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TRYING TO UNDERSTAND.


          One day, during the following month, while Bronco napped and Dad was at work, Mom showed me pictures of Kenneth.  I gazed at the man dressed in an army uniform; his service cap cocked over one eye.
          “Here’s one that was taken shortly after we married,” Mom said as she handed me a photo.
           Mom appeared young in the picture.  She was wearing a print cotton dress, and even in the black and white photo I could tell she was blushing.  The man standing beside her, with his arm around her shoulder, was a few inches taller.  His dark hair, parted on one side, waved back from his forehead and his lips were drawn into a pleasant smile.  I wished I could see the color of his eyes.
          “Who’s this?” I asked Mom, pointing to a second man and woman in the picture.
          “That’s Pa Bolding, you grandfather.  Well, at least I called him “Pa, and that’s his wife.”
          “Is she Kenneth’s mother?” I asked.
          “No, Kenneth’s Mom and dad were divorced and both remarried.  Kenneth’s real mother, Mrs. Murphy, lives in Arizona, and Kenneth has a half brother and sister from her second marriage.”
          I was trying hard to keep everything straight in my young mind.  I listened with rapt attention, not wanting to miss anything.
          Mom continued, “I really enjoyed Pa and his second wife.  That picture was taken when we visited them in Texas.  They don’t live there now.  I heard they moved to California.  Lucky...Kenneth is in California also.  He has started his own business out there."
          Mom laid a couple of pictures before me and her eyebrows knit together a she continued talking...
          “I really should never have married Lucky, because I didn’t love him.  In many ways we were both immature,” her voice had a sadness and regretful as she spoke.
          She seemed to forget I was there and her words came as old memories.  I listened as she reminisced of a marriage that had never had a firm foundation.  She spoke of jealousy, accusations, arguments and separations.  She spoke of Lucky (I noticed she used his nickname and only with conscious effort did she call him Kenneth), joining the army and being stationed overseas.  Lastly she spoke of a woman he met in England.
          "We were finally divorced.  I felt guilty, and had a hard time holding my head up around Magdalena.  All the town gossips had a hay day, because very few people got divorced.  It was considered a disgrace.  Many of them thought I should have stuck with my marriage no matter what.  But, they didn’t have to live with it. "
           "You and I had moved back home after you were born.  My family lived on the outskirts of Magdalena at that time,” Mom’s expression softened and a smile played across her lips, “Every one of my brothers and sisters treated you like their own. "
          Mom rummaged through the pictures and handed me one.  I recognized Mom and her sister Ruby.  They were sitting on the hood of an old car.  Their hair was braided and wrapped on top of their heads and they were wearing sloppy shirts and rolled up jeans.  It was obvious, from the photo, that they were enjoying themselves.  Behind them, one on each side of the car, were two men making faces at the camera. 
          Mom laughed, “That’s Deryl and Gene Gaines.  I dated Deryl and Ruby dated Gene.  They were a lot of fun.  They lived in Socorro and they would drive over on Saturday nights.
           I dated Deryl and Slim during the same period of time.  I couldn’t decide whom to marry.  Deryl and I were like a couple of kids, just having a good time.  Slim was more mature and ready to settle down.  I made up my mind to marry Slim, but when he told his parents they disapproved because I was divorced and had a child.  Slim married me anyway.”  Mom’s face mirrored the rejection she felt as she continued,
          “For awhile, after we were married, Slim’s folks wouldn’t allow me to come into their home.  You and I stayed outside in the car while Slim went into see them.  He was upset over the situation, and they must have felt they would lose him, because they finally did invite you and me into their house."
          Understanding flooded me as I listened to Mom.  I could feel her hurt and I wanted to reach out and comfort her but I didn’t know how, so I just sat quietly and listened.
          Mom straightened herself and began putting the pictures back in order.  She seemed to be trying to pull herself back from the past.  She looked at me as if she wanted me to comprehend what she was going to say,      “Slim has been a good father to you.  He adopted you so you could bear his name.  He has even taken a firm hand in disciplining you, because I had a hard time doing it,” Mom’s voice became softer, “Remember at the church in Philipsburg when you sang the solo?  Why, he got tears in his eyes.  He cares about you.”
          Mom’s words hit the cords of my heart.  Did she know I was wondering if Dad loved me?  Did she know I felt distant from him?  I had spent a lot of time remembering the times he had disciplined me and was having a hard time remembering when he had shown me love.
          Mom didn’t tell me if Dad was aware of my new knowledge that he wasn’t my real father.  Instinctively I sensed that he knew.  He seldom teased me anymore, and I felt that he was sterner.  Of course, there were times lately when I thought he didn’t have a right to tell me what to do; after all he wasn’t my father.
           I never expressed what I was thinking.  Perhaps he could see it in my eyes and mannerisms...perhaps he feared he had lost his fatherly standing with me...perhaps...perhaps...I never knew because we didn’t verbally communicate.  We were two strangers, who had always known each other.  An invisible chasm separated us.  Each of us longing for it to be the way it had been, but neither of us knowing how to make the crossing.
          It would never be the same.

Gloria (5yrs old), Daddy Slim, Bronco (6 months old.

Bayard, New Mexico 1949

1949...Bayard, New Mexico. I began pre-first in Bayard...finished the 2nd half of the year in 1st grade in Sharon Springs, Kansas, with my Aunt April, while Mom and Slim went to Montana on a job search..