The Time My Mother-in-Law Saved My Life

Our first attempt at self-employment, our first B & B, was an eighteen month long whirlwind of adventure and despair. I’ve shared a couple of those stories, like the night of the haunted water heater.

The whole thing would have been a lot less fraught if we hadn’t got off to such a bad start. We set things in motion to buy Alan’s grandparents’ huge old house and I immediately got pregnant. We’d been trying for four years and in all the excitement of getting ready to move and take on a new project and all, I guess we didn’t really think about it. I just kept taking the fertility drugs and what do you know, they worked!

It wasn’t my first pregnancy. I’d had three miscarriages prior to this, but the doctor seemed positive about this one. “If you can make it to nine weeks,” he said, “chances are you’ll go the distance.” He also coached his kids’ soccer team, so our conversations were peppered with team spirit talk. It was weird. I got to nine weeks and a little bit past when things went south. It was Christmas time. Pretty much our worst Christmas ever. I came out of the hospital aching and tired and sad and two weeks later we packed up all our stuff and moved.

To take on the renovation of a twenty-five hundred square foot house that needed to be converted back from a duplex into something resembling a gracious bed and breakfast by two kids in their mid-twenties, one of whom was crushed by grief and the other one had a full-time job takes a kind of courage and naivete that I shudder to contemplate today.

The house had been out of the family for ten years and was in such a sad state when we got it that the previous owners  had gone in with shovels to get the worst of the garbage off the floor. There was a dead guppy stuck to the wall.

We had no idea what we were doing, but we knew what we wanted done. And, thankfully, we had help. Two sets of parents, Alan’s Aunt Mary, a revolving cast of friends and family, the plumber and his crew, the electrician and his crew, carpenters, plasterers and, on a regular basis, the building inspector.

My job was to fix lunch for everybody and keep the skilled trades from attacking each other.

A typical day started at 5:30 when Alan would wake up and get ready to go to work. Over the course of the next hour, I would stagger to consciousness and prepare to greet the electrician (greeting the actual day being completely beyond me at this point) who had just worked the night shift down in the salt mines and wanted to know how early he could get started at the house. “Not before 7:00, Ted,” I insisted. He was always parked in the back lot as Alan left for work.

Ted was a good guy. The agreement was that he would bring the donuts if I made the tea. So we’d have our tea and a snack and plot the course of the day and bit by bit the rest of the crew would arrive and around noon, we’d all sit down together and I’d provide sandwich fixings and more tea and we’d get another burst of energy and work through the afternoon and various helpers would drift away. Alan would get home around 4:00, change into his work clothes and we’d blast away for a few more hours.

At first, we’d sit down to dinner at our usual (early) time, but we quickly realized that getting up again was too much of a challenge, so we’d just work till we were done for the night and then find something to eat. Which would have been a bit of a challenge because with all that painting and plumbing and plaster dust, who the hell had time to think about food? We hadn’t yet been converted to the wonders of sandwiches for dinner.

But about once a week or so, my mum-in-law would call me up and say, “I’ve just cooked a chicken. Is now a good time to drop it round?” And she would drop off this perfectly carved up chicken, portioned out in meal-sized bundles, with veggies and a cake. Enough food for four or five dinners. Other weeks it was roast beef. Or ham. Every week for an entire year, she cooked our dinner. Because she knew what I was up against and wanted me to be OK. And, honestly, without those dinners, I don’t know how I would have survived the year.

Mum died ten years ago this past Wednesday.

While I remember and appreciate the dinners and all the other things she did for us, what I miss most is her. And I wonder if there’s a lesson in there for those of us who think that it’s what we do that counts the most.

I miss her quirky sense of humour. She didn’t like vulgarity, but Benny Hill always made her laugh. I miss her brave singing when she freely admitted, and, sadly, the rest of us agreed, that she could not carry a tune. I miss her adamant refusal to give up smoking despite mounting evidence that it was doing her no good. I secretly cheered when, after smoking in restaurants was no longer legal, she would sneak a puff in the bathroom, thinking she was getting away with something. I also worried that she would get herself arrested. I miss her sense of style, her ability to walk gracefully in high heels and put on lipstick without a mirror. It was like a magic trick to me.

Kind, quirky, defiant. She was a super-hero in heels.

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8 Responses to The Time My Mother-in-Law Saved My Life

  1. Mary Ann Rosenbloom says:

    Whew! Thanks for the memories and the tears….you have captured Aunt Betty’s beautiful spirit so very poignantly.
    I heard the stories about your renos but had no idea what it must have been like…especially for you.

  2. Susie Palach says:

    Hi Barb,
    I just wanted to say how much I love your writing, you have such a gift. The sadness comes through, the ” I will pick myself up” comes through. You share your heart. Thank you. Personally …. the idea of writing ANYTHING brings nothing but stomach turning anxiety . I grew up in a wonderful loving household, my father immigrating from Poland after the end of WW2 and my mother a local babe forced to quit her first year of high school to work in an armory factories…..so..needless to say grammar, writing a low priority.
    My point.. from someone who loves honest, heartfelt writing. MORE PLEASE.
    See ya Monday,
    Susie

  3. Mindy says:

    Another lovely piece, Barb. I am so sorry to hear of your miscarriages. Hugs to you.

  4. Beverley McCormack says:

    Wow, you have been through and accomplished much more than I had any idea about. You two are amazing!

    I usually find something comforting in your writing, and this time it was the third last paragraph about missing her more than what she did. You’ll know why.

    Thank you

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