As we approach Mother’s Day, commentator Diane Brown looks back on her relationship with her mother-in-law. She said it was difficult at first, but time and understanding won out in the end.
Frances, my late mother-in-law, would have turned 100 this year. Like many of us, she was a complicated person, but our relationship was able to evolve in unexpected ways, which made it truly special.
I’ll never forget one of the first conversations I had with Frances. I had made an off-hand comment that I’d never had a Barbie doll as a child. She responded with a withering gaze, “You survived.”
Another time, as I tearfully told her that my dog had died, she interrupted me in mid-sob to change the subject to the weather.
As I got to know Frances better, I realized that there was nothing personal about her reactions. After all, she had grown grew up during the Depression in Abilene, Texas, so Barbie dolls and dogs were frivolous luxuries. In fact, her family was so poor that at Christmas, because there was no money for presents at Christmas, so they wrapped up household items to exchange. I didn’t hear this story from her. because It wasn’t her nature was to complain or seek sympathy – and she expected the same from others.
Frances was valedictorian of her high school class, which provided her with a college scholarship for two years. Her classmates came from wealthy families who prospered despite the Depression. She felt self-conscious because she only had two dresses to wear to school. I had more than two dresses growing up, but I also came from limited means, which is why we bonded over shopping.
On one shopping trip, I found a dress that I really wanted, but being what can nicely be called a bargain hunter, I didn’t buy it. Several months later, at Christmas, I opened a present from Frances and was surprised to find that very dress.
As the years passed, she moved to an assisted living center, eventually ending up in the nursing home portion. Toward the end of her life, she began to decline rapidly.
When I visited the nursing home, sometimes I would hold her frail hand as I sat next to her. We didn’t speak, but still connected in a different way. After all, Frances had never been a touchy-feely person, so by allowing me to hold her hand, she let me see a part of herself that she’d hidden under a lifetime marked by no-nonsense practicality.
I’ll always remember my relationship with Frances as one that grew and matured over the years, despite its rocky start. And I’ll treasure that last, most precious gift of herself that she gave me.
Diane Brown is an attorney from Highland Village.