Last night at book club, we talked about bigamy as revealed in Silver Sparrow by Atlanta author Tayari Jones. Our group shares both a natural curiosity and a mutual history from reading the same books. Members of other groups to which I’ve belonged might have looked at me like I was the odd crone out or talked amongst themselves about something else entirely if I’d told my story to them. Instead and since Iliana had already laid out an-everyone-serve-your-self repast of sparkling cider with shortbread cookies and b/c most of us are on arthritis, heart or other meds and don’t do libations, we stone soberly considered bigamy or as in my telling, near bigamy.
My husband’s father Sonny was a vigorous, tanned, and energized senior who passed suddenly, now nearly two decades ago. He was, as one of the speakers at his funeral quipped, “a man on top of his game.” In fact, at 83, Sonny’s golf scores the week before his catastrophic heart attack were his best ever. As we survivors afterward stood stiffly in the church hall line to receive attendees, I located a chair for my mother-in-law who’d been ailing recently and, understandably, wasn’t herself. What we didn’t know was my father-in-law had been covering up her advancing Alzheimer’s about which we then had no idea.
At any rate, Bets sat tall and proud, flowered handkerchief in hand, without tears. I thought she was so brave when in trounced a younger woman who might have been wearing a big hat? In October? Really? Sunglasses for sure, strange for our small coastal town in Maine…
Sobbing profusely, she declared, “I loved Sonny, I truly loved Sonny…”
My husband muttered barely under his breath so perhaps the woman heard his terse words. “Who is she? Do we even know her?” Without missing a beat as I shook my head indicating definitely not, she announced herself.
“I’m Karen Rigatoni.” Whatever her actual last name, we totally forgot so out of place was hers among those we recognized of family members and friends gathered there.
“Didn’t your father say anything about me? Didn’t he tell you anything?”
No-oo. Only later did we find tucked into Dad’s desk a birthday card addressed to him signed “Love, Karyn.” It was a retro looking card featuring a brown photo of some random uniformed WW II pilot, marginally appropriate in that Dad had been a flight instructor in San Antonio when my husband was born in 1944…. Still boisterous, Karen/Karyn flounced in front of my mother-in-law restating loudly so heads turn ’round, “I loved Sonny, I just loved Sonny, so much!”
How old was this person? How unbelievably tactless. Maybe in her thirties?
Remaining poised and calm, Bets rose up to sit higher and straighter in her chair than before. She was a distinguished, patrician figure. Her hair shone strikingly white as she distinctly and precisely pronounced, “Well, EVERYone loved MY husband.”
We would have noticed a pin, total silence. Everyone heard. End of story except for one postscript.
To answer a book club member’s question: We read in the local newspaper a couple years later that a Ms. Rigatoni married a Mr. Smith but nothing more…. More importantly, since that moment crystalized in time, Bets has remained forever perfect and distinguished in memory. She became my guiding star… You go, girl! But then I guess she did… go… gone.
I miss her. We all miss Bets.
Back toTayari Jones and her book about bigamy. It’s a quick but definitely a worthwhile read with a bonus after-charge: Take heed, beware!