So: ode to my in-laws


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Some people make jokes about their in-laws or complain that they aren’t liked or appreciated by their spouse’s parents. Not me.

From the moment I showed up at their house on American Thanksgiving 20 years ago, I knew I was welcome. Ed cooked a Thanksgiving dinner, even though Canadian Thanksgiving had been the month before and everyone had already enjoyed the fall turkey dinner together. Marge invited Cathy, Linda, Peggy and their spouses and kids over for another feast and to meet Bruce’s new girlfriend from California.

It was an overwhelming day for someone who spent very few holidays with a big family. My ears rang and my head hurt when Bruce and I finally left that night. My family’s Thanksgiving dinners were tiny, sedate and quiet by comparison. I realized quickly that I’d have to speak up or never get a word in edgewise. It was the first of many excellent lessons, useful in many situations.

Maybe that’s why Ed was always so quiet. With all those females talking at once, there was no space for his words.

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After Bruce and I got married, I always looked forward to Canadian Thanksgiving more than any other holiday. While I really didn’t have to do anything since Ed did all the cooking up until he was not well enough to do it, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping however I could. He taught me how to make his “secret” stuffing recipe. He taught me how to make gravy the old fashioned way with drippings, flour, and plenty of stirring. He made me brussels sprouts because he knew how much I liked them. So I became his helper and dishwasher (up until Marge and Ed got their first dishwasher in the early 2000s).

And I learned that while he had a recipe for his secret stuffing recipe and many other treasured family favorites, he always improvised and added new things. So try as I may, it will never be quite as good as his. The same goes with his potato salad. I have the recipe for that too. Ed liked to tinker and adjust, but he knew that perfection was a never-ending quest and it was through striving that he got satisfaction. Raising the bar each time on the task at hand was an another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

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Ed gave me more than cooking tips, great food, and recipes. He taught me about other things he loved like Canada, cottaging, boats, and fishing. He gave me tips about plants. He told me about the company he retired from. He told me stories about long gone stores where he and Bruce went when Bruce was a boy and other bits of trivia of the area. He insisted that I visit the historical sights. He showed me things that he treasured and kept around just in case.

He didn’t even mind that one summer day he took Bruce and me out in his boat on Lake Ontario and I fell asleep because my allergy medicine knocked me out. He knew that I was just overwhelmed by the whole experience—and the pollen. Ed taught me that being still and quiet was ok, that I’d learn a lot if I just watched and listened. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

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Marge and her mother Marie Antoinette

I knew I was loved every time Marge bought me socks and underwear for Christmas. Or a gift card from a store that she knew I liked. She gave me chocolate for Valentine’s Day and Easter. She’d press Coffee Crisp bars on me like I was one of the grandchildren because she knew I loved them and she enjoyed giving them out. She was very kind to me and extremely generous with what she had. She threw me a bridal shower even though Bruce and I got married on a beach in St. Lucia because she wanted people to meet me and she wanted us to have a good start in married life. And while she may have considered the things she did to be expected, they’ve stuck with me. Small gestures can be mean a lot. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

As a newlywed, I also learned about the huge wardrobe in the bedroom that was Bruce’s as a kid. It was crammed full of toilet paper, tissues, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, bandaids. You name it, if it was for personal hygiene, it was stockpiled there. She did the same thing with towels. You see Marge grew up poor and even though she and Ed weren’t exactly rich, she knew that a family of six went through a lot of that sort of stuff. But after the kids all moved out, Marge never really scaled back. While I don’t stockpile on the same scale as Marge did, our pantry is perpetually full. So is our freezer. And our linen closet too, though it’s not all about towels. We always have extras, just in case. Having a backup is another excellent lesson, useful in many situations.

But the way I really knew I was loved was that Marge repeated her most treasured stories to me, over and over again, because she wanted me to know them and know how much those memories meant to her. While her kids may have thought the repetition was tiresome, I didn’t. I enjoyed sitting at the kitchen table with her as we drank cups of the retched instant coffee she favored, she with her little cup and me with a big hand-warming mug so I could put milk in it to cut the taste (and that is why I drink all coffee with milk to this day). Marge just waved the bag of milk over the cup and added the tiniest drop. (A note to non-Canadian readers: in Canada milk comes in a big bag with 4 smaller bags inside. You put one bag at a time in a plastic pitcher and cut off the corner of the bag to pour the milk. The first time I saw one, I accidentally poured milk all over the table.) Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations: if something is unfamiliar, ask how to use it.

IMG_4909Marge was sentimental and knew I’d appreciate her words—and just listen quietly. Each time, the story came alive in a new way with additional characters or a layer of detail that wasn’t there in previous tellings. That’s why I treasure having a porcelain tea cup that was part of her mother’s collection—I knew that her mother collected them one by one as she scraped together a little extra money. This collection of cups was one of the only nice things that Marie Antoinette LaPointe Glover had (and yes, Marie Antoinette was French Canadian). I heard family stories, stories about Ed’s Scottish farmer family and their big reunions, stories about the people on the street that didn’t live there anymore, stories about Bruce and Sweet Feet the cat (also known as Toes), stories about waiting up for teenaged daughters breaking curfew to come home. Stories about the grandchildren when they were babies. All of it was very useful to a new person to the family—it was because of those stories that I could follow mealtime conversations and comments made by Bruce and his sisters. Another excellent lesson, useful in many situations: get the new person up to speed as quickly as possible, then fill in the details after.

