Awe? Yeah, right. Be honest, when you hear mother in law you think this….
… or, maybe this….
If you’re old like me and have a really good memory you might even think this….
When it comes to Mother’s in Law, I’ve had an abundance of
bitches riches… having had the misfortune rare privilege of having three of them. Each one with her own brand of crazy distinct personality. Like their sons, if my collective mother’s in law ended up on a desert island together, the only thing any of them would have in common would be their hidden agendas … me. I must be pretty lucky though, because contrary to the mother in law stereotype, mine have all been acquitted amazing characters.
Marie was feisty, cute, petite, swore like a sailor, drank gin straight and smoked Marlboro menthols. She bought me tacky little gifts like rhinestone necklaces and sequined cigarette cases. I adored her. She was the quintessential late 70’s California liberated woman, running her husband’s automotive business, like she ran her home – fast and loose. When I think of her I can’t help but remember the time we went camping and water skiing at Lake Nacimiento. She wore her brand new one piece bathing suit – browns and tans, in a subtle variegated pattern – it looked great on her. And it wasn’t just us, her family who thought so, people came up to our campsite from all over the lake to say, “nice bathing suit.” She basked in the attention for a while, then jumped into the boat to take her turn on the skis. As we watched Marie in the distance, shooting roosters, and waving like a beauty queen in a parade, it suddenly became clear why her suit made her so popular. The browns and tans were arranged in such a way as to make it look like Marie was skiing naked! When we (none to tactfully) told her what we thought we saw, she grabbed her Kodak Instamatic, tossed it to me and went right back out to do it again. I got the shot, but back in the day, we used to have to get our rolls of film developed, and by the time that roll came back from the drugstore, my marriage to her son was over. I don’t think she ever knew her son hit me, or that he had not yet come out of the closet – but that’s a blog for another time.
Dottie, Bobby’s grandmother, was almost the exact opposite of Marie. A large square-jawed, sturdy woman with an horsey laugh. She didn’t smoke, but she drank hard liquor, and in 1980, though she would use an automatic washing machine, she still hung her wash outside to dry, even during frigid New Jersey winters. She gave me sensible things like towels and perfume at Christmas, the same things I used to give my grandmother. She worked as a bookkeeper for two gentlemen who had been interred at Auschwitz, with the tattooed numbers on their arms to prove it. She raised 5 kids in a three bedroom farm house from the 1800s. I tried, I really did, to keep in touch with her after the divorce, but distance and allegiances overshadowed both our efforts.
Helen, who has the same name as my own mother, is a piece of work. And I say that with love, with awe, and reverence, and with a little bit of fear. If ever there was a personification of the term force to be reckoned with, it would be Helen. There is not, nor has there ever been a situation in her life, or the lives of her kids, that she could not handle. You may think that sounds overbearing, but amazingly, she never comes across that way. She was married at 18, widowed at 21, remarried, and divorced within a couple more years. She then proceeded to raise 5 kids in 1950’s Iowa as a single mom while earning a degree in art and creating her own art on the side. She has nine grand kids, three great grand kids, and countless adoring fans. She doesn’t drink or smoke, but she is still fun – sometimes more fun than I can handle! Helen has weathered the storms of her children’s and grand children’s various life events, from tracking down and reuniting a daughter in law with her birth mother, to arranging, hosting and assuring 100% attendance at several family reunions, to making by hand, amazing wedding dresses. She is a breast cancer survivor, married now to Grandpa Terry, living in Branson, MO and she amazes us every day. A recent example of Helen’s amazing-ness would be, this summer when she played host to Kelsie and two of her girlfriends. At an age when teenage girls typically shun the older generation, the high point of Kelsie’s summer this year was spending two weeks at Gramma’s house.
Mothers in law may be the butt of a lot of jokes, for some, the source of heartache or frustration, but I think you can see why I think MY mother-in-law is AWESOME!