Mothers-in-law, that is. This is a nitty gritty fact of being married three times that I gave any thought to only recently. I mean I didn’t have them all at once. Each of them was a truly unique individual and might show up in other stories, but with Mother’s Day lurking, I thought I’d mention a little something about each of them.
The first one I met a few months before my marriage. I was 18 and from an undemonstrative family. To find myself welcomed warmly in the arms of the vivid woman who was to leave her mark on my life was a very touching experience. For no discernible reason, my husband-to-be called her “Grace.” She was probably about 56 with upswept pale hair, long beautiful legs and a scattered nervous manner. Eventually I learned how very hard her life had been, incredible stories of loss, betrayal, hardship and abuse. Then I knew of little, except the story of her widowhood. When I told my own mother about Grace’s warmth, her hugs, my mother humphed that those huggy ones were suspect. It was Grace’s hand I held and nearly broke in the throes of my first labor, she who taught me little domestic things, giggled with me about her son, shared endless coffee and cigarettes. A little paragraph cannot contain all of Grace’s wrenching glory. Eventually we broke each other’s heart. Isn’t that the way of it? The more living that goes on, the more the potential for hurt. Grace died a few months before both of my own parents. There’s no one I wish peace more.
My second mother-in-law protested the marriage on the basis that I was old enough to be her son’s much, much, much older sister. There. Think about that one. I think she was about 46, very attractive in a buttoned down way. I always felt a little slutty next to her crisp shirts and neat hairstyles. Despite their strong feelings, she and her husband showed up at the wedding and were gracious. We ended up living in their area and they helped us out in various ways. She remained an enigma although clearly a controlling repressive force in her marriage. On holidays, she threw bourbon into everything, but those meals were struggles we all dreaded. My poor children. At least the adults could drink. Mother-in-law #2 worked very hard behind the scenes; by the time I married her son, the damage was already done – to him and ultimately to us. She made a great shrimp and cream cheese dip and as far as I know is still making it.
My last mother-in-law, Flo, was a gift and ultimately a model of gentleness and courage. Really, our life stories today pale beside those her generation lived – and particularly those living in England during WWII. Like Grace, she was warm and welcoming to me in her modest retirement apartment in Dalkey, Ireland. Like many partners, she lived most of her life away from her home country. She had one evident affliction. If she kept walking quickly, she was fine; if she stopped, her legs would give way. Think of this: our reaction with the very elderly is to walk slowly and to offer rests. I nearly had the poor woman flattened on our first excursion to a rest room! She made no fuss of herself, was clearly used to adapting and accepting, was full of life and humor still. I loved to touch her, her soft skin, her warm hands. Long marooned in Ireland, she returned in the last year of her life to England, to her sisters, to home. Herscattered family scattered her ashes on a beautiful hill in the Cotswolds. Her patient loving ways were reflected in many that day. I do wish she and Grace could have met and laughed together.
So…any words from you about your mother(s)-in-law?