by Roxanne Henke
I’d been married four years when Reiny became my stepdad. He was never “dad” to me in the traditional sense, but during 39 years of marriage to my mother, he became an important presence in my life. At age 93, Reiny passed away in January.
Our blended family story isn’t as dramatic as a soap opera, but it’s nearly as complicated. Follow along if you can.
Reiny Klein married my dad’s younger (and only) sister, Erna. Reiny went on to become a pastor. When my dad fell in love with my mom, Jean, Reiny (my dad’s brother-in-law) married them.
Fast-forward a year, and I was born. Reiny became my uncle.
Fast-forward two times. My dad passed away. Erna became sick. My mom went to help care for her. Erna said (as she was near dying), “I think it would be a good idea, when I’m gone, for you and Reiny to get married.”
One more fast-forward two years, when my mom and Uncle Reiny got married. Uncle Reiny became my stepdad, cousins Mavis and Waldo became my stepsister and stepbrother. If there is a blended family who merged as seamlessly as ours, I’ve never met them.
Reiny and my mom lived just blocks from my husband, our two daughters and me. I'll be honest, Reiny and I butted heads now and then. It was our mutual love for my mom that kept us on track.
He and my mom had a wonderful life together. If they could have traveled the “world” in their many RV’s, they would have. Instead, they had to “make do” with about 48 states and Mexico.
Reiny could fix anything. And, he did. He was a woodworker of the finest order and gifted us with many of his handcrafted pieces.
He was the only grandpa our girls ever knew. He baptized nearly all the grandkids and great-grandkids. They loved him greatly, and he loved them.
Here are a few thoughts my daughters shared about their grandpa:
Rachael: “As the oldest grandkid (by far), I remember a time before Grandma and Grandpa got married. I met Reiny at age 4, introduced as Grandma’s special friend. When they got married, I was told I could call him grandpa, but that didn’t feel right at the time. I’d never had a grandpa and didn’t want to give that title to just anyone. So for many years, he was Reiny to me.
“He attended countless basketball games and music concerts. We shared hundreds of meals, played ping-pong and took RV adventures to nearby states. During one of the RV trips – I was about 10 – I was obsessed with getting more states under my belt. We were about an hour away from Wyoming and Grandma told me we just didn’t have time this trip. Grandpa interjected, ‘Let’s make this happen!’ So we drove the car an hour to the Wyoming border, got out, scooped up some Wyoming soil and turned around and drove an hour back to the RV. I had visited another state!
“By the time I graduated from high school, I started calling him Grandpa. My grandpa. I love that I chose to call him Grandpa.
“Grandpa, I love you and appreciate all the words of wisdom, the love and support you provided throughout my life. Especially now, as a parent, I realize how important you have been in shaping who I am – which will shape who my children will become. Your legacy of love and accepting will live on. I will make sure of it.”
Tegan: “Reiny was always Grandpa. And I was lucky to have him in my life, generously giving his love, support and adventure.
“Grandpa regularly gave all the grandkids moped rides when they were in town. One Saturday afternoon, he and I took off on the usual route through the cemetery and along the outskirts of town. I don’t know quite how it happened, but all of a sudden, we were on our way to Lehr (11 miles away). When we got back to the house, Grandma was actively worrying. I remember going up those hills at a max speed of around 40 miles an hour, thinking, ‘This is the coolest thing ever!’
“His love and acceptance will live on in each of us. We will make sure of it.”
Roxy again: Reiny took incredible care of my mom after her stroke, even warming her nightgown in the dryer before he helped her to bed.
After my mom passed away in 2012, it was just my husband, Reiny and me left to “hold down the fort” in Wishek. Reiny and I formed a new bond. I’d loved him before, but I grew to love him more then. We depended on each other in a new way. And never parted without saying, “I love you.”
He told me some time ago, “I just want to close my eyes and wake up in Glory.” And, that is exactly what he did that afternoon. He ate some lunch, closed his eyes for a nap, and woke up in the middle of a glorious family reunion with Jesus, his first wife, my mom and dad, and so many more. Someday, I’ll be there, too. But for now I’m here, missing him.
He wasn’t my dad, and our bond was complicated. Like most love is.
Roxanne (Roxy) Henke lives and writes in rural North Dakota, doing her best to carry on the legacies left by so many she’s loved. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.