Meeting the In-Laws….. (especially my Mother-in-Law)
I married Stephanie in October 78, it was 2nd marriage for each of us. Steph had been married to a Phd, and I was enlisted in the Navy. Marrying me was a step down the social ladder. But it is amazing what love will do for you. The process of marrying always involves meeting the future in-laws, gaining their approval, and making what peace needs to be made. It was no different in Steph and I’s relationship. On Steph’s own she had driven to Kentucky and visited my parents. As a matter of fact, Steph met my Mom at Mom’s favorite Waffle House. Apparently whatever transpired at that meeting was the right thing, Steph and Mom got along great throughout the relationship. Steph even created a Christmas tree (using only White House ornaments) similar to Mom’s. Dad liked Steph immediately, as much as Dad liked anyone. She could hold up her end of a conversation intelligently, that was the major factor for him.
My meeting Steph’s parents wasn’t quite as positive, Rufino (future father-in-law) and I got along fine from the moment we shook hands, but my relationship with my future mother-in-law started on thin ice on a foundation of shaky ground. I won’t keep you in suspense, my mother-in-law and my relationship grew to a great friendship, filled with love and respect. Arlene was a lady with no end of class. She was well read, and she cared greatly for the arts, and dedicated to her Church. She was well respected during her career, and she loved her children and grand-children and took care of them even in her passing. Steph said she was at one time a great cook, I don’t have any 1st hand knowledge of that to agree. But in retirement after Ruf’s passing she found the many great inexpensive restaurants.
I have so many fond memories of Arlene, I could write several thousand words, but I am only to relate 3 or 4 stories of our time together. The first couple will be the negative impact the latter will be the of our better times.
I met Arlene at the wedding of her youngest son. Steph and I drove up from Norfolk VA. I was just returning to Norfolk VA (from a 7 month Med cruise), with wedding in Danbury Conn., the next day. Steph and I had a couple stops (picking up my suit and taking a nap), before the all night drive to Conn. Traffic was bare thru New York City, and with other circumstances led us to be a bit late. Of course it was my responsibility to get us there on time, but I did fail LOL LOL. Instead of driving directly to the reception after the wedding we diverted to the motel to check in and change cloths. We were therefore late to the reception. Again my fault, gosh I hate being late. Clearly Arlene wasn’t a big fan of lateness and so far I was 2 for 2 incidents. After the reception we were invited to gather at Ruf’s and Arlene’s to play poker (in Alexandria VA)[[[‘;’;. This was a family tradition and cheap; nickel, dime, fifteen cents, max bet. I was in the Navy, I played to win always and I was pretty good. The players were Steph and I, Ruf and Arlene, Dot (Arlene’s sister) Herm (Dot’s husband) and Bill their son. Ruf was the hardest to read, Arlene and Dot the easiest, they both had cards that gave hand ranking from low to high, they would look at their hand and run their fingers up the list until they found their hand, and they were honest their fingers always stopped at the hand they had. I realized way to late that night that from time to time Ruf and Herm would throw in hands so the ladies could win. I didn’t throw in a hand unless I thought I was losing and I won a bunch of money that evening, and the next couple times we played as well, before I was clued in. That was my first major mistake.
Over the next few months I didn’t make a lot of headway with Arlene, it was kinda like 2 steps forward and one and one half back. Ruf and I did great, each weekend when I came to town if he had chores to do at one of the apartments he owned I would help out. We talked and became friends. Ruf was an extremely interesting man with a ton of courage, skills, good nature, sense of humor, and a work ethic to the extreme. He also enjoyed baseball and football which we could also bond.
Arlene and I were a work in progress. Steph and I had been asked to take on the management responsibilities at one of the buildings they owned. It really meant keeping the public spaces clean and the trash out. We were to do this for reduced rent in a unit. But we were still required to pay. I had sold my motorcycle just before I got out of the Navy, this is long before electronic checking, and out-of-state banks still took 3 days to clear checks. Well guess what happened, that’s right the check I wrote to cover the 1st month rent, and security deposit bounce like a super ball. Arlene took Steph aside and asked if she realized what a deadbeat (my words) she was going to marry. Steph explained the out-of-state thing, and that appeased Arlene and took me off the hook. But it was still strike two. Let me say at this point it was looking grim. Over the next several months I worked very hard to get on Arlene’s better side and was making significant progress until we had to delay the wedding because my divorce was not final. We had failed to tell her folks I was going thru the divorce process. WOW what a shaky start. But as I said earlier Arlene and my relationship grew to one filled with love and respect.
Steph, Allison and I visited her mom 2 or 3 times a year. Sometimes it was for a long weekend, other times a week or more. Allison would spend a month visiting her during the summer. (those visits could warrant a post on their own) For months prior to a visit I would have Arlene put together a list of things she wanted done around condo. The list could number as many as 20 or more items, but never so much as to take more than a day or so to do. Things on the list could include buying furniture, taking donations to the church, clearing a closet, buying tires and other maintenance for her car, or putting her awards on the brag wall. Then it was golf for me.
Some folks have accused me of having courage, but Arlene was the definition of courage. She had a hip replaced prior to me knowing her, and after that she had the other hip done, an ankle and knee surgery, and several small strokes. Thru it all she made the necessary adjustments to her life. One of her post retirement goals was to learn how to ballroom dance. So at the age of 65 she started taking lessons. Ruf had passed, so she had both time and opportunity to take lessons and she did. She loved dancing, she loved the music, and she loved going to the dance competitions. After a couple of years of practice and learning, she started entering dance competitions. Clearly she entered the age appropriate competitions and she did quite well. And she did quite well acquiring at least 15 plaques and small trophies. One day I was tasked to put them all on a brag wall. Arlene sat in her chair in the living room of her condo, and directed me on the placement of the plaque or trophy. I teased her without mercy while putting them on the wall. Arlene sat and giggled like a little girl, when I said “oh, here is the one when you came in second”, (only 2 competitors), true she would say in response, but at least I didn’t come in third. Or “here’s the one for competitors with medal hips. You won this one.” And she had, I was so proud of her efforts, maybe I even learned a bit from her. But that afternoon we had a wonderful tit for tat, as I placed the awards on the wall. It was a great experience.
Over twenty years Arlene and I worked on our relationship. We shared a mutual respect, and loved each other in and son-in-law, mom-in-law way. She included Steph, Allison and I in several of her vacations, one of my favorites was Massanutten VA. She was a very nice person, which I am glad I got to know.
As always your thoughts and comments are encouraged and welcomed. Take care, Bill