Monday, April 28, 2014

Mothers In Law

LUCY BURDETTE:  I was clearing out some overstuffed folders on my desk when I came across this photo. You will see immediately why I had to blog about it. The dilemma became, is this a blog about mothers-in-law? Or hats? With Mother's Day on the horizon, I opted for mothers-in-law.

This photo is early in my relationship with Dorothy. John and I had each been married before--I know she was worried about whether I'd be good for him. Whether this time he'd picked the right woman. Two years after we were married, I invited Dorothy to a member-guest golf tournament at our club.  I was a very new golfer and nervous about everything. Would we get along? Would I play well enough to avoid humiliation? (Apparently I wasn't worried about the hat.)

That morning at breakfast we exchanged dreams. I dreamed that we got hopelessly lost on the golf course. She dreamed that they told her she was too old to play. We laughed and laughed. And then we were assigned to play with elderly twins, who were dreadful golfers but quite entertaining. We still love reliving that day--it definitely cemented our friendship.

She is almost 101 now (can you imagine) and still sharp as a tack. She keeps tabs on her seven kids and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren and has lots of opinions about life. (One of my other favorite memories was arriving at her apartment during the last presidential race. She was so relieved to have another Obama supporter in the room to help the president make it through the last debate.) I consider myself very lucky in the mother-in-law department!

What about you Reds, mother in law or even daughter in law stories? It's not an easy job either way...

HALLIE EPHRON: My mother-in-law, Freda, was a lovely woman and a terrific grandma to our two girls. Even in her 90s she could walk my feet off in the mall. She'd been quite a looker in her youth, and took a long time to settle down and get married. Her mother used to sew her outfits -- she'd bring her a picture of what she wanted and her mother would whip it up. Her mother was a terrific cook.

Neither cooking nor sewing got passed down to Freda. Her one culinary success was meatballs. Easiest recipe ever. 1 pound of chopped meat rolled into 1" balls. Put them in a sauce pan. Dump over them 8-12 ounces of canned Hunts Tomato Sauce, a good handful of brown sugar, and about 1/4 cup of vinegar. Cook slowly for about an hour and serve over rice. Yummy.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I loved my mother-in-law, Ida,  but she was truly fierce, and quite the piece of work. She was assistant principal at VanBuren High School in New York City, and also a licensed marriage and family counselor. (You'll see why that's funny in a moment.) Like all intellectuals at the time  (in the fifties), she and her husband flirted with Communism.  I asked her, fascinated, about the "meetings." Did they really advocate the overthrow of the US Government?" She said "Mostly the women made coffee." 

Jonathan's mom

 She was a wonderful poet, truly gifted. She took classes in French (she was fluent)  and in Human Sexuality (no comment) at Hunter College when she was well into her nineties, and died at 94.

However. She could be so opinionated that after the weekend I met her, Jonathan's friends all called him to see if I had survived. Everyone knew about "Black Thanksgiving," after which, as a result of Ida's inability to see the other side of any question or to believe that she might be wrong, the entire family and a whole group of friends stopped talking to each other for a year. Once, when a family member (not me), failed to send her a thank you note, she also stopped talking to them. (I'm not sure the person was upset by that.)
When she first saw me, she said "My, you're a big one, aren't you?"  I absolutely miss her. 

Shirley Dale Wilson, dancing with Dr. Paul Kincaid Wilson.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've had two. My ex--former (?) mother-in-law is German, a war refugee who met my ex-husband's father after WWII when he was in the British army and she was in a refugee camp.  She was QUITE difficult and didn't like me at all.  I see now that she had her reasons, but it was a rocky relationship that eventually improved, then went south with the divorce.  She's 93 now, the same age as my mother would have been, and still sharp as a tack. In spite of past disagreements, I miss her, and have great admiration for the things she endured in her life.

Now, mother-in-law #2, Lee, I have known since I was a teenager.  I also envy the fact that she was incredibly glamorous when she was young! She puts up with the fact that I'm always busy and never have as much time as I'd like to spend with the family.  This Christmas, the first without my mom, she gave me a huge hug and said, "Deb, I'm your mother now."

RHYS BOWEN: I was terrified to meet my mother-in-law. I married John in Australia and then moved to California so it was over a year before I met my new relatives. But I heard enough about her--what a wonderful cook she was, how organized she was, what a gracious hostess--pictures of how elegant she looked when she attended high level functions around the world, and wintered in Barbados, and had ancestors who owned Sutton Place and various other stately homes. When I met her she turned out to be gracious but sensitive. They came over for the birth of our first child and she said, "Let me know what you'd like me to handle while you're resting. Shall I just take over the cooking and leave you time with the baby?"

