on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

The Gift of Stepfamily

This post is the fourteenth in a series, “Lessons from my Father, Lewis Marler,” who lived from 1921-1998.

A long-time friend of my father was Hudson Baggett.  They went to seminary together and remained in touch with one another over the years.  They regularly teased one another, laughed together, and had a sense of humor about the Baptist denomination they served, which I saw as a healthy thing.

Hudson eventually became the editor of the Alabama Baptist newspaper, but I knew him more like an uncle growing up.

A couple of years after my mother died, my father got a phone call from Hudson. “Lewis, I know a very pretty lady in Jasper, AL who I want to introduce you to.  She’s beautiful, smart, and is a school teacher.  Her husband died around the same time Martha Lou did and she doesn’t have any children.  Yep, I should introduce the two of you, her name is Jimmie Ruth.”

All pretty women in the South have double names.

“That sounds good to me,” my dad responded.  “Let me know when I can meet her.”  After all, it was hard to find a woman to date when you ruled out women in your own congregation like my father did, plus had two kids at home.

A few weeks went by.  My dad called Hudson.  “I thought you were going to introduce me to Jimmie Ruth?” he asked.  “Oh yeah, that’s right, I need to do that.  I will soon, I will write her and let you know,” as he hung up with good intentions.

At that point, my dad knew that if he waited until Hudson introduced them, he would be an old man.

So my father sat down and wrote a letter of personal introduction to Jimmie Ruth Mays in Jasper, AL.

Jimmie tells the story at this point, “I knew I was going to marry Lewis Marler when I reached into the mailbox and saw his handwriting on the envelope the very first time,” she still says like a teenager.

Now I’ve heard of love at first sight, but never love at first letter. But it is true.

She said, “When I opened the letter, I read about a Southern gentleman who was introducing himself in a kind, respectful manner.  He told me his wife died about the same time my husband did, and he was wondering if I would like to go to dinner the next time he was up in the Jasper area.  He added he had two children, Marcy (14) and Malcolm (12).  I wrote him back and said I’d love to go to dinner with him and gave him my phone number.  He called me the day he got my letter, and I think it was the next Friday he happened to be coming to Jasper,” she says with a smile.

“I bought a new white dress for that date,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye.  “And I peeked out the window when he drove up to see what he looked like.  I thought to myself, ‘Hmm, he looks pretty good!'”

They fell in love quickly. I noticed my father smiling more, having more energy, and a spring in his step.  He talked about Jimmie and brought her to meet us.

I noticed her beautiful smile, her kindness, and the way she looked at and treated my dad.  It didn’t hurt that she was an amazing cook and I had grown tired of eating at McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and other fast food places the last couple of years.  She was seven years younger than he.

On August 2nd, 1968, I was the Best Man and my sister was the Maid of Honor at a small wedding among friends.  Hudson Baggett of course, officiated at the ceremony.  My Dad and Jimmie were married for almost 30 years until my Dad’s death, and Jimmie is still my stepmom forty-one years later.

I learned from my father that one could love again, even after a terrible grief.  Both he and Jimmie took a risk in life to give love a second chance.  Jimmie was and is a gift to me as my stepmom.  She gave me the time and space to call her whatever I wanted, and so I chose to call her by her first name for a long time in those early years.  She told me, “I’m not trying to replace your mother, no one can do that.  I’m just trying to be a loving adult in your life.”

It is ironic that many years later my graduate work for the doctor of ministry degree in seminary was focused on understanding the dynamics of a stepfamily and developing a ministry to couples who had children from previous marriages.  Not a coincidence, nor something I thought about at the time.

And my dad and Jimmie’s relationship also gave me the courage after my divorce in 1996 to eventually marry a beautiful woman with a double first name like my mother’s (Martha Lou).  Mary Bea also happened to have two children, Brendan (12) and Kiki (11) in 2004.  And she, too, is seven years young than I am.

And now I have the opportunity to be a stepdad and finally have the children I always wanted since I didn’t have children from my first marriage.  I could not love or admire two children than I do in Brendan and Kiki.

Thank you Dad and Mom for showing me how a stepfamily can work, and for teaching me that love deserves a second chance.

My father (and Mom) taught me so.


What relationships in your life have given you new hope again?  Will you share with me and my readers in the Comments section below?

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  1. Janice Myers Turner

    Your Dad and Jimmie Ruth were a blessing to us and the love they shared extended to all of us at First Baptist too!

  2. Malcolm

    Thanks so much Janice, my Dad and Jimmie Ruth loved their time at Gardendale. Especially your family was so good to them.

  3. Mary Tittle

    Ahh!…at last a romantic story. Thanks…I needed that!

  4. Jan Painter

    Malcolm, I love reading your stories. Your love and admiration for your Dad and the way you express your feelings is awesome! I wish I had your writing ability. Please, keep writing!

  5. Malcolm

    Mary, I’m glad you love romantic stories. I can remember my Dad and Jimmie sitting side by side on the bench seat in the front of the car for years. That was before seat belts. I remember being embarrassed for a long time, now I love the memory.

  6. Malcolm

    Jan, the only way I am learning to write is by doing it. It takes lots of practice while at the same time the goal is not perfection, but making sure I get the gist of the story.

  7. Jo Caufield

    Malcolm, pic is just exactly as I remember you. I have loved reading “Lessons from your Father”. I remember still today the “Grief” I felt when Bro. Marler retired from GFBC. I had lost my Dad earlier in the year, and I felt as though I was losing another Dad.

    He was a wonderful, wonderful man – well respected, loved and admired by all who knew him. We would all do well to have any portion of the compassion and love for people that I always knew him to show.

    Thanks for sharing your memories.

  8. Malcolm

    Jo, thanks for the kindness in your comments. I always love hearing what a difference my dad made in other people’s lives.

    It is a reminder that all of us can make a difference.

    I appreciate your comments and encouragement more than you know.

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