As we approach the end of 2020, I’m thinking of one of my mother-in-law’s favorite sayings, “It’s better than the alternative.” That bit of wisdom comes from a slightly longer adage, “Growing older isn’t so terrible—when you consider the alternative.” There is some disagreement about where that line originated, but the sentiment is one I’ve thought of many times during this long year. As challenging as things have been for us, so many people have made the ultimate sacrifice.
I know it’s relatively common for guys to make snide remarks about their mother-in-law, but my wife’s mom is a terrific lady who has never given me any reason to think that way.
My first memory of my future mother-in-law was when I drove four hours to catch up with my girlfriend at her mom’s house. Debbie and I had been dating for a few months, and it was time to meet each other’s families.
Fran made me feel welcome right from the start. Recently divorced after thirty-some years of marriage, she welcomed me with open arms. Realizing that she no longer had someone around the house to help with things that might need fixing, I jumped into action. The fence to her pasture was falling apart, and it was only a matter of time before the animals escaped.
It was mild where I lived on the coast, but the inland valley was well over 100 degrees that day. What was a two-person job, I foolishly tried to do alone. I’m sure there was some male ego involved as I tried to prove my worth.
I completed the job several hours later, but I had come down with a fever by evening. Heatstroke was no joke. I spent the next two days in bed, feeling like a fool for thinking I could somehow demonstrate my manhood by being tougher than the extreme heat.
In the years that followed, I got to know and liked Fran more than ever. She was friendly, kind, funny, and hospitable whenever I came for a visit. After three years, I married her daughter.
When Fran was retiring, Debbie and I were starting our teaching careers. Debbie became a preschool teacher, and I taught elementary school. We usually spent Christmas at my mother-in-law’s house. Fran had also been an elementary teacher for many years. Wherever we were out and about around town, she had former students greeting her. It spoke volumes to me that her pupils greeted her with such warmth. Now that I’ve retired from teaching, I’ve had that same wonderful feeling as I bump into old students, many of who are now adults.
My mother-in-law had the best retirement years. She traveled throughout the United States and abroad, often taking part in golf excursions with her friends. It seemed like she was always returning or about to embark to some exciting place.
Another quality that I admired in my mother-in-law was her giving nature. She regularly took part in community service projects. Sometimes when we were in town, we’d go along with her to help out. Two of her regular gigs were volunteering for the Meals on Wheels program and in the weekly food giveaway program for the needy.
Much like my parents and my mother-in-law, I have found joy in volunteering for organizations doing important work. Before Covid, I was reading the newspaper for a great group called the Society for the Blind. https://societyfortheblind.org/ This organization tries to assist those who are blind or have limited vision. I also volunteer with the Humboldt County Children’s Author Festival Committee. https://www.authorfest.org/ This outstanding group brings twenty-five nationally known children’s authors to our local schools biennially to talk to kids about writing. The last time the authors visited, we brought them out to over seventy schools in the county. Since one of my goals is to write children’s books, it has been an excellent experience for me to watch these authors.
I know that having role models like my parents and my mother-in-law has inspired me. I also want to contribute something meaningful to society. I am reminded of the movie The Dead Poet’s Society, when actor Robin Williams says to his students, “To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
Thank you, Fran, for all of the verses that you have contributed. Yes, it’s far better than the alternative.