Natalie. Her name was Natalie.
As far as I can recall, Natalie was the first female that did not shower me with unconditional love. The explanation follows.
Immediately following the protracted kidnapping nightmare--the 16 months I spent on the lam with a “custodian” my father had entrusted me with---I was a protected, coddled, cuddled and celebrated rock star within my familial borders. So much so, that many years later it became patently obvious to me that residual resentment coming from within those familial borders had manifested itself in many ways and hurt my mother, but not me.
Still though, I was that long-ago rescued toddler in so many minds, I could come this close to choking the life out of my cousin Renee’s body in front of St. John’s church and still have my incendiary temper be explained away as some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Trust me, if you’ve never been kidnapped and taken away over state lines, being kidnapped and later being reunited with your family does have it’s embedded perks. Been there, done that.
I suspect that heredity has made me into a lunatic of sorts. Only, my brand of lunacy differs from my father’s being that, thanks completely to his impromptu actions, I was influenced by a cavalcade of folks who should have never influenced me in the first place. Namely, I am a mish-mash of jumbled, often conflicting influences.
Anyway, one fine summer afternoon, I found myself at Natalie’s house, just a stone’s throw away from Coal Street Park during it’s previous heyday. To this day, she still possesses the high-water mark for utter rudeness. The gold medal. In retrospect, I realize she was only doing what good mothers did back in the day, they sought to protect their daughters from boys that came sniffing around. These days, far too many mothers have no idea who their daughters are dealing drugs with.
As the days turned into months, I did absolutely nothing to bolster my case for being accepted as the first-ever son-in-law, although, in my defense, many of the distasteful transgressions on my part were coincidental, if not downright accidental.
For instance, after years of bopping around town in hand-me-downs, I was hired at and I thrived at Percy A. Brown & Co.: Foods of Distinction. In other pedestrian words probably foreign to most people today, I had a weekly paycheck. And as such, I had new clothes, new sneaks and a slew of new sports accoutrements. But I was spending untold hours with many new coworkers who were much older than me.
So, one day, when I was all of 15-years-old, Natalie and I ran smack dab into each other on North Sherman Street, she reacted very noticeably and very badly to the giant stogie that was protruding from my mouth. I did it, Wifey paid for it.
And then there was Christmas. Ah, Christmas.
I was quite taken by the entire glam-rock thing at the time and thanks to my usual play list, so was Wifey. So for Christmas, I bought her a copy of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” on vinyl.
At the time, Cooper’s albums always had some novelty about them. As for School’s Out, as fate would have it, the vinyl record had a pair of edible paper panties stretched out over it. I did it, Wifey paid for it.
Oh, and then there was Thanksgiving 1979, when I completely flipped out and beat the very last snot out of my brother-in-law right before we were to partake of Natalie’s hours-long cook fest.
This obvious transgression on my part was beyond reprehensible. The short walk from Coal Street Park to Fulton Street took on the feel of the Batten Death March. This was the nadir of my existence as a son-in-law, or so I thought.
When the circling clouds of dust cleared, my usual, knee-jerk excess was quickly brushed aside because of the recent appearance of Natalie’s first-ever, 3-month-old grandchild…Peace Rebecca Cour. Lo and behold, I did it, and Wifey didn’t have to pay for it.
And therein, at least for me, was the acceptance, the admittance or whatever you might call it, that while Natalie knew deep-down that I was a seriously flawed character, I was a seriously flawed character that not only loved and cared for Wifey, but loved and cared for that little bundle of newfound joy named Peace.
Despite the many and obvious shortcomings of mine, Natalie knew. Natalie knew she had at least one daughter who had far grown beyond her control. But more importantly, she knew she had a daughter who she no longer had to fend for or worry about. And from what I have discerned, there is no greater feeling of relief than that moment when you realize that your somewhat grown child is on the right path to a good life.
Anyway, that’s what I’m claiming from this most unfortunate of passings. I’m saying that Natalie knew Wifey would be okay in the long run.
33 years later this summer and still counting.
Despite that stogie.