A Valentine to Our Stepmother

Recently I was shopping with a friend and she said

Why do you know all the good brands?

I stopped for a moment, but I didn’t come up with much of an answer. After I returned home, it came to me. I know about brands of clothes and shoes and a lot of other things because of our stepmother Beatrice.

Cover of "Dinner at the Homesick Restaura...When she came into our lives, I was fifteen and my sister Lindy was thirteen. Our sense of style was totally under-whelming but luckily we were teenagers and looked pretty good in whatever we put on. The first time I went shopping with Beatrice, I was looking for a black bathing suit. My stepmother said it made me look too old and she selected a turquoise two piece with lots of lace. It was cute and more appropriate for a fifteen year old girl.

After that, Beatrice made sure Lindy and I dressed in up-to-date fashions. She discussed clothes with us and pointed out the labels we should look for.

Beatrice had very strict Ironing boardstandards for house cleaning. Everything was in its place at all times; this was pretty much the polar opposite of our mother. We learned to do dishes following the meal and make our beds every day. Nothing was allowed to be out of place, which was a total switch from what we were accustomed to, but we adapted. It is because of Beatrice and her exacting standards that today my house is clean and organized.

One of my favorite stories is about one summer when Dad was sick and I had gone home to help. I was taking a one week trip and my step-sister Sissy came to stay with Beatrice and Dad. When I returned home, the first words out of Beatrice’s mouth were

She’s had the ironing board up all week!

This was said in the same tone you would use to say that someone had held you at gunpoint all week.

I rushed upstairs (to our bedroom where I knew the offense had been committed) and started taking down the ironing board. Sissy came in and said

Oh, she told you. I don’t see what the big deal is. It’s in the bedroom.

I calmly explained as I put the ironing board away

You know it makes her crazy.

Beatrice couldn’t stand for anything to be out of place–even an ironing board in an up-stairs bedroom.

Cover of "Malice in Maggody (An Arly Hank...As an adult, my stepmother took me to Talbots and Chico’s. Today I dress the way I do because of her and her direction. She is the one who suggested I start getting my nails done and she is the one who suggested reading Ann Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Beatrice discovered the hilarious mysteries written about the imaginary town of Maggoty. We loved Malice in Maggody. She and I enjoyed sharing the titles of good books, and she would sometimes say

You haven’t told me about a good book lately.

The last book I suggested for her was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and she had trouble following it. I was disappointed since it was one of my favorite books.

In some respects my mother and my stepmother are very different. And in some respects they are very much alike. Like all of us, they have many dimensions. When I think back on the things I learned from Beatrice, I would just like to say to her “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Thank you for being a part of making me who I am.



  1. Other Mary says:

    A good reminder for each of us to say “thank you” to those people in our lives who made a difference. Thank you.

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