It has been a quarter century since my mother-in-law died and yet, in many ways, in seems like last month. Our family still uses her recipes and talks about her caring ways. We laugh about her funny expressions. A recent spring cool spell reminded me that I think she called that “blackberry winter.” Or something. There was a name for everything that happened because in 85 years of living she’d seen a lot happen. Yet I never saw her lose her temper. The closest she’d come to telling someone off was to say (later) that they could just “kiss a cat’s rody.” We never knew what a “rody” was, but we were pretty sure we didn’t want to kiss one.
When we shop for greeting cards (which she sent slews of) we still do as she taught us and avoid ones that say we’re “proud” of someone. Occasionally, when the card was perfect other than that, she’d cross out “proud” and write in “grateful.”
Maybe she’s fresh on my mind because a few weeks ago my preacher son’s sermon was on prayer. As I listened online, it was no surprise that the model he used was not the apostle James (also known as “Old Camel Knees”) but the living example he’d had in the grandmother he’d often found on her knees at 6 a.m. praying for a long list of people. A list made longer because it included anyone who’d ever asked her to pray for them.
The memories come flooding back each Mother’s Day. She was more a mother to me in many ways than my birth mother during the 36 years I knew her. When we married, Richard was in the Air Force and sometimes had to leave for temporary duty for a month or more. One time almost immediately after he flew out, the military police came to my house on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They warned me that there was a rapist loose who somehow knew when husbands were gone. He was attacking their wives by breaking through the half-glass back door. Frightened, I called my in-laws. They said “pack up and come home.” But I didn’t know how to navigate the trip to Nashville. So my father-in-law put my mother-in-law on a plane and sent her to me. Ironically, she didn’t know how to drive, but she had made the trip several times and had a terrific memory for directions. I had no doubt she could get us to Nashville.
I spent the night at the neighbor’s and picked up Mom at the airport the next day. We headed toward Nashville taking my little beagle, Mitzi, with us. It was a 12-hour trip which involved driving over the Smoky Mountains—before the interstate was built. By the time we made it to the foothills of North Carolina, it was too dark and I was too tired to drive over the mountains. We looked for a motel. Everywhere we stopped was booked for a convention. Finally we found a cheap “no-tell motel” with a vacancy and decided it would have to do. When we got in the room, it had one double bed and the door didn’t lock well. I jammed the desk chair under the doorknob, suddenly fearing we might have left one attacker behind only to face another.
Mom knew that Mitzi always slept with me. She’d mentioned that she had never let a dog sleep on the bed with her. I assumed we’d have separate beds and assured her that wouldn’t happen. But, because there was no upholstered chair or even carpet in that room, Mom accepted that we would have a dog in bed that night with us. It was a bonding experience and something we could look back on and laugh about—later.
Our relationship belied the mother-in-law jokes. I was married while living in my mother-in-law’s home because my parents lived across the country. She was the mother who always came to help me in times of childbirth or sickness. And the one who kept my daughter while I went overseas on a three-week trip. Mom never said she was too tired or too busy. When my son had the part of a hawk in a school play, Mom sewed the hundreds of cloth “feathers” onto a hooded sweatshirt to make his costume. I’m sure her arthritic fingers ached, but she said she was happy to do it.
Daughters-in-law sometimes complain that their mother-in-law criticizes them either directly or implicitly. I’m sure there were things Mom wanted to criticize about me, but it’s a credit to her that I don’t remember specific times. However, I still have the letter she wrote my husband and me when our strong-willed little boy was winning too many parent-child battles. The letter’s loving tone and wise words left such an impression that I reread it many times and tried to put into practice its advice. A generation later I got it out and read it to my daughter and son and their spouses who had toddlers at the time. Her wisdom survived her.
Although she was gone by the time I wrote my novel several years ago, she had been very supportive of me when I wrote my first two books. In the acknowledgements of A Secret Hope, which is about mother-daughter relationships, I wrote: “Helen Huffman, my mother-in-love, who walked with God daily, who reached out to me in every way one woman can reach out to another, and who loved me into her family when I didn’t know what a family should be. We still miss you, Mom.”
And today, I still do.
(A Secret Hope, an inspirational read for the Mother’s Day season, is available through amazon in print and on Kindle): https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Hope-Vicki-Huffman-ebook/dp/B00O9VJ2D2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494107151&sr=8-1&keywords=a+secret+hope+vicki+huffman