Mothers In Law and In Our Hearts

Thumbnail image for A Mother's Touch.jpgI’ll confess these days I wince when I hear mother-in-law jokes.  I wince because I am a mother-in-law times three.  I have three wonderful in-law kids, and our family is enriched three-fold by their addition.  I’m hoping to be a completely different kind of punchline at the end of my life.  As goals go, that’s not so trivial, is it?

My husband’s mother Lillian passed on years ago.  She was beloved by her children, a constant optimistic presence in their lives no matter what was really happening.  We used to say that if Lillian’s house burned down, she would hold out her hands and tell us how toasty a good fire felt on a cool winter evening.  Had it burned down in summer, she would have run out to the store for marshmallows.  Since my husband’s father was ready and willing to spot the dark cloud in every silver lining, Lillian’s optimism was particularly well received by her children.

Lillian had a wild streak, although by the time I knew her, that streak had been tamed by five children, a full-time job and a crushing burden of housework and cooking that she allowed no help with.  I watched her march daughters and daughters-in-law out of her kitchen whenever assistance was offered.  Even more horrifying, I watched her stand between the stove and the kitchen table as the rest of the family ate, so she could better serve them.  Although I made certain never to repeat this tradition in my own home, I now understand that Lillian loved to serve, and her meals, no cookbook in evidence, were her pride, examples of the best of southern country cuisine.

Mike, Dave and Lil.jpgLillian’s youth was a different story.  She grew up in a small town in North Carolina but still spent time on the Navajo reservation in Arizona clerking in her brother’s store.  In her final years she still remembered a variety of Navajo phrases and the musical name someone had given her, which meant sparkling diamond–a fitting description.  Once in that wild and crazy period she pretended to be a reporter so she could snag an interview with Roy Rogers, and did. 

In her fourth year at Elon College, WWII was declared and Lillian quit to join the Waves.  She married a Chief Petty Officer and spent much of the rest of her life on Naval bases working as a secretary and raising children, but she still did handstands and cartwheels whenever she had the opportunity.  She had a beautiful smile and a fierce protective instinct that meant each in-law was under scrutiny until the day Lillian died.  She was a friend to everyone, but only a few people really knew her, and she was related by blood to each and every one of them. 

The bonds between in-laws are tentative and sometimes difficult. Inlaw jokes can be rooted in reality, but this week, devoted to motherhood, is a good time to look at the women in our lives who have “mothered” us.  I am grateful for Lillian, whose positive spirit lives on in my husband.  I’m grateful she fought to help all her children succeed and cared enormously if they did or didn’t.  I’m grateful that she never interfered in my marriage, and that I was able to witness the results of a lifetime of struggle to find the best in everybody.  Most of all, I am grateful that even at the end, when she was in the grip of dementia, her graceful, loving spirit continued to shine, and that she passed on, still knowing she was loved by everyone who had known her.

In honor of Lillian, I’ll be giving away three copies of A Mother’s Touch, which was just reissued for the holiday.  This is an anthology devoted to Mother’s Day, and my novella, A Stranger’s Son, appears there along with novellas by superstars Linda Howard and Sherryl Woods.  To enter the giveaway, comment here and tell us what you loved about your own mother-in-law.  (To comment simply click on “comment” on the top right of this post).  If you never had a mother-in-law?  Tell us about a woman who reached out to you somewhere in your life journey. will make the final three selections for winners on May 14th.

This week some of you may have entered a Mother’s Day giveaway on my Facebook page by telling stories of your moms.  Although the prize is the same, this giveaway is separate, and you’re welcome to enter both, although there’ll only be one win per reader.  Long live mothers and mothers-in-law, and the good influences they can have on us. I hope to be counted in that number.


  1. Vanetta Quintana on May 6, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Good Afternoon Emilie,
    My mother-in-law of almost 23 years, is one of the best I think I can have. She speaks spanish & I speak very little yet when we “talk” to each other we some how understand each other. My husband is amazed how we communicate. She has taken me in since the day we met as her daughter. Since she lives in a different country we don’t get to see each other that often, but in any case, I am glad to have her as a mother-in-law.
    I can’t wait to read this new book of yours out with my other two favorite authors. I will be definetly picking it up tonight. 🙂
    PS please put me in for the drawing for three book A Mother’s Touch giveaway.
    Talk to you soon.
    Your fan,

  2. Becky in Georgia on May 6, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    We are blessed because my MIL is still living. She will be 90 years old this Summer. She was a fantastic cook. She no longer cooks meals. She is very generous with her time, money and resources. But most of all, it is because of her that I have my wonderful husband.

  3. Diane In California on May 6, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    My mother-in-law was/is terrific, and with my mother now gone, she is my “mom”. My boys are grown up now with children of their own, but I try to be as helpful to them as my mother-in-law was to me. She owned a “Party Store”–neighborhood convenience store with a deli counter and penny candy display. My young sons so looked forward to visiting their grandma there, where she would hand them little paper bags and they would go behind the candy counter and fill them with candy pieces. Then she would set them on the beer cases and slice them pieces of bologna for a snack. Her kindness and love was/is unparalleled. She is now 89 in a nursing home but looks forward to receiving pictures and notes from her grandsons and great grandchildren.

  4. Audrey Bonnell on May 6, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I have been married several times and I must admit that I only had one mother-in-law that I feel was the most perfect. Evelyn Bennis was a wonderful women. She loved her son Phil and all her grandchildren dearly. She was a great inspiration to me. She ran a photo studio by herself and was an accomplished photographer. She worked beside her husband most of the years that they were married other than when Phil was small. She became Jewish so that she could give her son the Jewish background she knew he should have. She always gave to him first and would do without so he could have. This lovely woman died some 20 years ago and she is sadly missed by her grandchildren who called her Bambam.
    Happy Mother’s day to all the mom’s out there.

  5. Nancy Carty Lepri on May 12, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Hi Emilie,
    My mother-in-law not only blesses the earth with her gentle soul, but she is the woman who blessed me by giving birth to my wonderful husband. Through most of our almost thirty-nine years of marriage, we have lived a distance from my mother-in-law, though we call every week to keep in touch. Lucy is in her late eighties and suffers terribly from chronic pain. She remains cheery and upbeat and does not let her physical disability get her down. She manages to go out every day with my father-in-law and tries to live her life to the fullest, never complaining, which to me is a true testament to her spirit.
    Warm regards, Nancy Carty Lepri

  6. Debbie Haupt on May 13, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Hi Emilie,
    My mother-in-law liked me better than my husband and told him constantly that I was the best thing that ever happened to him and I was his second wife, she did not say that about the first one. So needless to say we had a grand relationship. She was always welcome in our home and took advantage of it several times a year just to spend a week catch up with all my crazy family and spend time with the grandkids. We lost her to cancer in January of 2000 and the whole in our lives will never be filled. I still miss her.

  7. Lynn Ross on May 14, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Hi, Emilie:
    I’m late in getting a chance to read this, but I wanted to comment on your mother-in-law’s habit of standing at the table, anticipating the needs of her dinner guests and serving them. My mother used to do that. It must be a southern trait for those women who didn’t have hired help. I have not continued the habit either, though I began to understand why my mother did that when I started entertaining. I don’t ever remember enjoying eating at my own dinner party, no matter how much I enjoyed the company. 🙂

  8. Emilie Richards on May 14, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Oh, how true, Lynn. I’ve been there and done that many times, and afterwards, I dream of caterers.

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