There are a thousand jokes about mothers-in-law. Most don’t deserve to be the butt of these jokes, but Vera did. She was sour on life and self-absorbed, with a bent for picking good-for-nothings as husbands.
I fell in love with Lissa, Vera’s daughter. Lissa had been passed around various foster homes as a child, but was now living at home. Vera seldom knew or cared where Lissa was. Vera’s only concern was her woman-chasing boyfriend.
When I married Lissa, Vera was happy to be rid of the responsibility. She said now she’d finally have time to be with her man.
For a while, Vera stopped by for short visits, but it didn’t take long for me to realise she resented me. Perhaps it was because I was nothing like the men she preferred. I didn’t smoke or drink and never used off-colour language. While her men were rough-talking bikies and bar-hounds, I was polite and clean-shaven and kept my hair short and neatly groomed. Her place was a sty, while Lissa kept our house immaculate.
Because of her lack of home life, Lissa had missed much of her childhood. To compensate for that, we did some rather unusual things during our first years of marriage. I played children’s games with Lissa and bought her colouring books and crayons. We went tobogganing in the winter and floated down the creek in inner tubes in the summer.
While Lissa loved the fun we were having, her mother resented it—and me. She was not critical to my face, but she lamented to Lissa that I was driving a wedge between the two of them. In actuality, Lissa resented Vera. It was her youth that had been stolen. She was the one who had been left unloved—abandoned for Vera’s flighty romances. Rather than accept blame for these things, Vera aimed her guns at me.
When our first child was born, we agreed no-one should be allowed to smoke when holding the baby. Although it was Lissa who told Vera, she blew up at me. I had ruined her little girl and now I was trying to keep her from her grandchild!
About this time, Vera broke up with her boyfriend and renewed a relationship with Pete, her ex-husband. They got together for a few days, and she ended up moving some 600 kilometres away, to be with him.
Lissa wrote or called her mother on occasion, but that was our only contact . . . until one day the phone rang.
It was my day off, so I was the one who picked up the receiver and heard Vera’s quaking voice. She was obviously upset.
“What’s the matter, Vera?” I asked. “What’s happened?”
“Oh, Ted,” she sobbed, “I don’t know what to do. Pete is going back to his wife and doesn’t want me here. I haven’t got any money. I don’t have a job. And now I’ve got to move out of Pete’s caravan!”
“It’s OK, Mum,” I said. “I’ll come and get you and bring you home.”
“But it’s so far and I don’t have any money.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I told her gently. “I can take a couple of days off from work and drive down there tomorrow.”
“Y-you mean it?” She sounded surprised. “You’ll come all the way here to get me?”
“You just get your stuff packed. I’ll bring the ute and we’ll load everything up. You can stay here until you find a place and land a job.”
“Ted, I-I don’t know how . . .” Her voice constricted.
“It’s all right,” I said. “You get everything packed. Lissa and I will leave early. We should be there about noon. With luck, we’ll have you home by tomorrow night.”
After a short pause, she said, “Thanks, Ted. I really mean it.”
When I hung up the receiver, I told Lissa about her mother’s problem and my promise to get her.
“You know,” Lissa said, “I believe it was divine intervention that you answered the phone. Mum can’t possibly think I was twisting your arm or anything. She will know it was your idea to help her.”
“Believe me, Ted, every woman wants a hero in her life. Mum has seen you only as my husband, someone standing between her and me since our wedding. It’s time she got to know the real you.”
I stepped closer to Lissa and slipped my arms around her. “And that’s a good thing—her knowing the real me?”
“We don’t have to tell her your faults.”
“Faults?” I asked innocently. “I have faults?”
Lissa gave me a gentle kiss on the lips, then spun out of my arms. “Too many to discuss now. I’ve got a lot to do to get myself and the baby ready for the trip.”
We brought Vera back home and I helped move her into a caravan of her own a few weeks later and built her a storage shed. From that time on, she was in my corner in every debate. I not only got along with her, I could do nothing wrong. We never mentioned her smoking again, but when she visited, she always went outside to smoke. She looked after her grandchild whenever we needed a sitter and refused to take a cent for her trouble.
My effort to help Vera not only won her affection, but it also began a close and loving relationship that lasted 20 years, right up until her death. To this day, I don’t tell mother-in-law jokes. I’ve found the reward of winning a person’s heart much sweeter than the petty satisfaction of “getting even” through put-downs.