The first time I met my mother-in-law was at her Fortieth Wedding Anniversary. I was her newly-separated son’s date. Within the first five minutes, I was mistakenly called The Doc’s ex’s name twice by party guests. I proceeded to get tipsy and giggly while enjoying several Bloody Caesars and figuring that I would probably never see those people again. The first impression I left on Mum T was a bit ditzy. Mum T was highly protective of her children and grandchildren. She certainly didn’t want her son getting involved with a flake.
The second time I saw my mother-in-law was at a BBQ hosted by her and Dad T. The entire T family was there. That’s where I, knowing The Doc’s six-year-old son hated nuts, observed that dessert was topped with chopped walnuts. That’s when I, trying to make a good impression, made a statement that went down in never-to-be-forgotten family history: “Come here M, I’ll cut your nuts off.”
Even after all this, Mum T welcomed me into her family. Years later she told me that, by our second meeting, she realized I was just nervous. And yes I was nervous. I did not have a long and detailed dating history. At twenty-seven, I had actually only met a boyfriend’s mom twice before in my life, and that was several years earlier. Once we got past those first awkward moments, Mum T and I were comfortable and close. She had a way that made me feel relaxed enough that I could stretch my legs out on her sofa, my feet warmed by one of the many pairs of knitted slippers that she kept in a basket for guests, and I could stay for hours.
When I was working close by, I would drop in for a pee and a tea because I hated public bathrooms and I loved to visit and sip tea with my in-laws. I didn’t have to call first and make a plan. I could be spontaneous, which I loved because that didn’t happen in my house growing up. I also loved the fact that I could visit them alone, without The Doc, and not feel uncomfortable. Right before leaving, I would once again use her bathroom because, as we all know, tea makes you pee. It was a running joke with us. I would arrive at the door and Mum T would say, “quick go to the bathroom,” while she got up and put the kettle on.
When I had JT, I made sure he got to visit his grandparents at least once every two weeks. Mum T was firm but fun and a little bit mischievous. She was a get-down-on-the-floor-and-play-cars grandma. Very hands on. She always made her grandkids’ favourite food or treats when they came to visit. Come to think of it, she always made my favourite food and treats when I came to visit, especially the semester that I was attending a university night class in her neighbourhood and dropped by after work to have dinner before going to class. Her roasted potatoes still evoke fond memories and are now a best-loved family dish.
When The Doc and I decided to move to my home province of Nova Scotia, Mum T was one of the few people who supported our decision. Others in Ontario made ridiculous statements like, why do you want to move there when the hospitals are better here. They made me want to scream. Those in Nova Scotia thought I was forcing The Doc to make the move. They didn’t realize that The Doc wouldn’t do anything he didn’t want to do. The only regret that I had in moving back to my beautiful home was leaving my in-laws, knowing JT would lose a close relationship with his Ontario grandparents, knowing that he wouldn’t have a grandma like Mum T where we were going. This made me want to cry. But Mum T still thought it was a good idea.
Mum T loved Nova Scotia. She came at least once, and often twice a year, staying for two weeks or more at a time. She was a war bride from England and loved that I could grow all the flowers that reminded her of her youth. She loved the fall colours and would try to get down to see them each year. She loved the cooler air and the summer breezes and our view of the lake. She loved the fact that I didn’t want her helping me in the kitchen, because I couldn’t focus when someone tried to help me in the kitchen so preferred to work alone. She knew not to insist and be pushy about it. She loved being treated like a guest.
Mum T would arrive by plane and the first thing we would do is go purchase yarn because she was constantly knitting. She started knitting at the age of four and still in her eighties she could turnout a sweater in a couple of days, usually without a pattern. Finally, I asked her to teach me, and she did. I was awkward and slow but she was always impressed by my tension. I would pick something that I might need help with when I knew she was coming so I could get her to show me how the pattern worked. I still hear her voice in my head when I pick up my needles, or some of her old needles. I still want to show her what I have completed.
Mum T’s last visit was in 2009 to attend JT’s high school graduation. By then, she was 84 and travelling was getting more difficult. Not the visiting part of travelling, the packing part and the Toronto airport part and the transportation to the airport part and all the other big and little changes in society that made life more difficult for the elderly. She would have kept coming if it hadn’t become so difficult.
Mum T lived a rich and full life. She was 95 when she passed away. As she aged, she sold her home and moved into a condo where she stayed active with other residents in knitting groups, lunch and learn sessions and going for walks everyday. Later, she required assisted living and embraced all it had to offer. She attended weekly exercise classes and showed up for all the entertainment and games and activities on the schedule. She made friends, stayed social and still walked, either the perimeter of the building or through the halls depending on the weather. She made an effort when she dressed, continued to do word searches and tried her best to be on top of things. It was only in her last few years that dementia and a couple of falls reduced the quality of her life.
I love her because she had spunk, and was feisty and a bit of a non-conformist. I will remember all that and all the wonderful things she did for me, things as simple as arriving at our door and bringing me a few hand-knitted dishcloths or a couple of pie plates she didn’t need anymore. Things as complicated as having my back and having faith in me when everyone else had their doubts. She constantly inspired me and that was a precious and beautiful gift. I know she had a soft spot for me and I, in turn, had one for her. She was and will always be one of my favourite people.
Thanks for reading.