And she was a fabulous cook. Absolutely fabulous. It was her raison d'etre. She had a housekeeper and so all her energy and creativity was focused on her cooking. For lunch she would make one sauce for the meat, one for the vegetables, brilliant desserts, little cakes for tea. My mouth still waters when I think about her food. And I have a big book of recipes that she wrote out for me.  I don't make them often because they are all complicated and require zillions of ingredients and hours of preparation.

It was only after she died, rather young, that I realized what a lonely life she led. My father-in-law had a distinguished career and was involved in a life that didn't usually include her. Her children went to boarding school. She had no real friends. No wonder cooking made her feel useful during those long days.  The other thing I discovered about her was that she looked so distinguished and upper class but she loved dirty jokes and had this barmaid's laugh.  She was also a lovely grandma, although she never let me really get close to her. 

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: My mother-in-law, Miss Edna, has had a difficult week, but is doing much better now. She says "Cheers, darlings" — and is busy reading Beatriz Williams's THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT.
LUCY: So glad she's feeling better! Cheers back at you Edna! xo

: I've never had a mother-in-law. Ross's mother died shortly after he and I started dating - she had been in a nursing home due to her multiple sclerosis and passed on from pneumonia. But I did have the most fabulous father-in-law a bride could ask for. Victor was funny, opinionated, high-handed and generous to a fault. He loved me and his grandkids (and his sons, of course.)  Thanks to his desire to combine his two passions, family and travel, we went to Cancun regularly, to Key West, skiing in Montreal, on safari to Africa, and twice to Hawaii. When he died, too young, at 68, he didn't leave us much in the way of money or possessions. He had already given away what was most valuable: his time and his company. When I become a mother-in-law (someday in the future, I hasten to add!) I plan to model myself on Victor.


  1. My mother-in-law was fiercely independent, but we always got along well and she love the children so I figured it was all good.

  2. So many good stories. It's heart warming to see.

    I will never be a mother-in-law. ;)

    And since I'm single, I don't have a mother-in-law either. No stories to add one way or the other.

  3. My mother-in-law is a lovely lady with a beautiful, East Tennessee accent. My husband is a mild-mannered guy now, but he was a little red-haired demon as a child. Quite the daredevil. They moved around a lot and she once told me she'd taken him to every emergency room in the South.

    Two important things I learned from my mother-in-law, both useful lines in uncomfortable situations. When you are a guest and something strange or horrendous is served to you (like Jello with chunks of celery in it), the proper thing to say is, "Oh my, that's too pretty to eat!"

    The second thing, when faced with some embarrassing memory that required you to take your child to the ER, you say, "I choose not to remember that."

    She's a pip. I am very lucky.

  4. Have to say it did not occur to me as I was writing my entry that I AM a mother-in-law. My daughter chose well so it hasn't been hard at all.

    Cheers to Edna and welcome to Jungle Red!

  5. Love these stories. My first mother-in-law could stab you in the back with a smile. My unpleasant ex got all his guilt-tripping and dysfunctional communicating from her. But she did teach me how to prune roses and her pickle recipe is the best I've ever run into. My second one was so pleased that Hugh brought home someone nice (after his own unpleasant first wife), she embraced me right away. She'd been an English teacher, so we talked writing and words and did the NYT crossword together. I'm so grateful I had five years to get to know her before she died at 89.

  6. My mother-in-law, Helen, was a treasure, at least she was once she agreed to speak to me. We married pretty young (22) and our wedding pictures show one very nicely dressed woman who looks like she is at a funeral.
    But, we eventually became very close. When my children were growing up, we spent about six weeks with her every summer on Cape Cod.
    No one has mentioned illnesses (except for the m-i-l with MS), but mine had Parkinson's Disease. It was a terrible trial for all of us.
    She died in 1983.

    I am a mother-in-law myself and absolutely adore the young men my daughters have married. And I like the youngest's fiance best of all.

    Lucky me.

  7. Oh! I'm a mother in law, too. YIKES! It kind of never crossed my mind. I think...I'd get some good reviews. Hmm.

    If I've done anything untoward, well, I guess I choose not to remember that. :-)

  8. I had two mothers-in-law. Substitute "Black Easter" for "Black Thanksgiving" in Hank's story. There you are. That's all there is to say about it. Both are gone now and have achieved sainthood, so I can't reveal which mother-in-law this is.

    Yes, of course I loved her.

