I am continually puzzled at the seeming war between so many mothers and the women their sons marry – or women and the mothers of their husbands. What is this? Why is it?
I suppose the reason I am puzzled, is that I was blessed – utterly blessed – by the two remarkable women who were my mothers-in-law. J-2’s mother, C, was the oldest girl in a family of 9 siblings. We called them the “Fab 9.” Eight of the “Fab 9” received Master’s, PhD’s or MD degrees. Their parents struggled as all parents do – juggling work, housework, child care, the varioius chiodhood illnesses (that we seldom see anymore). To prevent the spread of potential infectious agents, The mother of that family insisted each child use only his or her own towels and washclothes, which were washed regularly twice a week. I couldn’t do that with only 3 kids! Meals were times to discuss politics, science, law, literature. A certain amount of time was to be devoted to reading.
C and her husband J-1 raised J-2 and his siblings similarly. When J-2 contracted polio, he was treated and given physical therapy ala Sister Kinney’s therapeutic model. Both C and J-1 worked with J-2 to help him learn to walk again. They used hot packs, they used massage, and they used splints as necessary to help him walk again.
J-2 became a hiker and camper with the rest of the family. He was an Eagle Scout, spurred on by his father, who was well-known in Scouting circles. C stayed home with the children until they were in school, at which time she returned to college to obtain a Master’s Degree in Librarianship. She began working at a local community college library and ended up revamping their entire cataloging system. She was respected in her workplace.
When J-2 and I married, she was never snippy or snappy, never took sides. She shared recipes that J-2 liked, and made some really good suggestions about other things. We had a cordial relationship – one which I treasured.
After J-2 left me and the 3 children, I was devastated – not only because I was losing him, but because I was losing his family and extended family. I loved having aunts, uncles and cousins – even if only by marriage. When J-2 married shortly after our divorce was final, C came to the wedding. But she stayed with me! She went out to dinner with me, the Ol’ Curmudgeon and his mother as well as visiting with my mother in the nursing home. She was a gracious lady, who never lost contact with her grandchildren. She and J-1 brought them to visit one by one – in order to spend more time with each of them, and to get to know them individually. But, beyond that, this remarkable woman continued to keep in touch with me, personally, and enjoyed conversing with the Ol’ Curmudgeon.
About 20 years later, a choir conference took the Ol’ Curmudgeon out to the west coast near where she and her wonderful husband lived. We called them as soon as we knew we would be going, and asked if they had time for us to drive over to visit with them for a little while. They actually invited both of us to stay with them for 3 days. We had a wonderful visit with them. I’m so glad we went, because they both died only a couple of years later.
The Ol’ Curmudgeon’s mother is the second remarkable woman. Although she thought at the time it was a mistake for him to marry me, she never said anything to me about it. We went shopping, we visited, we had lunch together. Nary a word. Just good conversation and enjoyment of each other. I made sure to ask her for all the recipes the Ol’ Curmudgeon had enjoyed as a child so I could fix them for him. She gracioiusly shared them with me.
P had been a “spinster school teacher” at a University in the Atlanta area for years, when she met her husband. He was a post-WW II student on the GI Bill. He worked days and went to school nights – totally exhausted. One evening in her English class, he was sprawled across his desk in total exhaustion, when she said, “Mr. R, how would you like it if I sprawled across my desk in such an unseemly manner?” “Miss H,” he replied, “I’d purely love it!” They had a whirlwind courtship and married. Now, professors did NOT marry their students – it was called “moral turpitude,” and just WASN’T DONE. Even at the college level. So he used to spend a lot of time hiding in the bathroom when her friends came over – so no one would know! He once remarked he would write a book entitled, “My Life on the Toilet – Or My First Six Months of Marriage!” When she became pregnant, they moved post haste to another state, many states over, and didn’t move back until the Ol’ Curmudgeon and later his sister were born. By that time, any scandal pertaining to their actions had died down, and she returned to the same college (now a University), picking up where she left off. She taught there for over 40 years, and was beloved by both students and faculty, and, incidentally, administration. She believed in education, but believed it had to come from within the individual rather than be imposed externally.
On the weekends the children were visiting with their father, we used to go over to her house and have breakfast on Saturdays. We attended the same Church and went together. After we converted to Orthodoxy, she attended a few times, but never caught on fire. She admitted she thought it was the true Church, but just couldn’t “deal” with the services. It was a sadness for the Ol’ Curmudgeon, but he gave her her own decisions just as she gave him his. No recriminations.
After the Ol’ Curmudgeon and I had been married about 5 years, she admitted that she hadn’t thought it was the right thing to do, and that she was glad she was wrong. She believed at that point that we were very good for each other. She “adopted” my children as her own grandchildren and made no distinctions between them and her bio-grandchild. She loved them, and she made no bones about it, she loved me and was proud of me.
When I was teaching in SC, the Ol’ Curmudgeon couldn’t find a job up there, so he moved in with her during the week, and came home on weekends. Not a way to run a marriage, but it worked for us because we were determined to not allow the separations affect us. I look back on it now, and I’m so glad he had this time to spend with his mother – she died about 18 months after he started living there. He speaks fondly and wistfully of the evening conversations they had.
She died long before I was ready to let her go – but isn’t that nearly always the way? I miss her to this day. Just as I miss C and J-1.