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