  9. Love the stories--and Ramona's m in law suggestion that something's too pretty to eat. I wonder if she really followed through and didn't take a bite?

    Reine, we won't press you any further! Probably with 2 marriages, it would be hard to have 2 wonderful m in laws:).

    Denise--what a picture you paint of someone dressed for a funeral. I think it must be very hard to see a child who's so young choose to marry!

  10. Oh, I forgot the other M-I-L phrase. When you are introduced to a baby and it's know...very attractive? The thing to say is, "My, s/he has such a nicely shaped head." For the record, I've never used that one, but I like to have it in my arsenal.

  11. Your golf hat looks great, Roberta. Does it stay on with hat pins?

  12. Unfortunately, I never knew my mother-in-law. She passed away from lung cancer before my husband and I started dating. But he has wonderful stories and pictures. And although she wasn't much of a cook (hotdog gravy anyone?), she did bake well. Best compliment ever was when the husband said, "Your pie crust is better than my mother's."

    Ramona, those are great lines. I'll have to remember them.

  13. What great stories! Reine, you crack me up, as always.

    Ramona, I LOVE "Oh, that's too pretty to eat."

    I forgot to say two things: One, that my m-i-l is still glamorous, at 82.

    And that I am a mother-in-law now! Still getting used to that. But I adore my son-in-law, and hope I'll be good at the m-i-l job.

  14. No M-I-L for me, but my mom was one several times over. Beloved by her children and ALL of the in-laws. She managed that by minding her own business, having a sense of humor, and making a place at the table for everyone--literally and figuratively. She once said that love is not a commodity--you can't use it all up--and her heart was big enough to welcome the newest husband/wife--and their children, if they brought any to the marriage.

  15. Oh Hank, your MIL reminds me of my dear neighbor, Doris, who passed away at 92 a few years ago. A former communist, she was accused of being a spy and had to testify before the HUAC. What a story that was.

    My own MIL is a dear woman, but I always say the key to having a good relationship w/ your in-laws is to reside on different continents. Which isn't strictly true since my poor husband has a great relationship with my parents and is forced to spend most every holiday with them because his own family is in England.

    But to give you an idea of what kind of MIL I have, she turned 70 last year then promptly closed up her home in the north of England and went to Peru to volunteer in the slums of Lima. We'll be meeting up with her there later this week, and I can't wait. I applaud not only her courage but her willingness to be of service.

  16. Clarification: My mother-in-law wore a lovely dress and jacket which she made --- it was pink -- and a hat -- but her face was going to a funeral.

    The greatest lesson she taught me was to love one's children fiercely.

  17. The baby has a great shaped head? That's the best of all!

    Jack, the hat has long since gone to the hat graveyard, thank goodness. Though it would be good for Halloween.

    Mary, hot dog gravy?????

  18. Making a place at the table for everyone and minding your own business--those are so wise...

  19. My little Irish MIL died three years ago, two months shy of her 100th birthday. A week before she died we were visiting her in hospital and she told us she was looking forward to turning 100 because she'd get a card from the President. She whispered, "He's black, you know." I thought it was funny at the time but since then I've reflected on all she had seen in her lifetime and realized how amazing she must have thought that fact.

    The other quote I remember is what she wrote on a birthday card to me a few years after we got married. I can't remember exactly how she signed it but she had written "When the children come you can call me Gram." Til the day she died I never called her anything. (We never had children.)

    She was a nice lady but we had very little in common.

  20. Lucy, yes, hot dog gravy. She thought it was a good idea at the time. Neither her sons nor her husband had the heart to say anything. And no, I don't really understand how that works either. =)

  21. I'm torn as to how to approach the mother-in-law subject. So, I will first go with the wonderful aspects. My MIL is an amazing 85-year-old little woman who still lives in her large house by herself (father-in-law died 7 years ago) and doesn't have any help to take care of things, other than a yard crew for her lovely large yard. She bakes the best cakes you'll ever want to eat, and her pumpkin pie recipe is one I've been fixing for 37 years. She doesn't cook as much anymore, but when she does, it's delicious. She has much knowledge about gardening which she has passed on to my daughter, fortunate since I am not a gardener. She gets her hair done every Friday and always looks well put together. She is the Master of our family Aggravation games and can play any of us under the table. She has always been fair whenever giving to her children (my husband and his sister) and the grandchildren. She isn't a gossip and has a strong faith that sees her through life. I admire many things about this dear lady.

    Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to get me. She is mucho practical, and I am creatively weird. I would like to feel that we are close, but after almost 38 years, I still feel that she somehow is disappointed in me for some reason, probably because my passion is reading and talking about books, and she doesn't understand the value of that. She is not intentionally unkind, but she has a way of phrasing that gives one pause (even her children can be on the receiving end of such remarks). For example, once when coming over to my house, she remarked upon our family room, which we had remodeled at one point, that it used to be such a nice room after we'd had it done over. I have learned to not take her remarks to heart so much, and I realize I don't need her approval in my life choices to be happy. My daughter is more like her in the practical sense, so they are close, which I am most happy about, but my son is more outside the box like me, so they do love each other, but, again, a connection is somewhat lost. I do absolutely love my MIL, but I sometimes lament the fact that we aren't the close that I desire.

    My role as a mother-in-law to my son-in-law is that of mutual respect and ease. I am so thankful that my daughter is married to such a good man who works hard and loves his family so much. My son's fiance is like another daughter to me, and I can't wait to welcome her into the family as am official DIL. I think seeing how close I am to her and how we love to be together helps make up for not having that with my own MIL. She totally gets me and my son, and she has been an amazing presence in his life.

    Gee, I feel like I just spilled my life out on the page. Sorry I went on so, but you've probably come to expect my long-winded comments. LOL!

  22. Oh, I have to laugh about something I omitted. I'm a hugger and my MIL is not. My daughter seems to have inherited (?) the non-hugging from MIL, and it has become funny to me that my daughter thinks one hug is plenty. My son and almost DIL are over-huggers like me, and we are just have a hug fest when we get to see each other. Daughter rolls her eyes at this display, and we laugh. My husband is not a big hugger, but I have been able to bring him closer to the "dark side" than where he started. I am now working furiously to teach granddaughters the art of hugging. Hehehe!

  23. Loved this post!
    If I am counting my husband's stepmothers as well ... I have three. All still alive and all very different ... the first is exotic and Bohemian and has embraced the hindu religion; the second I am quite scared of and the third is my age and so beautiful she takes my breath away.
    However ... family gatherings when all of them are invited can be a little bit tense.

  24. Kathy, well, truth is families are complicated even if not in laws! We aren't all a perfect match, but it sounds like you do your best to make it work as well as it can.

    Hannah--yikes! all 3 stepmothers invited to the same event? wow, hard to picture that going well:)

  25. Roberta, your comment about the hat made me spit tea all over my monitor. Too funny.

    Ha, Kathy--my first mother-in-law used to grab me and hug me and give me a big smack on the lips. My family was not demonstrative at all, and this was so uncomfortable for me. I got used to it.

    She was actually my co-mother-in-law, since my first husband's parents were divorced and both remarried. Imagine having two MIL's at the age of 19. It was quite the balancing act, too, since I loved them both for different reasons, but they couldn't bear one another.

    My last (forever) husband's mom was something quite different. Edna was almost as old as my grandmother, who she invited to dinner and then proceeded to call "Grandma". Edna also used to talk in glowing terms about Steve's first wife, who was killed in a car accident just a couple months after they were married. They had been together for eight years, and Edna had never liked her. However, when I came along--Catholic, divorced, and the noncustodial mother of a third-grader--suddenly the first wife achieved sainthood.

    Just before Edna's stroke, and shortly after I produced the second of her only two grandchildren in town, we had finally achieved a rare friendship. She was a brilliant woman who could have done anything in the world. As my sister-in-law said at her funeral, she was born long before her time.

    Now I have two sons-in-law, and I try to be a decent MIL to them. I know my oldest daughter's husband loves me, and we are really good friends (after his 20 years with our family), but the jury's still out on the youngest one's. I'm going to try to win him over this week, when I visit them and attend Malice. Wish me luck.

  26. Roberta, you are so right. Not all of us are perfect matches, and we just have to do the best we can. My MIL is still a lovely person, even if we don't match, and I have come to accept that two people can both be fine people and just not be bossom buddies. Meant to tell you, Roberta, that your hat is quite fetching. Karen, you made me laugh about Edna, so glad you two found closeness. And, Karen, you reminded me that people who aren't used to displays of affection just aren't comfortable with it, so I respect that.

  27. Oh we do wish you luck, Karen--lots of it! Sometimes it's a matter of time, getting used to and growing to love someone else's family.

    I can't imagine two mother-in-laws at age 19...

    And I'm so sad to be missing Malice this year. Have fun all who are going and best wishes to our Reds up for awards!!!

  28. My mother and mother-in-law had the same birthday. I don't need to explain what that means. Do I?

  29. Reine, there should be a law against marrying someone whose mother has the same birth date as your mother.