The focus of this post is a brief reflection on my mother, Carole’s, well lived life, following a realization that it is important to consider who she really was throughout most of her life. (Her recent condition can taint those memories; see “Chicken Salad” post.) Born in Atlanta, mom moved to Jacksonville after my parents were married. As evidence of how well she adapted to living in Florida, she preferred going barefoot year round, despite otherwise being very well mannered. In other ways, she remained a Georgia girl whose southern parents and ancestors imparted lifetimes of warmth and caring to her. Mom worked after high school, when attending college, before moving to Jacksonville where she, following in her mother’s career path, worked primarily as a church secretary. She worked part-time while my brother and I were in school, going full time afterwards. That job was a 5+ day a week job, because, despite not officially working on Sunday at the church she/we also attended, she was never “off duty” when at the church. I have often thought it must have been strange to attend the church with the same people one encountered in a “servant” role as a church employee. She knew, but never told, the troubles, concerns, tragedies of essentially everyone who surrounded her as a church member in a way that other church members would not know. Mom was particularly good with children and her Sunday church job involved overseeing the nursery and the young children’s program on Sunday mornings. Baby dedication was a big day for her as well – and she very much enjoyed this role for many, many years. As a mother, she managed the house and my brothers and me, when Dad was frequently out of town. Whether as den mother for Cub Scouts or a band mom later, she was always involved. She lived up to her maiden name, Cook, by being a good cook. She fried the fish we caught and always made meal prep seem effortless. My fondest thoughts, though, are of her acceptance of all of our friends, welcoming them, inviting them to join us for dinner – a surrogate mom for many. In adulthood, I think frequently of how she always said “Have Fun” even when Melissa and I were off to work with a client – which sometimes seemed like a disconnect from the reality of work. My interpretation of that now is to consider the message – have fun, whenever and however, you can – build it into the day. Fun doesn’t last forever.
As I have mentioned in several previous posts, David’s mother, Carole, was never just my mother-in-law. A mother-in-law, in my opinion, is merely the person who happens to be the mother of one’s spouse. When marrying someone, one gains a mother-in-law, as long as one’s spouse has a mother. Mothers-in-law come in all shapes and sizes and liking for one’s mother-in-law can fluctuate greatly from person to person. Fortunately for me, Carole is the embodiment what it means to be the “perfect” mother-in-law. Some of the characteristics I will use to describe Carole, my version of the perfect mother-in-law, are: nonjudgmental and accepting of her and my differences; a fabulous role model for her sons, as well as her daughters-in-law; fun loving; ready to try new things and experiences (for example, David and I introduced Carole to one of our favorite meals, dim sum, when she was in her 70s); kind; compassionate; thoughtful; poised; well dressed and appropriately attired for every occasion (etiquette is important to me, as readers of this blog surely know!); cat lover, not only of her cats, but David’s and my cats; helpful when providing advice, when advice is requested; not providing advice when none is requested; tolerant of the differences among people; socially conscious, that is, not prejudiced or biased; loves spending time outdoors, at the beach, in the garden, or just in the sunshine; and, as David mentioned, a good cook, with food lovingly prepared in a warmly inviting home. When David and I moved, including to our current home almost 5 years ago, Carole and David’s dad, Herman, helped us move by packing boxes, unpacking boxes, organizing our kitchen, doing errands, and taking us out for meals. Considering the fact David and I have moved several times in our 30 years of marriage, we have received more moving help from Carole and Herman than anyone else I know! Although Carole has an illness that has changed her, and our relationship, in ways I would never have imagined, I choose to think of the “real” Carole, the fun loving, kind friend whom I have been fortunate to know for over 30 years. As David says, the best thing we learned from his mom is to have fun, while you can and while it lasts.