I met my in-laws for the first time the day before I married their son, Rod. His mother spent most of the time in the bedroom. His father smoked non-stop and downed three pots of coffee daily while he read the newspaper. After Rod and I left for our honeymoon, they returned to El Paso, to me, the strangers they were when they arrived.
The following Christmas my husband brought me to El Paso. Accustom to Cajun hospitality, I expected his parents to be eagerly awaiting our arrival. We pulled into his parents’ drive after midnight. The house was dark. My husband rang the doorbell. No one answered.
“Did you tell them we were coming?” I asked.
“Maybe the door bell is broken,” said Rod. He banged on the door.
Twenty minutes later, tired and irritated my voice dripped with sarcasm. “It’s too late to get a motel room. Let’s sleep in the car.”
Too wise to add fuel to a fire, Rod banged on the door with added zest.
The door opened a crack. “Whose there?”
“Father, It’s me.”
His pajama-clad Father opened the door. “Oh, you made it.”
We followed him to a closet. He retrieved an inflatable mattress, pump, and blanket, and handed them to Rod. I watched his father weave his way around waist high stacks of old newspapers and boxes full of only God knows what and disappear into his bedroom. The embarrassment on my husband’s face as he cleared a place on the floor for the mattress was evident.
I’d hoped to get better acquainted with my in-laws but saw little of his father. The only evidence his mother still lived there were the pantyhose hanging in the bathroom. Four days after our arrival his mother emerged from the bedroom and put sheets on a double bed for us. Most of the time, I listened as Rod and his mother talked late into the night. She reappeared to fix dinner the last three days of our visit and dropped hints about needing help in the kitchen.
The day before we left I walked into the kitchen to help. The sink overflowed with dirty dishes. Pots littered the stove and countertop harboring dinner from three days ago. I spent most of the morning cleaning the kitchen. I don’t remember her saying ‘Good-bye’ when we left.
The following year, I gave birth to their third grandchild and we prepared our apartment for his parents to visit. When the doorbell rang, Rod opened the door and saw his father. “Where’s mother?” my incredulous husband asked.
“She changed her mind,” said his father.
I shook my head in disbelief and walked into the bedroom to call her. “Someone had to stay home and watch the dogs,” she explained.
My sons were six and eight years old when the phone rang. “Can you meet me for lunch,” said his mother, “my flight leaves in three hours. Mother had been in New Orleans for a week attending a Bridge Tournament. I hung up, bewildered by her behavior. She could have stayed with us.
Two years later, we returned to El Paso to celebrate Christmas with his parents. His father rented a motel room for us. We opened presents with Rod’s parents on Christmas day and then his father brought us to dinner without his wife.
The following year, his parents moved to Seattle, Washington. We had not seen his parents for twelve years when my husband’s brother called with tragic news. Their father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We immediately made plans to visit Seattle, so Rod could spend time with his father before his health deteriorates.
Based on our past experiences we decided to spend two days with his father and planned two days of sightseeing. Before we departed his mother called. “Father’s not doing welI.”
“Are you Ok?” I asked.
“I’m doing the best I can. Are you bringing pictures?”
Feeling her pain, I tried to console her. “Yes, I have pictures of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We’ll be there next week.”
“We arrive Tuesday. We’ll see you on Wednesday.”
“You’re not taking the bus from the airport to my house?”
“We rented a car and have a reservation at a motel downtown?”
“Why did you do that? I have a double bed.”
I almost dropped the phone. “Uhhhhh . . . We have an early return flight on Sunday and wanted to be close to the airport.” It was a lame excuse with an element of truth. We had to be at the airport by 4:30 am.
“Let’s go to Mount St. Helens while you are here.”
At this point, I wondered if I was talking to Rod’s mother or a woman impersonating her. “Rod would love that,” I replied. “We could go on Wednesday or Friday. We plan to visit the Science Fiction Museum and we have a dinner reservation at the Space Needle on Thursday. Saturday we’ll be in British Columbia.”
“When are you going to Alaska?” she asked.
Her question baffled me. “Alaska! You know I’d love to go to Alaska. There are several cruises that sail out of Seattle. In fact, I had asked Rod if you and father might be interested in going on a cruise to Alaska with us. We really don’t have the money to do that on this trip – maybe next year.”
“Next year will be too late,” she said.
The fog suddenly cleared and I understood the dramatic change in his mother. She heard an enemy knocking on her bedroom door and woke up. Death will take her husband soon, and she was trying to make up for twenty-five years of isolation. She wanted to go with us to the museum and to dinner. She wanted to go to British Columbia. She wanted to go on a cruise to Alaska. She wanted to spend every minute with us she could.
I hung up the phone with a touch of sadness. I’m glad that I will finally spend some quality time with my both of my in-laws; sad that an enemy will make our time together brief.