37/52 – My Mother-in-Law

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​Having just returned from Ireland, with October upon us, and our applepicking happening just this afternoon, my mother-in-law has been much on my mind. Jean. Our trip was visiting her home, her cousins, and interring her ashes with her father, and applepicking was her “holiday”. She came up every year for applepicking and was also here for most of my middle child’s birthdays. He was born in October. She didn’t drive, but that didn’t stop her; not one bit. At home she traveled by public bus or walked or with friends. She used to take bus tours for those senior casino trips. She rode Greyhound or Trailways or whichever line was available to see us, arriving in New York’s capital in the afternoon before the roads were seized by rush hour. She also took Amtrak to visit my sister-in-law when she was in Virginia or Maine. She knew how to pack and only brought what she could carry, leaving plenty of room to bring home loads of apples.

When she left home in Northern Ireland, she traveled the world, meeting new people, finding adventure. From the UK to Afghanistan to India to Australia to America, where she settled, getting married, and having kids.

So many stories to tell, tea to drink, food to create and share, not to mention her Christmas dinners that I can only try to emulate and her trifles that I won’t even attempt for fear of not meeting anyone’s expectations, least of all mine.

Growing up in Northern Ireland to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, she was not a fan of the church and its rules, especially because of the way her father was treated back in the day. However, she was remarkably supportive when I became Catholic with no warning or preamble. She encouraged me. She found items that she had from her mother – a book of Catholic prayers for example, signed with her mother’s name and dated 1919. She said she didn’t know why she had kept it for so long, but now she knew and gave it to me along with a small First Communion statuette and a key chain with tiny figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

She was kind and generous and gave more than we could have ever given back.

Every step, every rock, every drop of rain in Ireland reminded me of her, especially always bringing an umbrella along.

Just in case.

Gifts

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On Friday, I talked a bit about my mother-in-law and the life she led. We were lucky to see her as often as we did, with her traveling to us by bus or once in a while by train before her accident three years ago, and our traveling to see her as often as we could. She lived about two hundred-fifty miles away from us so it was a long drive, but well worth it.

We were visiting her the last week in June. We had waited for the kids to get out of school, and down we went. We had no idea that she would be gone before we left for home. There’s being sick in the hospital and there’s sick in the hospital, heading to rehab to regain mobility and since she was the latter we were already making summer plans to visit again when she passed away.

She was able to have seen her three children and three of her six grandchildren. She admired my daughter’s outfits, which I mentioned on Friday were inspired by her own free spirit and her grandmother’s. She asked us about visiting my parents’ graves and bringing rocks from her garden. (Leaving rocks on gravestones is a Jewish tradition that we followed whenever we were at the cemetery.)

My mother-in-law grew up during World War II in and around Belfast to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. I mention this again because it influenced her lack of use for the Church. She had seen too much. Even as her kids went to catechism, her opinions on the bureaucracy remained.

When I told her of my decision to join the Catholic Church and be baptized, she was nothing but supportive. She immediately went into her dresser and gave me the prayer book pictured above. She said she wondered why she kept it all these years; now she knew why.

On another visit, she gave me the keychain/folder that is also pictured above. I don’t know that she ever carried it seriously in her purse, but it was the most perfect piece of religious kitsch that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.

She also gave me a little confirmation statue of Jesus and a girl that she happened to have, probably from one of her beloved garage sales, still in an old, dusty box.

Despite no love for the physical church that she remembered, she supported my new found faith and asked me about it whenever we were together. She enjoyed looking at my Easter Vigil photos from my baptism, confirmation and first communion.

No matter what she thought, everyone had their own path to follow and she encouraged them in it, always.