromy and I do like to remember, though, are those first weeks we started dating. We were spontaneous. We did about anything on a dare. We talked, listened and loved without hesitation.
The first night we met, he asked me to spend the weekend with him and his family at Kaw Lake. I found a babysitter and hit the road.
When I showed up at the campsite that first night, it was dark. He met me by the campfire with a smile and a “hello, pretty lady.”
He started introducing me to his family, first his dad, then his sister.
As he said the words, “This is my sister, Ashley,” I turned to see my future sister-in-law smiling intently at me. She was staring a hole through me, actually. She looked familiar.
“Do you remember me?” she asked.
I stared and stared. “I should,” I said. “But I don’t.”
“I was Joseph’s fourth-grade teacher,” she said.
Mrs. Clowdus! How odd.
When Joseph was in fourth grade, we lived in the country between Meno and Ames. Joseph attended school in Lahoma at Cimarron Public Schools. I had visited with Mrs. Clowdus on several occasions. We were even pregnant together. I had Jaynee just shortly before she had her first son – now my nephew – Laken. I even took Jaynee to class after she was born because Joseph wanted to present her as his show-and-tell for the day.
I was almost speechless standing there by the campfire. My mind traveled back to our time in Meno. It was a miserable time. I hated my life then. I lived with an alcoholic who was never home, and when he was home, we wished he was somewhere else. I hated living where we lived – stuck in the country in an old farmhouse we couldn’t afford. It was equipped with asbestos shingles and well water we couldn’t drink. The sand that flowed out of the faucets from the well made a good loofah in the shower, but that was the only thing useful about it. We certainly didn’t feel any cleaner after bathing.
After recollecting that time while entranced by the campfire, I became a little bitter. I realized that Ashley and her husband, Gene, were our closest neighbors during that awful time. They lived just on the outskirts of Meno, the last house to the south, which meant the next house, five miles away from them, was ours.
All I could think was, “There I was, hating the man I was hell-bent to change for the good, and my son’s teacher – our neighbor – had a perfectly good brother on the market.”
Why not sooner than later? I had to wonder.
I guess later is better than never, though. So, here we are, almost five years later, in our home, with our family – the family he chose to adopt and take care of forever.
It was also that weekend at the lake I dropped the bomb about the kids. It was Jeromy’s dad who pried first. Jeromy had not gotten around to asking too many questions – probably for fear of the answers … and with good cause!
“Do you have any kids?” Richard asked me as we sat around the picnic table the next afternoon.
I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. Jeromy was throwing some ribs on the grill and stopped dead in his tracks to hear my answer. He was looking me square in the eyes when I announced, “Yes, I have three kids.”
“You have three kids?!?!?!” said my future husband.
“Yep, I’ve got a whole mess of them,” I said.
“Wow,” he said. He wiped the sweat off his brow and went back to cooking.
His dad kept asking questions about where they were, how old they were, what their names were, etc., while Jeromy listened with an ear cocked our way. We at least got all the details out of the way, and the rest just kind of fell into place.
Jeromy met the kids several weeks later. The girls warmed up to him pretty quickly. Joseph came around eventually. I haven’t made Joseph’s life very easy “dad-wise,” so he was not very trusting and still has issues with father figures – with good reason, and I take all the blame for that.
The other day, however, Jeromy said Joseph was walking out the door and threw out an “I love you” before he left. That’s progress – good progress, which has been taking place for the past five years.
It’s funny how we all grow together in different ways. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything – not even to be younger, but especially not to be 20 again. Yuck!
Happy birthday, honey. Thank you for growing older with us and making our family complete. I love you.