I could go on and on with Marge stories. One of the sweetest memories I have was how she would talk about the one place we had in common several times a year. Marge and I bonded over her memories of her trip to California, the day she went to Disneyland, how much she enjoyed seeing Palm Springs, how beautiful she thought the state was. The trip was not especially long, but lingered years later as an important milestone and a common ground with her daughter-in-law.

It’s why sometimes I catch myself thinking, “Hey, I should call Marge and see what she’s up to.” Then I remember, I can’t.

While we said goodbye to Marge in January and Ed left a few years earlier, today, Cathy, Linda, Peggy, and Bruce along with the rest of the extended family will watch as they are put in their final resting place. They’ll be in the cemetery’s mausoleum in the Ontario town where they spent their life together. Whether you call it an “inurnment” or “interment,” it’s not important. After today, instead of the two story brick house with the big yard, we’ll have a new place where we can visit them.

But for me, they won’t be in the carved wood box or behind the marble plate at the cemetery. In my mind’s eye, they’re hanging out on that bench on their porch with our bulldog Daisy beside them. It’s one of my favorite photos (you can see it below) and I hope the happiness that all three of them felt in moment never disappears from my memory.

My only regret is that I didn’t have more time with them. But I believe that we all made the most of the time we had together.

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Today’s gratuitous dog photo is in honor of Marge, Ed and Daisy, our bulldog, may they all rest in peace.

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Daisy, Marge and Ed

Daisy spent a chunk of the later part of her life living at Marge’s and Ed’s house. When Bruce and I decided that I should accept the opportunity to move to Texas, our house sold quickly—to the first couple that saw it. Bruce and Daisy were supposed to join me in a matter of months when Bruce got his Green Card. But that process ended up taking about a year. So Bruce and Daisy moved in with Marge and Ed. And while Bruce’s commute was awful, I think Marge and Ed enjoyed their time with Daisy almost as much as Daisy enjoyed her time with them. I’d like to to think that they’re all together again, Ed throwing the ball for Daisy, Marge feeding Daisy dog treats from the stash in her pocket.

 

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So: trip down memory lane

I’ve spent the past couple of days visiting with my parents. The place where they live these days is not one of the many homes I grew up in. It has become somewhat familiar over the past 14 years, but truthfully I have not visited here as much as I should have. I’ve met up with my parents in another of other places, usually with lots of other people around.

This time I had them all to myself.

There was a lot of show and tell, mostly because my parents are avid travelers these days. So there were hours of hearing lots of stories, showing of souvenirs, flipping through amazing photos of exotic and not-so-exotic locales. We ate a lot of food. We drove around in their golf cart. My mom and I spent a couple hours at the pool. We just hung out.

But one of the other things that I did was go through a big box of stuff that my mom tells me that I wanted to save so she’s moved it several times. And at this point, she wants it out of the garage. (She also offered me some vintage Daisy covered 1960s outdoor cups, a matching ice bucket, and a matching pitcher that she had in the garage. She’ll ship them to me.)

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picture from etsy of a similar daisy ice bucket and tumblers that my mom wants out of her house


By the way, I had no recollection of this box or putting things into this tattered box.

I put off digging through it until after dinner tonight because there was so much reading involved. You see, in amongst certificates earned for playing the piano, programs for long ago violin concerts, science fair programs, attendance and field day certificates, a couple of sweet love letters from a very articulate high school boyfriend, a few pieces of jewelry, 80s LPs, some trinkets from my grandparents’ vacations, and a bit of random proof that at one time in my life I could do math, I found many reasons why there was no other life’s work meant for me besides writing (well, maybe except for farming, but I consider that a Plan B career possibility).

I also found BandAid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

In addition to this classic, I also found BandAid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

 

The box was crammed full of paper. But what was obviously important to me were the words on the piles of paper (and the grades earned).

So tonight I:
-read a completely incoherent “story” that I wrote and illustrated in kindergarten.
-found countless book reports and essays marked with neat A+ grades, some with the occasional comment in red about my atrocious spelling.
-saw how I could put together very technical hand drawn graphs, charts, maps, and handwritten copy and make a lovely presentation.
-enjoyed a “book” I titled Absurdities which had bizarre drawings of things like a four-legged woman and a pink cat and crazy descriptions that made me wonder if my teachers in the 1970s were feeding us kids mind altering substances.
-continued to see a pattern with poor spelling and frustrated teachers who wanted to give me a lower grade for my sloppiness, but couldn’t because they were amused by the work (and the drawings).
-laughed at heartfelt (but horrible) attempts at poetry, elementary school journalism, and even 4th grade marketing.
-chuckled at a couple of “memoirs” that date back to high school days.

But one thing was clear as I flipped through these ancient relics of my childhood, I loved to write. And I found my voice, my life’s work, and my joy at an early age, but didn’t know it. I am so lucky to have these gifts—and to have had them with me for such a long time. I must never forget that they’ve been a part of me since practically the very beginning — and kindergarten was oh so very long ago. And I can rest easy knowing that spelling has always been an issue for me. I am not losing that gift. I never had it!

I’m trying hard not to be a packrat (I’ve already gone through many “treasures” from high school and college and whittled them down to a very few pieces that are stashed in my closet at home.) While most of this crumbling debris is destined for the recycling bin in the morning, some of it is coming back to Dallas with me as a not-so-subtle reminder that no matter what, writing is what I’m meant to do.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo features the boys:

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Stoic Guinness and anxious George anxiously await my return home • photo by Bruce