It was just a few weeks after I started at the Tower when Esther’s mother and step-father came the first time. It turned out, then, that they came every month or two but never stayed longer than a weekend. Pete was a retired factory worker, and Lila was always afraid somebody would steal their pension and social security checks out of their mailbox, so they always had to get back for some check or another. It was only about ninety miles to their town, and they would usually come on a Friday morning and leave Sunday afternoon. Lila refused to let Pete drive after dark – she always had plenty to say about what he did or didn’t do, such as how often to take a bath – and she said her eyes were too bad for highway driving day or night. It seemed that one check or other arrived every Monday, so they could never stay beyond Sunday, or maybe that was just an excuse not to stay too long.
Pete was seventy-something when I first saw him, and Lila was several years younger. She had wire-rimmed glasses, very thin, fine hair that started pretty far up her forehead and was always cut short, and was a small woman, but there was never any doubt about who ran that show. She had a way of setting her thin lips together, wrinkling her eyebrows, and tilting her chin up just a little that meant nothing on earth would change her mind. Sure, that’s a good thing – if a person’s always right, which is generally not the case – but if you’re stubborn when you’re dead wrong, that’s another story. There was one big thing that Lila was not right about.
Pete was a quiet, easy-going guy and had been hard-working all his life. He didn’t feel unlucky about that and figured that was what he was meant to be. I think he thought that a working man was the best thing to be – if he got treated fairly, but did one ever? He belonged to the Socialist Labor Party, and the only time he was not easy-going was when he got started on “The Economic Question-” he pronounced “economic” with a short “e,” which was not the way it was done around where we lived – as he called it. Then he would start lecturing everybody and generally stand up and wave his arms to help make his points, which were that Capitalism was all wrong, and his party had the right slant. Usually it was Bill who set him off, and I think he did it on purpose. Bill was like that; he loved to tease people and make fun of them in ways they didn’t realize. Anyway, once Pete’s fuse got lit, it took all of them to settle him down, and even then it was a long job. Sometimes he’d get quiet for a few seconds, then think of something and flare up like a rocket again. This didn’t happen so often, though, and I liked Pete. I liked Lila, too, only she could have a mouth like a rattlesnake when she wanted to.