This week my husband Randy, sons Patrick and Paul and I went to Houston to visit Joyce, my mother-in-law, now in her senior years.
I’ve always loved Texas with its flat plains, barbecue restaurants and honkytonk music, so different from leafy, hilly, Yankee Connecticut.
Joyce’s cozy home is in the West University area, filled with pictures of her sons, grandsons, late husband George who passed away in 2001, parents, grandparents, and friends. Joyce was born in this house. An entire lifetime is contained in these walls.
She looked good considering she has serious health concerns. “Look around and pick out what you want when I’m gone,” she said, matter-of-factly. Randy and I didn’t know how to respond.
I watched her play hostess, which she loves to do, offering popcorn, soda, and chocolate chip cookies. Her nails were done in the usual French manicure, hair perfectly coifed.
I met Joyce in 1978 when she and George lived in Westport, CT. My new boyfriend Randy brought me over and I remember seeing a woman sitting outside on the patio. She had long legs capped with coral-colored toenails.
At our approach, she stood and walked toward me. “I’m Joyce,” she said in her honeyed southern accent. She was quite beautiful with chestnut brown hair and a lovely smile. She had been homecoming queen for Baylor University.
Little did I know this was the beginning of a long relationship. Randy and I married in 1980 and his parents would visit each year. Joyce and I got along for the most part, although there were tense moments. We’re both strong-willed women who like to control. I’m an introverted, reserved New Englander. She’s an outgoing Southerner who loves lots of conversation.
Still, over the years and decades, I learned from my mother-in-law. Like many southern women, she’s glamorous. I took note of how she did her make-up and put clothes together.
She loves good food and champagne and beautiful restaurants. She’s also a great hostess and taught me how to make guests feel welcome by asking them questions about themselves. Sometimes she’d simmer a big pot of chili all day. (“Texan’s make it with beef, not beans,” she’d instruct).
She never held a grudge, always taking the high road. If she felt anger or sadness, I never saw it. In hard times, she kept her smile and zest for life.
Our Houston visit went fast and before we knew it, it was our last night. Joyce joined Randy, the boys and me for a steak dinner in our hotel restaurant. I noticed she didn’t eat much and after dinner, announced she was heading home. She looked tired and I worried about her driving. “I’ll be fine,” she said in her twang. “I do it all the time.”
She rose and gave us each a hug. Her body felt frail, so different from the tall, statuesque woman I’d met 36 years back. She looked into my eyes. “You’re a wonderful daughter-in-law,” she said. “You’ve always taken such good care of my son.” She’s given this compliment often, only this time the words seemed more poignant.
Patrick and Paul escorted their grandmother out the dining room to help get her car. Randy and I watched them leave, Joyce walking slow, a grandson on each arm. I couldn’t help think how life catches up with even the most vibrant, how the wheel keeps turning for each generation.
The waiter came and asked if we’d like anything more. Randy and I looked at each other. Our eyes were misty. “Just the check,” my husband said.
(Postscript: Joyce passed away in July, 2015).
Do you have a special memory of a mother or father-in-law? I’d love to hear it. Comments are always welcome. And if you like, please share…. Thank you.