Mother-In-Laws Can Be Murder

This is a mother-in-law's tongue. It has sharp and pointed leaves and contains a poison that will swell your tongue if you're foolish enough to sample it. This spikey evergreen it also hard to kill.

Why does it remind me of my late husband's mother, Grandma Johnson (the kids called her that and I got in the habit, too)? She'd ninety-two years old, shriveled like an old prune, and doesn't resemble a mother-in-law's tongue at all, although she has all the characteristics. Grandma Johnson is more like stabbing yourself with barbed wire, like burning your hand at the stove, like porcupine quills stuck in your eyeballs, like...well you get the idea.

Here in the Michigan Upper Peninsula we take care of our aging family members. But sometimes, when I'm at my wits end, I imagine a nice assisted living facility in Escanaba. Not for her. For me! At times, dealing with her is just too much, especially when she's on the attack. I console myself with two indisputable truths. First, my mother-in-law gave birth to my deceased husband, Barney, and a better man has never lived. Second, she's mean to everybody, not just me.

Grandma Johnson disapproves of all my friends, thinks I was the cause of Barney's death (not true! He drowned while trout fishing and I wasn't anywhere near and if I had been I would have saved him if I could), and criticizes my cooking even though that hasn't stopped her from chowing down plenty of it.

Something happened last weekend, though, that got me thinking that there might be more to her than I know. The Johnson family attended a friend's funeral and I sat right next to my mother-in-law while we waited for the pastor to start speaking his piece. She had on her little black pill box hat and clenched a fist full of tissues, dabbing them at her eyes. I took a good look at her and for one split second I thought I saw something soft and kind beneath the layer of gravel she shows the world. Then the image was gone as quickly as it came.

"Gertie Johnson," she said in a loud whisper right after she noticed me eyeing her. "Couldn't you have worn better slacks. Look at the wrinkles. And your shoes. I wouldn't be caught dead in shoes scuffed up that bad. And...."

My three grown kids snuck me grins and eye rolls and the service started up. At the end while we were filing out, I felt extremely grateful for my family. My kids - Blaze, Heather, Star, and yes, even Grandma Johnson. If I'm ever strong enough, I'm going to try to get to know her better.

I can't believe I just said that.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gertie, hang in there. Although you're seeing some similarities between the famous plant and Grandma Johnson, she did raise Barney and it sounds like he turned out well. (That's what I tell myself about my own mother-in-law, anyway!)