As some of you are aware, I have been married, to the same man, for forty-two years. During that time, his family has become as important to me as my own flesh and blood family. This week, my mother-in-law passed away, and although I should have expected it, she was 97, I feel as if a light has gone out in my life. A woman of grace and gentility has passed, never to come again, and the world is a sadder place because she’s no longer in it.
Ever gracious, Mom always had a smile for everyone. She never scolded or complained, never made you feel badly if it had been a while since your last visit, and was genuinely happy to see you. I will always remember her smile, her twinkling blue eyes, and her hair that stayed red, although faded from the vibrant shade of her youth, right up to the last minute. Six and a half years ago, she moved from the condo where she’d been more or less self-sufficient, into a retirement home. There, she blossomed again, and was often heard to say that moving to Southbrook had extended her life. At 91, she was still playing bridge, doing Tai-Chi exercises, and participating in a number of other activities offered in the retirement facility. Latterly, her hearing and vision forced changes in her life, but she did what she wanted to as long as she could.
Mom was a one-of-a-kind person, a lady in every sense of the word. She never said anything negative about anyone and never complained. I remember years ago when we were attending the same formal function, I tried my hand at making a dress. I’ll never forget it. It was peach colored with a keyhole in the front and tied around the neck. It came with a small cape that had a lettuce-stitched edge so that it didn’t lay flat. The dress was risque to say the least. Mom looked at it, pursed her lips and said”Well, at least you won’t be too warm.” To this day, whenever I shop, I look at the dresses I buy with that comment in mind.
I remember Mom’s kindness when all three of my children were born, but more specifically the time I miscarried in my sixth month. She flew in from Hamilton to stay with us for a couple of weeks and watch my sons while I recovered from the loss. She lived to make her family happy and comfortable. Whenever we talked to the kids about going for a visit, it was always–let’s go see Grandma and let her spoil you a bit. She always had tea or coffee ready and would jump at the chance to do something for you. My children adored their grandmother, and I have hoped to emulate her attitude and behavior with my grandchildren.
Mom was also an excellent cook. I’ve never tasted date squares as good as hers. She made a mustard sauce to go with ham that is as yet unparalleled. I’ve tried to repeat it, but there is a magic something missing in my version. I remember delectable scalloped potatoes, delicious trifle, a phenomenal layered salad, and of course the multicolored gelatin salads with the fruit inside. No matter how many times I tried to make those, I always ended up with a mess. She taught me that a dash of white vinegar cuts the fishy taste in canned salmon and lemon does the same for tuna. No matter what she cooked, it was always delicious–cooking with love does that to food.
Of all the things I remember about mom, the one thing that stands out is the love and acceptance she showed me right from the start. I know both she and Dad would be proud of my accomplishments to date as a writer, and that will motivate me to keep at it as long as I can. I can only aspire to be half the great lady she was. Jean Matthews, you will always live in my heart.