THAT TIME MY MOM MARRIED A LION KILLER
When I was three, my father died in a plane crash. The attorney who handled my father’s will was a lawyer named Gerald, a big, bearded guy with an expansive gut, an ex-wife, two sons, and an adopted daughter. Within a year of my father’s death, in 1999, my mom married Gerald in a small ceremony behind our house in Sanford, a tiny town outside Raleigh, North Carolina.
She and Gerald hadn’t even gotten back from their honeymoon when she realized she had made a mistake. His personality grated on her in a myriad of small ways. But she didn’t want to quit that fast. And so began our new life with Gerald, the small-town attorney and big game hunter.
By any measure, Mom and Gerald were mismatched. She enjoyed gardening, interior design, reading and traveling. He enjoyed hunting, hunting and hunting. He was a conservative who feared the fascists would come take his guns. She had subscriptions toNewsweek and Time. His house was dark, wood paneled, and decorated like a hunting lodge. The place Mom designed (which he moved into) was a white stucco postmodern house that looked like she plucked it out of California or Miami.
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In fact, the whole town was wrong for Mom, who had moved us there from New Jersey (and convinced her parents to also move there from Arizona) in order to raise us around my father’s large extended family. Now, she was stuck in a town she had nothing in common with, with a new husband she disliked. I, at four years old, was blithely unaware of all of this. My more sensitive sister, at ten, was starting to get the picture.
One of my sister’s first memories of Gerald is seeing a picture of him in his study, crouched behind a dead lion. Mom knew that he liked hunting when she married him. That wasn’t abnormal in central North Carolina. But she soon found that hunting wasn’t just a hobby for Gerald. “It was an obsession,” Mom says. “That was by far the most important thing in his life. He expected his family to understand how he felt about it, and to bend their life to meet his needs.”
When waterfowl season opened on Thanksgiving, Gerald had to go out hunting. “So everybody had to hold Thanksgiving until he got back,” Mom says. “It could be very late, between hunting and cleaning up, and getting home and putting the dogs away.” Dinner had to be pushed back from one p.m. to around six to accommodate him.
Gerald wasn’t a sociopath, like some animal lovers paint hunters out to be. He wasn’t mean or abusive. Mom describes him as honest, and at times funny. But he wouldn’t have won a father or husband of the year award either, and soon my whole family came to intensely dislike him.