It's necessary at this point to re-introduce my uncle and his wife. He was the oh-so-perfect older brother to my irresponsible, flighty mother. His wife was equally perfect, at least in her own eyes. They met in college -- he, an engineering student; she, in the school of pharmacy. They married shortly after graduation and, within a year, had their first child. Four years later, their second child was born.
As a girl, my uncle's wife had been stricken with rheumatic fever and though it was fatal for her older sister, she survived -- but with a permanently weakened heart. She had been raised by her mother, a strict, unforgiving Southern Baptist, and a stepfather who reportedly had sexually abused her. As her mother's only surviving child, she no doubt felt pressured to excel academically -- and she did.