Vickrey writes: Divorce usually leaves chaos and bitterness in its wake and can often take years for families to heal. But time provides perspective, which can remind us of the good things that resulted from the marriage. Such was the case with my ex-wife Mollie, whose free-spirited style loosened up our family and ultimately taught us some life lessons that helped us become closer. Here’s our story:
BY BOB VICKREY
In the darkness of her driveway, we were engaged in the age-old ritual of making out in the front seat of her Ford Mustang, when a light suddenly shined in my eyes through the passenger window.
A tall man dressed in a security guard uniform asked me to roll down my window. “That’s my dad,” she said with some slight alarm in her voice. I did as I was told, as her dad said to me, “I would prefer if you would come in the house and formally introduce yourself to Mollie’s mother and me.”
As I guardedly stepped out of the car, I could see that although he had a stern looking face, he didn’t seem nearly as menacing as he had appeared when he shone the light in my face. “Come on in and I’ll make us some coffee.” My tense shoulders began to relax as I noticed a devious little grin emerging as we walked toward the front door.
I had met Mollie while visiting my old high school campus where one of my former classmates was now teaching. When I entered the student lounge, which hadn’t changed significantly since I’d been a student there a few years earlier, I spotted a pretty girl with long black hair, and approached her to ask directions to Mr. McComb’s room.
She looked at me indignantly and declared, “I’m not a student here. I’m just here to give a neighbor of mine a ride home.” I apologized for the confusion, but to me, she didn’t look much older than most of the students there in the lobby.
When I glanced down at her bare feet, she explained that she had been late for the pickup of her neighbor and had raced from the car without her shoes. But as I examined her more closely, I began to believe this young woman with a colorful ribbon woven through her long hair might just be flirting with the hippie lifestyle—and those bare feet were likely no accident.
She grabbed my arm and said, “Follow me; I know exactly where you can find Mr. McComb. I was just jerking you around a little.” I found myself somewhat disappointed that after she showed me his office door, she immediately headed back up the hallway without further fanfare.
After I finished visiting with my friend, he walked me back to the lobby where I found myself scouring the room for any sighting of my new friend, but alas, she had apparently already left.
However, when I walked outside, I looked across the street and was delighted to find a smiling dark-haired young woman staring back at me from her Mustang. She signaled me to join her there. We sat in the front seat as she peppered me with questions about my time at Galena Park High. After listening to my stories, she shot back mockingly, “My gawd, you must be really old!”
We had a short first visit that was interrupted by a knock on the window from her neighbor who had been delayed. When I started to open the door, I asked for her phone number, but she instead asked for mine. She playfully offered, “I might just call you sometime if I get around to it.” (I would later discover that she loved old Garbo and Hepburn movies, and probably picked up her spirited exchanges from those two strong-willed women.)
When she called a few days later, she nonchalantly asked, “So where are you taking me? You do drive, don’t you?” (Yep, it was definitely the Garbo influence!)
I did indeed come to know her unique family, and in time—after we married—would become our own version of the “All in the Family” television series of the early 1970s.
We all settled into our roles, with her father Dick and his crusty personality playing Archie Bunker, while Mollie’s mom Annie portrayed a somewhat less-daffy Edith. I was the liberal self-righteous Michael, and Mollie was the perfect Sally Struthers character Gloria, who played the family referee and kept peace. We became so conscious of our individual roles, that occasionally Dick would chuckle and call me “Meathead.”
I remember the first time Mollie came to my parents’ house to meet our own cast of characters. At our first dinner together, my dad asked her to say “grace” before the meal, which I thought unusually presumptuous of him to think everyone had the same mealtime rituals.
Even though Mollie had likely never uttered a public prayer in her life, she plunged right in by folding her hands under her chin while studying the various dishes my mom had prepared. She began: “Dear God, it’s Mollie Jean here; I hope you remember me even though it’s been a while. Looks like Ms. Vick has outdone herself here with some yummy-looking sweet potatoes and green beans, but I’ve got my eye on that fried chicken drumstick. And by the way, I’ve got dibs on that one!. Let’s eat! Amen.”
During our lunch, Mollie began telling a story about an aunt of hers whom she described as a large woman with big physical features. She blurted out, “I’m telling you Aunt Lizzie had hooters out to Kansas!” all the while animating her story with appropriate hand gestures. I looked toward the end of the table at my dad who had just taken a bite from his plate, and as he tried to stifle his laugh, I began envisioning him spewing his cream corn across the table.
My brother Ray happened to have been in town that day for our dinner, and afterward, pulled me aside in the living room with a big grin on his face. He said, “Bob, she’s a keeper! She’s just what this uptight family has always needed—someone who is totally uninhibited and who has finally broken the ice for us.”
After living in Houston for the first few years we were married, we decided to make a move to Austin, a place we had both always wanted to live. Both sets of parents were initially disappointed, but we assured them there would be many visits in the future.
Our three-hour driving trips back to Houston actually brought our families closer together. After one of our visits, as we were saying our goodbyes in my parents’ home, I hugged my mom, and then shook my dad’s hand—as was our custom. I saw Mollie looking our way as she approached us saying, “No, no, no! I’ll show you the way families say goodbye.” She placed my arms around my dad’s back and put his arms around my shoulders. Now give it a try guys!”
We did give it a try, and after noticing a few misty eyes around the room, that hugging ritual became an ongoing tradition in our family.
We made one more move during our marriage to Southern California where I’d been offered a job transfer. I would have never taken the position had it just been up to me, but when I called Mollie at work, she said, “Are you kidding me? Let’s start packing.”
In later years, when we began drifting apart, as so many young couples often do, she began missing her Texas family even more. She eventually returned to Texas, and in time, remarried. Her new husband was a guy whom she had known during her high school days.
Since we never had children, we had little reason to stay in close touch with one another after our divorce, but I did see her again years later when she attended my mom’s memorial service in our home church in Galena Park.
Just before the service was ready to begin, my brother Ray nudged me and pointed toward Mollie who was standing in the aisle next to me. He reached over to me and took her hand and said, “Mollie dear, please come sit with our family. You belong here.”
Bob Vickrey is a writer whose columns have appeared in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald, and was cited by the California Newspaper Publishing Association for column writing awards in 2016 and 2017. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.