Today is my mother’s in-law birthday. She would have turned 84 but last year in late August she decided to leave this world. I don’t blame her. After her 83rd birthday and in coincidence with the pandemic, her health started to deteriorate, to the point that she couldn’t live alone anymore. From that month until she died, she was always with one member of the family or friend in her house. She dreaded the idea of going to a nursing home, and Covid was not making things easier. She valued her independency, as much as she valued her children’s privacy. She never even toyed with the idea of living with one of her offspring. She enjoyed visiting them, but live with them was not her way of living.
I met my mother in law in the summer of 1991, when I visited my, at that point, boyfriend or date friend, now husband’s ranch in Montana. I remember that one of the things that struck me from the beginning was the complicity she has with her children. Very often they all gathered together and start talking ranch talk that I barely understood. One morning, four of her sons where talking to her in a very amicable circle. They were laughing, cracking jokes, while deciding what were the top chores of the day. As she did very often, she was wearing curl rollers on her hair, covered with a nice headscarf. She looked beautiful in her casual ways, and when she was ready to get out, always looked very elegant with matching earrings and necklaces that always had a story behind if you complimented them. You would think that she was the Queen of England.
If you payed close attention to her hands, though, you knew that she didn’t have a pampered life. Ranch life is non-stop. From early on as a married young woman, Minnie fed her family and the hired men, starting her days making a full big breakfast, then a main meal at noon and finally supper, including all the clean up that goes with it. As one of her nieces wrote for the funeral “having to launch into making roasts, pies, cakes and all the trimmings of a big noon meal almost as soon as breakfast was over came as quite a shock to me.”
I didn’t witness the early ranch life of graciously raising seven children with no TV or disposable diapers, but I saw her cooking and cleaning before going to work as a nurse at the local Hospital, job that she had ever since her husband died of cancer when she was 46. I witnessed in amazement her sons entering the house with muddy boots through the back entrance, and walking carelessly on top of the clean and recently placed floor rugs. And my mother in law not even flinching. I would have yelled at them, start crying, and complain like crazy. She just patiently put the rugs again in the washer, and return them clean to the floor, as the wheel of life.
Minnie visited us everywhere we were. In Chile, Maryland, Virginia, Oregon, Spain. She was an easy keeper and quiet guest. Always admiring the novelties on her trips, and saying “very interesting” when she didn’t know exactly if she really like something or not. She was polite, generous, and a wonderful mom. I can say that because I know all her children. She raised them to be kind, positive, generous, hard workers with a great laugh and awesome sense of humor.
My husband called her religiously every week, even when we were in Spain. If he managed to loosen up Minnie’s tongue, eventually he would know all the whereabouts of all the family members. He really enjoyed those phone calls and I know my mother in law really appreciate them.
She was one of the few person who still was writing handwriting letters, and had a blind faith on the postal service. One time she sent me to Chile by mail a camera I forgot in a trip to the US. This was during the 1990s. I was amazed that the camera arrived. She always sent packages for the children for Valentine’s, Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, Christmas. She made the best cookies in the world and until today people are asking for her recipes.
I had the fortune of being with her for 20 days, a month before she died. Even in her worst moments and pain, she was gracious and grateful. She is always in our thoughts and hearts, and we certainly miss her. Now, our mailbox is full of junk mail or packages with books I have ordered. With Minnie gone, the handwriting letter custom has stopped.
Minnie and us during our wedding in Chile in 1993