Jun 23, 2018

Good and Decent

It's early in the morning of another scorching hot and humid day in Harlingen, Texas. I step outside onto the deck of my late mother in law's mobile home, seeking to escape the non-stop air conditioning, but even at 6 am the humidity is so thick that I run back inside.

Harlingen is tucked away in south Texas close to the Mexican border. It's a hard scrabble kind of town, with few pretty places, the obvious presence of the Border Patrol, and way too many fast food shops. It rarely rains, but it's got a real airport, is about 40 minutes to the Gulf, has a very low cost of living, warm winters, and a Cracker Barrel. Retirees from cold places in the US and Canada, as well as many transplants from Mexico, live there. It's the friendliest place I've ever visited.

I'm here because my in laws chose to move to a mobile home retirement park in Harlingen about 20 years ago. After my mother in law died last month, the family decided to hold a memorial service here, and use the time to clean out her house to get it ready for sale. A lifetime of books and CDs and clothes and crossword puzzles and cat figurines and movies and pictures were parceled out to family and charity and neighbors. It was an honor to be part of it.

In the middle of the time pressured chaotic cleaning, someone found all of my mother in law's belts and put them on the bed. I went over and separated them, looking at narrow belts and 2 inch wide leather belts and every other kind of belt. I couldn't remember my mother in law ever wearing a belt -- like many aging women she chose the comfort of elastic waist pants. These belts told of a different time, when I imagined her dancing with my father in law, her waist cinched in a wide belt, her skirt twirling with the music. Those days passed; my father in law died, and the belts eventually hung in her closet waiting for the moment when someone would take them away.

My mother in law told me once that she couldn't imagine living without my father in law. But she did, spending much of her 10 years as a widow volunteering at the local food bank and the VA medical clinic, playing cards and bingo, and going to dances at the mobile home park. Even without a belt, she always found someone happy to take her out for a spin on the dance floor.

Now her belts and almost everything else are gone. The house is empty. My sister in law is still asleep. It's just the two of us now. I sit here listening to nothing except the heavy hum of the air conditioner. My father in law's jokes and outlandish statements and my mother in law's no nonsense laughs and hugs are gone. The TV, which used to host the Sopranos, and eventually was set almost full time to the Game Show Network, is quiet. I miss my mother and father in law.

Couples, like my in laws, who stayed together through the best and worst of times, lift up all of us. We all know couples like my in laws -- the early black and white pictures of thin, dark- haired people leaning together, dressed in their finest, gradually turning to heavier frames wearing funny t-shirts, and then, graying hair and shrinking bodies, smiling from their twin recliners. These couples built a life on hard work and the knowledge that life owed them nothing. They were good and decent people who left behind good and decent children who, hopefully, will find themselves smiling from twin recliners some day.





40 comments:

  1. what a beautiful tribute, Joan - thank you for sharing.

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    1. thank you for taking the time to comment

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  2. Absolutely wonderful eulogy to your in laws. I was tearing up as I read this.

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  3. How heartfelt, a great tribute to wonderful people who lived a good life. They were blessed to have you be a part of it. ❤️

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  4. Your writing is such that I see the brown earth, feel the humid air, and experience the melancholy of packing up the remnants of a life well lived.
    I trust you have a special place you keep all your writings as they will be a wonderful treasure for your son in future years. Thank you for sharing your talent with us.
    Lu C

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  5. Remind me of my in-laws; thankfully still with us. You have such a gift for writing.

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  6. Beautifully said. A major chapter in your life and the final one for your mother in law.

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  7. I have tears in my eyes -- you described so eloquently my parents. My mother took care of my dad for seven long Alzheimer years (before they knew much about it), but he smiled tim the end. She had ten mostly enjoyable years after his death, catching up on sleep and friends and grandchildren.

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    1. you mom sounds like a trooper and then some. thank you

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  8. Your words make me feel like I'm there with you, Joan. Thank you for sharing your feelings with us. As an " older" citizen myself, I can relate to your story very well.

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  9. Well written tribute to family and most of all, love!

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  10. Beautifully written. I feel like I know your inlaws.

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  11. I'd bet you could do something really wonderful with those belts, JB! OH! you already did … another wonderful story, and tribute to your in laws. Does Mike read your work?
    =]

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    1. thanks. yes, he does. for this one, i made sure he pre approved!

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  12. Beautiful, Joan. There is a big lump in my throat now.

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  13. Written from your heart. Your prose reminds those of us who read it that life is indeed short and to love and enjoy each moment.

    Thank you.

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    1. thanks. it doesn't seem short and then it is!

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  14. Triggering wonderful memories of my mother-in-law, Fern. Thank you. I hope you and Mike and your son will find comfort in what you have written and your memories.

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  15. Sometimes I believe you can see right into peoples' souls as you write. This lovely tribute to your mother-in-law was superlative and, uncanilly, right on my mark. I, too, have a plastic container under my bed full of a lifetime of belts. Each and every one of them pulls memories out of what passes for my mind these days; the tan braided leather set with turquoise conchos, the pale green silk that matched a dress made for a friend's wedding, the black patent cincher printed with red lips, and on and on. That stash of seemingly useless "stuff" is my life in 3D. It is so comforting to know that someone else in this throw-away world sees and understands. Thank you for sharing your mother-in-law and know she was blessed to have you in her family.

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    1. i'm glad you have those keepsakes. thank you

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  16. Tears streaming down my cheeks; you've touched my heart...
    ~carol

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  17. Oh, my... tears. I can hardly say more. I'm honestly choked up, and that says it all when it comes to your writing skills. Beautiful. The belts, the couple changing in appearance over the years... I see me and Rich. We are still so much the same in our heads and hearts that it's a shock to see ourselves in photos. It hit home when we looked at our vacation photos from last week. We laughed together.

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    1. thanks Leslie. those old photos are shockers aren't they??

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