No guy writes about his mother-in-law, unless it’s Henny Youngman, the old Jewish comedian: “I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport.”
My mother-in-law is still with us, 88 years old this October.
Mary has lived in the same Hoosier town nearly as long as Our Sunday Visitor. Her father worked there as a typesetter.
Her ancestors were Nantucket Quakers, which might seem all pastoral, peaceful and serene until it’s understood that they made their living in small boats on the ocean hunting whales.
A blushing bride just after World War II, Mary was with my father-in-law for more than 50 years.
They were two of a kind. She worked the factories most of her adult life to raise her two daughters. He did the same and the only serious sin of his that I can recall is that he played golf. He died in 1997, the day after Thanksgiving.
She is a tough one. She refused to put up with any nonsense from me when I first asked her daughter out 42 years ago. And she refused to put up with any nonsense from me when I took her to dinner two weeks ago.
Time has pitched in to make things more difficult of late.
Hard-of-hearing has become nearly deaf. While she can still walk at a good pace, the length of that walk has been cut back considerably.
Since her husband died, she has been on her own. Though she volunteers at the hospital, plays cards with friends and goes to church on Sunday, the loneliness has crept in. Her kids are grown and gone. Her grandkids as well.
She has decided to move out of the home she and her husband built a few decades back. She needs — and finally wants — an assisted-living facility. We were out to Indiana a few weeks ago working out the arrangements with her and starting to dispose of a lifetime worth of stuff.
You know how it is if you’ve gone through it.
You don’t dare notice anything when you are in the house or you’ll walk out with it. “Is that a pair of Grandpa’s old golfing shoes?” is immediately answered by, “Go ahead and take them.”
Moments are reached, though. She pulls out a handful of head-and-shoulder shots from the photo album. “These are my friends,” she says, “and they’re all gone now.”
When the guys come to take away some furniture — together, they are not as old as the dining room table they are moving — she tries to brush away the memories, but they are as real as the hardwood they are wrestling with.
“That was her first and only dining room table,” my wife says, as her mother’s eyes redden as it goes out the door. It’s not a possession gone, but Thanksgiving feasts with fewer and fewer left to remember them.
I take her to dinner where she saddles up nicely to a half-slab of ribs. I told you that she’s a tough one.
I ask her square if she really wants to do this, if she really wants to sell the home, if she really wants the furniture gone, if she really wants assisted living. And she looks me square in the eye and says “yes.” And I know she has heard the question.
She’s ready to move on, and that means some of the stuff of life has to go out the door first.
There are not too many people that I have known longer than my mother-in-law. Which is why she deserves far better from me than a Henny Youngman line.
Let’s try Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman instead: “Then in his mercy may he give us safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at last.”
Take the safe lodging and the holy rest and the peace, Mary. You deserve it.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.