In fairy tales the stepmother is almost invariably a wicked woman. And when I first heard of Edith Wylder in the worst of circumstances, I believed she would live up to the stereotype. In the course of some 48 years, I learned differently. So it was with sadness that I learned of her death on July 4 of this year.
In 1965 my parents divorced. Their marriage had not been a happy one for at least two years and probably longer. It was only after the divorce that I learned of my father's marriage to Edith Perry Stamm. It would be more than a year later, at Thanksgiving in 1966, that I first met my stepmother. By then, my dad and Edith were living in Fort Collins, Colorado. Edith turned out to be a kind, gracious woman, who was quite sympathetic to the situation my brother and I were in.
In the summer of 1967, when I went to stay at Fort Collins, for close to a month, I got to know Edith better, along with her sons Paul and Philip. Though she grew up in a privileged family from the Western Reserve of Ohio and had earned a doctorate in English, she always remained modest. In that summer of 1967, I remember her sitting on the sofa, knitting, and Paul came in and said, “How quaint.” She took it in good humor.
When Kathleen and I married, Edith welcomed her into the family. Since then, we've had many enjoyable visits with my dad and Edith—first in Marshall, Minnesota, then Murray, Kentucky, and finally in New where they retired. Visiting them meant the long, scenic train ride to Albuquerque, and visits in Rio Rancho and later their little adobe cottage in Corrales, where my dad, Delbert E. “Deb” and Edith lived.
My dad died December 14, 2005, of leukemia, and Edith told me that not a day goes by that she didn't miss him. During the past few years she had been working on a book to be titled “Talking Between the Rooms,” a study of the influence of John Keats on Emily Dickinson's poetry. She had earlier published “The Last Face,” which analyzed the use of diacritical marks in Dickinson's poetry.
Edith was an inspiration to many students in her long teaching career. But I know her more as a loving stepmother, who always took me seriously.
Edith's ashes will be interred Sunday, October 20 at 11 A.M., in Morrison, Illinois, next to those of Deb Wylder. There was to be a celebration of her life, but there will just be a small family gathering at the Family Chef Restaurant after the interment.
Rest in peace, Edith.