Saturday, July 6, 2013

the secret to being a good mother-in-law

My Gramma has been dead for almost twenty years.  That sounds unbelievably long ago: the day she died is still so fresh for me.  The phone call that woke me still jangling in my ears.  It was the day after the day I'd found out my Middlest was on her way here.

I wasn't ready for my grandma to go, my grandma who was always Gramma, not Grandmother.  I comforted myself imagining she had somehow known there was a grandbaby in the offing and decided cancer had had enough of her and slipped away to sneak a visit before anyone else.  It would have been like her.

And I liked thinking of her spirit walking with Middlest's through the neither-here-nor-there garden of mortal transition. 

Surely there's a garden there? My Gramma had loved her garden here in this world: Golden Delicious apple tree, iris, peony, pink-and-yellow columbine, buttercups, snowball bush, lilac.  It was impossible not to picture her somewhere in dappled sun-and-shadow where the breeze was warm and fragrant, a place where two passing spirits, neither (anymore/yet) entirely tethered to this world, could walk together.  And then too, shortly after her death, my dad dreamed his mom came walking towards him through a field of flowers, walking over to where he stood just to tell him she was well and happy.

So I think it's as likely as anything else that Gramma walked there with my Middlest whose mortal body was just starting to take shape inside of me, telling her how pleased she was, how tickled pink, in fact, she was to see her and letting her know everything she would need to know for life here on earth with me.

I missed my Gramma for years after she was gone.  And miss her still.  Her crinkly voice, her letters that always ended by calling down blessings on my head, the softness of her cheek, her way of reading stories all in one breath, the way she licked her fingers to turn the pages, her hands stirring butter and a little sugar into peas and carrots, crimping the edge of a piecrust, leading the music at church.

Sometimes when I would go to wake Middlest from her nap, her breath would be floury and yeasty like Grandma's breath and her yellow green eyes would be Grandma's eyes until they focused and became her own again.  I wondered sometimes if somehow my baby and Gramma had been walking again together and it made me glad.

Gramma's great gift was to make other people feel doted upon.  All her grandchildren have said how treasured they felt by her.  At her funeral so many people came up to tell us how much they loved her, how much  loved by her they felt.  So many with a story of her arms embracing them, her voice encouraging her.  I know my mother felt that way.  She adored her mother-in-law (who was, to her -- Mom -- always).  Gramma had thrown her arms around my mother from the first moment she saw her.  Which seemed entirely reasonable to me, because who wouldn't have loved my mother?

I remember them conspiring together over bottles of Fresca and tuna salad.

I remember them sitting together in the front room, each talking and rocking in the old-fashioned upholstered rockers, their heads tossing back in laughter so their hair brushed against the doilies Gramma had crocheted.

I remember them side-by-side washing up the dishes in the kitchen, full of jokes and stories.

I remember them both telling me at different times about the first time they met.  My mom and dad had driven down to meet his parents, arriving a little early and surprising my Gramma on her knees scrubbing the floor getting ready for their visit, like a Danish maid, said my Gramma, all rosy cheeked, said my mother.  Gramma had laughed and scrambled up to her feet to hug my dad and his sweetie and welcome them in.  And from that moment my mom felt she was at home.

I asked my Gramma once how it was she'd been able to love my mom from the first, unlike the stories of mothers-in-law you usually hear.  I thought maybe she'd say she could just see my mother's excellences shining from her eyes.  But she said, "I'd raised my son and I trusted him.  I knew whoever he brought home would be wonderful."

And that was that.


Michelle Endicott said...

This is lovely. After 24 years I am still waiting to be accepted. That would be enough.

Mac said...

Wow - writing this is the perfect example of "doing" family history. I thank you, because my neices and nephews ;) will know these things about their wonderful progenitors and feel their legacy of love, and because it inspires me personally to be like this. And what a cool thought about the time spent between family members in that "neither here nor there" garden place. Yes, I agree there are gardens, and beautiful trees and green grass.

Emma J said...

(Thanks, Mac!) I'm glad too that your nieces and nephews will have you to aunt them ;)

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