Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Today would have been my mother-in-law's 90th birthday.  I'm sure she thought that she would be around to enjoy the day.  I would have bet money on the same thing; she was a tough and determined lady.  Sadly, she passed away almost ten years ago.

For the longest time she resented my marrying Kitty.  I was that "damned South Chelmsford farmer" rather than "one of those engineers from Tech."  She sincerely believed that Kitty deserved someone much better than me.  Can't say that I disagreed with that and I have been ever so thankful that Kitty did disagree.  For the last three years of her life she lived with us; we had bought a house and set up separate living quarters so she could maintain her independence.  She actually told Kitty once that I was a "pretty good guy."  She would never allow herself to say it to me, though.

Some years ago, in their infinite wisdom and desire for more money, the Hallmark people created a National Mothers-in-law Day (or some such thing).  The morning of that first day, Eileen was our doorstep demanding, "Where's my card?"

When I was dating Kitty, Eileen discovered that one of her son's friends, one of seven children with a single mother, could not afford decent underwear.  My father had a small construction business and Eileen insisted I talk my father into hiring the boy for the summer so he could have some money.   Underneath her gruff exterior, she had a good heart.  At times, she hid it well.

She was a solitary person for the most part.  Her father had been affluent but dies of a sudden heart attack.  Her mother then committed suicide when Eileen was nine.  Eileen was raised by an uncle with a gambling problem and had a financially insecure childhood.   Nonetheless she was a happy and popular teenager.  Her high school boyfriend died during the war.  Later she married Kitty's father and they had a sometimes happy, sometimes turbulent marriage.  In her last few years, Eileen blossomed, renewing old friendships and opening new ones.

For the last year of her life Eileen was on hospice, and made good friends with the workers who came to the house regularly.  Eileen passed away just after 3:00 on a Monday morning.  At 8:00 one of the hospice workers drove up, not knowing that Eileen had died.  When I told her that Eileen had passed away, the worker broke down in tears -- something that seldom happens with hospice workers.

Eileen loved a bargain.  She once saw an advertisement for a special at a Chinese restaurant and decided to treat Kitty and me.  Only one problem:  she took us to a completely different Chinese restaurant.  Our poor waiter was very confused as Eileen insisted on the meal advertised by another restaurant and at the advertised price.  As I said, Eileen was a determined woman and she got her meal and her price.  The waiter was glad to see her leave and neither he nor Eileen noticed Kitty and I slinking down and trying to hide underneath the table.

For Eileen's eightieth birthday, we ordered Chinese takeout.  Now, every year on Eileen's birthday we try to go to a Chinese restaurant in honor of the grand old lady.  Sometimes we even consider ordering from another restaurants menu.

A few times during the last years of her life, we've had to take her to the hospital.  Christina at that time was working at the hospital in the emergency room and had to explain to the nurses and the doctors that her grandmother was a difficult person in the best of times, and that these were not the best of times.   The medical staff took this in stride and actually admired Eileen.

We have the Kangaroo today while Christina packs her family for a trip to Massachusetts tomorrow.  And I'm halfway through painting the bedroom before we follow her on Tuesday or Wednesday, so we may not have a chance for Chinese today, but we will sometime this week.  And when we do, we'll be thinking of that tough woman who never wanted anyone to think that she had a soft heat.

And while we are thinking of her, I'll realize just how much I miss her.