My Mother in Law Maria told me from the start not to ever expect that we would become friends. Maria had been close friends with Theresa, an earlier girlfriend of my Husband’s, and she was hurt and disappointed when things didn’t work out. It was the second time we had met.
Burning to know what made Theresa special, I asked my future Husband. He confirmed that Maria and Theresa dressed alike, and had a great time gabbing, shopping and grabbing lunch. He also added that he had dumped Theresa when she got fat. This was not a surprise, as his Family was in the food and restaurant business and I had already eaten more in the last few months than I had over the previous year. I only ate half of my cheesecake.
As things got more serious, I was determined to win Maria over. Despite having little in common, I would accept the cigarettes she offered (I was an occasional social smoker). I always dressed up when we would meet (I was a shorts girl). I tried all the traditional Hungarian foods with gusto (even the scary organ meats). I showed enthusiasm for formal entertaining (BBQ anyone?). I pretended to love crystal and china patterns (zero interest). I kept conversations lively and tried to learn a few Hungarian words. My Husband and I got married.
I blew it with chocolate covered cherries. Maria returned from Hungary with a box of them. I ate a couple and told her that they were my favorite. Who would have known that cherries were a national pride of Hungary, and chocolate covered cherries the most special? Before I could nip it in the bud ever larger boxes were lovingly hand carried on plane rides home. I suspected that she knew I didn’t really like them.
I redeemed myself with the Grandkids. Maria and I would go shopping for baby clothes, and grab lunch. We had pleasant conversations and forged a respectful companionship. It lasted until a fateful Christmas. There had already been gifts at home and a couple more at my Parents. It was our third stop and my exhausted daughters cried halfway through the mountain of gifts, too overwhelmed to continue opening. Grouchy and pregnant with my third, I wanted to go home and come back the next day. This suggestion was not well received. The respectful companionship reverted to eye rolling and exclusionary conversations solely in Hungarian.
Maria and I compromised on no more than two gifts at Christmas, the rest of the budget going to savings. I chose a china pattern and she didn’t flinch when I used it every day. As the Kids got older, we would grab a glass of wine and sit companionably by the pool watching them swim. Maria confessed that she overdid it on gifts as she never wanted her Family to feel like they had nothing, like she felt when she emigrated from Hungary. She told me that she didn’t always agree but appreciated the way that I raised the Kids and respected my dedication to my job. She confessed that she had recently worn shorts to the grocery store. We appreciated each other more as the years passed, never quite friends.
I knew Maria was sick long before her diagnosis. She couldn’t pretend any longer that she has stopped smoking. A true Nagymama, she told me to keep the Kids in their normal activities, and not make special trips to see her. We did make trips, but at the end I was alone attending Basketball and Plays, and my Husband at her bedside. I haven’t eaten a chocolate covered cherry in years.