A Lady Of Grace
Looking back over my life I found it difficult to pinpoint the one person who had the most impact on my life. There were many individuals who passed through it that either encouraged, discouraged, turn it topsy-turvy, and a few even changed the path completely. Naturally my parents played their roles in forming and shaping the person I became, but in all my reflections I kept coming back to one particular individual. A lady who has endured the many highs and lows presented to us in everyday life with grace, a never ending faith, dignity and a great love of family. A lady who is and remains to this day, in my eyes, as beautiful in spirit as she is in appearance, my mother-in-law of eighteen years and one of my dearest friend for twenty three.
I first met her for the first time on a sunny autumn afternoon. I was a scared 21 year old with three children, one being a 6 week old baby girl, who felt no man would want to date someone like me, let alone be accepted by another family. No mother would want her son to take on a ready-made family like that. I was dating her son who had never been married but who seemed to think I was the greatest thing since sliced cheese. He was great with my children, a white knight in shining armor. I wanted to make a good impression or at least as best I felt I could under the circumstances. I talked to the children about being on their best behavior, reminded them to say “yes mam” and “no mam”, “thank you” and “please”. As we pull into the driveway I had butterflies the size of kangaroos jumping around in my tummy. The house was like any other Middle American home but to me it was enormous. I managed to find my best smile and my voice as we walked into the house. Inside I found a warm and welcoming place. Pictures of her family graced the walls, both of her children and grandchildren. Trophies and ribbons awarded to her children graced the walls with pride in the den of this house. The smell of apples, cinnamon and vanilla lingered in the air. I realized immediately I wasn’t in someone’s house, I was in a home a woman took great pride in. I was greeted with an easy smile that instantly put me at ease. She was gracious and welcoming to both me and my children. She was one of those people you meet and after a few minutes you felt you’ve known her for years. She was playful with the children and adoring of the baby. If she had her doubts or concerns, they never showed during this visit. I left that day with a great admiration for this lady not knowing over the next twenty plus years it would only continue to grow.
Within a few short weeks, to everyone’s surprise – mine included, I became her daughter-in-law. She accepted me and my children with open arms. If she had objections or doubts about this quick turn of events, as far as I know she kept them to herself or voiced them only to those closer to her than I at this point. On Monday afternoon after Thanksgiving weekend, I had the intuitive voice many women are blessed with telling me I needed to make a quick afternoon stop by my new mother-in-law’s home. The south was enjoying one last Indian summer afternoon with a sunny blue sky. As I popped in the front door about to greet her I realized there was something amiss. She was sitting in the chair very quite. She the shell shocked look on her face of someone who had been delivered news that was unbelievable. Her words to me were “He’s gone, all of his clothes are gone”. I knew immediately what she was talking about. She was telling me her husband of thirty years had walked out on her. I was at somewhat of a loss as to what I needed to do first. But for this moment in time, I knew it was my time to offer comfort. I have often wondered if this is the moment in time that bonded us together to become as close as we did over the years. Her first concern was for her daughter due home from school anytime and my new husband. How would they cope with this? The thing I have always admired most about this lady is her love for her family. I wanted to be just like her. She loved her children so deeply, yet she was aware of the faults and shortcomings. She had no problems pointing out their faults to them in her “special” way. She had this way of talking to you with a gentle voice, in a language very lady like, not riddled with “ugly words”, which made you want to go hide because you had disappointed her. I wanted my children to look up to me, to come to me in times of trouble because they felt I could offer great wisdom, because they knew regardless of anything, they were the most important thing in my life and I’d always be there for them as we all did with her.
Over the next year twenty years I would watch her face many highs and lows in life. She worked three jobs at one time just to keep the house her children had always known as home and put her youngest child through high school and college. She faced the horrors of breast cancer and survived. She dealt with love and loss a couple of different times. She was there for all of her children and grandchildren for good times and bad. She faced the loss of both her mother and her grandmother who was as more like her mother. With each and every life drama that that came her way I watched her face them with a calm and quiet dignity only women of true faith possess. Her pride in her family could never be mistaken.
Over the years I feel I have evolved into the kind of mother I always wanted to become. My children, all four of them, know they can come to me with anything. They are aware regardless of the number of times they make mistakes I am always there when they need me. Five years ago, I found myself living her nightmare of having a husband walk out on the family. I never dreamed all those years ago I would draw from those “life lessons” I had observed over the past twenty years. She was there for me during the dark days with an understanding ear and a comforting shoulder even when she was hurting because it was her son causing so much pain. Over the past few years I haven’t got to visit with her as much as I would have liked because she lives in another city but we communicate often and she knows I’m never more than a phone call away if she needs me. We may not be related any longer because of a piece of paper, but that piece of paper cannot destroy the bond created over twenty years and to me she will always be my “other mother” and my best friend. The one who, without realizing it, taught me how to be the kind of mother I wanted to be.