A Letter to My Mother-in-Law
Well, it’s like this, toots.
OK, I’ve never called you toots, Edna, but you’ve used the term occasionally when recounting how you leveled with somebody, how you spoke the plain truth.
For years now I’ve had such a truth to tell you, and now is the time to come out with it. It’s not, “I love you.” I’ve never told you so, but certainly you know I do. And it’s not that your spaghetti sauce is second to none—in the thin-but-chunky class—because I’ve mentioned this before. And it’s not your feat of raising Kathy and your five sons. You’ll remember a year or two ago at a wedding reception, I paid homage to how you kept half a dozen handfuls on the path to productive, law-abiding adulthood, without a husband by your side. My volume was raised, what with dance music and chatter in the background. But I also wanted your offspring at our table to know of my admiration for you. Unfortunately, that setting wasn’t the best for everything I have to say.
So, take this. I don’t admire just your childrearing. No, it’s the quietly remarkable life you’ve cobbled together, one that would never have been possible without your indefatigable spirit. Yes, cobble is the word. If your 84 years were a road, it would be paved with whatever small stones you could put your hands on and cemented in place by thoughtful, practical love. Six kids, no alimony and shallow pockets. What to do?
Your sauce goes part way in answering that question. The flavor pairs with a story. You put up tomatoes, bought hamburger and sausage that was good, but half off, and stretched the whole batch with tomato juice. How else to get everybody fed? When I sit down before a helping, my heart is nourished as my belly is filled. Am I making too big of a deal about scrimping and saving?
I don’t think so. For the girl nicknamed Cookie, there were two facts of life. The first was unspoken but obvious: You always had to keep an eye on the price tag. The second you have said yourself: “I never had a skinny day in my life.”
As a man who has sparred with the bathroom scale for decades, I know that genetics has not been your friend. You’ve tried and tried, and I say without affectation, “You are a hero, Edna.” Not only have pounds never held you back, but you’ve joked and improvised your way through a reality that is disheartening day by day. Maybe you think of yourself as fat. Trust me, your soul is lean and muscular, ever ready to hit the road and experience something new. That’s what I see, anyway.
Now, about price tags. Only people close to you know that 200 acres of forest property willed to you were essentially swindled out of your hands. You were young and trusting. The broken promise was devastating. This land might have eventually been sold. My Lord, the dollars. How they might have eased your endless penny pinching. Tell me, how did you resign yourself to this betrayal? I would be forever blind with resentment, bitter and heartbroken. Not you, though. Heroism can be taking point in combat. It can also be turning the page. You have chosen the better part, just shaking your head and raising your eyebrows. Enough said.
Alas, there’s more to praise than time allows. You went to kids’ track meets, put shoulder to PTA, started a Neighborhood Watch group, worked a food pantry that helped to feed your own family, and hung flower baskets on your front porch. Most important of all, you have always cared about “the widow and the orphan.” Your friend Ray would vouch for you, his feet dry and warm in boots you bought to replace his cracked ones. So would that kid who cut your grass. He’ll remember you the rest of his life, I bet, taking him to get some decent shirts because all he owned was the one on his back. Since Kathy and I were dating 41 years ago, you have been trying to help. Bravo.
So it’s like this, toots. You’re slowing down, and neither one of us will live forever. While you are still of sound mind and top side of the sod, receive this message from your son-in-law: You are now and always have been a wonder.
When you do march in with saints—and, please, don’t rush—carry this letter with you and do what you can to be on hand when I myself arrive.