Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Remember Martha

Sometimes I miss my mother-in-law.

Martha was my bridge...

She was my tiny sliver of communication
between her son and I.
During our young marriage,
she knew him better
than anyone did.

She understood his moods,
his joys-
the things that made him bearable
to live with.

She taught me-
(just by observing her)-
when to let him sulk like a baby
and when to smother him with attention.

Through the years,
she was the one who sympathized with me
whenever my husband picked a fight.

She was the one who rejoiced with me
when her son and I shared
happy events and celebrations.

She was the one who was there
to help us build
the story of our lives.

And the invisible bridge she provided
helped to make my married life successful.

Martha was a treasure full of odd stories,
steadfast prayers,
and old-fashioned charm.

She taught me how to make red eye gravy
and mashed potatoes without lumps.
She taught me the proper way to dress a bed
and showed me a hundred magic recipes using hamburger.

Yet, I will admit-
there were times in my young-girl life
that I truly disliked her.

Times when I caught her looking disgusted
as her eyes ran an imaginary white glove
across my flea market furniture.

Times when she seemed afraid to
curl up in the back bedroom
just because a mouse trap
lay baited and waiting
beneath the dresser.

Or like the times that she frowned
as I reprimanded my children -
telling me later in full, detailed instructions
(with her soft, righteous voice),
the Right Way To Do It.

Of course, there was the time
she snubbed us for months
just because we named
our fattest round hen after her.

Our fault.
We should have known better.

Now, thinking back,
it hurt to see my mother-in-law
purse her lips
and ruffle her feathers
over our blatant insensitivity.

To this day, I'm not sure
if she was ever aware
that it wasn't my idea-
but it was the humor and wit
of her almost-perfect son.

Yet, changes unfolded over the years
and she gradually became my true friend
and confidant.

She taught me how to pray
whenever things looked impossible
and to rejoice
at the making of miracles.

She taught me about strength
and faith
and family.

I can almost see her now...

Her thin, red headscarf
like an opaque tent-
barely floating upon the surface
of her beehive hairdo-
each twist of bleached hair
carefully cemented
to last until next week's appointment.

In my dreams
she takes me to
a fancy department store-
buys me strawberry pie
with tons of fresh whipped cream.

We smile across the table at one another-
and we giggle occasionally-
as she plucks at a platter of hot, fried catfish-
weaving away the flesh
and leaving only
a plate of lacy skeletons.

And in my dreams
I tell her that I love her

and I tell her that sometimes
she is still
my invisible bridge...