“Consider, if you will, the ancient Egyptians,” Stan Duval said, just as we were sitting down to dinner. “They had the correct attitude, in my humble estimation.”

I usually acted as though I hadn’t heard him. He made me nervous; I couldn’t get used to him being around. My mother had married him in Yuma, Arizona, a year ago. I couldn’t figure out why. He was twenty years older than she was and he always wore his green pin-striped suit at the dinner table even if he’d been walking around the house in stained underwear a half hour earlier.

Stan always characterized his estimations and assessments as humble. “In my humble way, I believe I am one of the most valued employees at Ryan.” He’d said this more than once, as if he suspected we had our doubts. He was in charge of an equipment shed at Ryan Aircraft. His job was to check out machine tools, and then check them back in again. Inventory Control Engineer. That’s what he called himself.

Mom had fixed fried chicken, lima beans, and scal…