77: Dolores and the Eggs

77: Dolores and the Eggs

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love

Dolores and the Eggs

You know what they say: “My son’s my son until he gets him a wife,
but my daughter’s my daughter all of her life.”

~Stanley Banks in Father of the Bride

Dolores was alone in the kitchen making breakfast when I walked in and sat down at the table. We exchanged a polite, but guarded “Good morning,” and I watched her as she huddled over the stove. She was frying the eggs, so I concluded the tears I saw suddenly welling in her eyes were not from chopping onions for an omelet.

My future mother-in-law had met me for the first time the night before. I had recently arrived back in the States following two and a half years vagabonding throughout Europe after graduating college in 1971. It was the thing to do back then, and I arrived at her home sporting the typical regalia of those wandering times: shoulder-length hair, a full beard and absolutely no prospects for the future, other than a decision to marry Dolores’ only daughter Denise, whom I had met while traveling. That news had preceded my arrival, and I could immediately discern that my overall appearance had done nothing to soften the cold shock of that original announcement.

I watched her focusing in on that frying pan like it was an air traffic controller’s screen. She was attempting to conceal her tears, but wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

“Are those tears about me?” I asked. She nodded affirmatively.

“Is it because I’m marrying your daughter?” Her affirmation was again quickly forthcoming.

“And you’re afraid I won’t be committed to the marriage?” Her less-than-reluctant nod confirmed I was three-for-three. I admired her honesty, and I’d like to think she admired me for diving right into those eggs of hers without having her daughter taste them first.

Over the years my commitment to my marriage took on less significance in my mother-in-law’s eyes than some of my decision-making within its confines. Like the time I had quit my first job as a bank teller, without another job waiting in the wings. That my decision had been driven by a third armed robbery in less than a year at the bank seemed little justification compared to suddenly exposing her daughter to a husband without means. Or my hesitancy over having children. Or the time I had decided to buy our first house in a section of South Philadelphia that had not as yet shown any signs of “coming back” demographically speaking. Or the time I decided to take a job in far upstate New York, thus banishing her only daughter and now beloved twin grandchildren to the American Siberia. By then I am sure my continued commitment to the marriage had become a lot less important from her perspective. That the house I bought there was “old, run down and ugly” according to my father-in-law probably was more than enough to convince Dolores that I would provide only the bad things enumerated in the marriage vows (i.e., poorer, sickness, death).

But while Dolores could not hide her feelings about me (there was a certain wordless gaze she could cast my way as if she were looking toward a distant hill, one containing perhaps a silhouette of a hanging tree) she always kept her own counsel. In every way, she comported herself as the ideal mother-in-law, never meddling or intruding in her daughter’s marriage—except perhaps the occasional early nudge about children, which I ultimately and manfully assisted in providing. After becoming a parent to adult daughters myself, I could look back and understand better the train wreck she thought I’d turn out to be. I have the highest admiration for her. And she was the absolute best grandmother you could ever hope to have for your children.

Some years later, I accepted a transfer to more hospitable climes in Atlanta. On what turned out to be our last destination Dolores would be alive to see, she visited us in our new home. It was a bright, modern colonial with aluminum siding and a patio deck that looked out to a private golf course. South Philly and northern New York State it was not. I admitted to Dolores one afternoon that I had finally bought a house her daughter considered a dream home. Dolores fixed what had become that recognizable gaze of judgment and execution, but this time that familiar gaze came with words.

“And it’s about time!” she exclaimed with a special emphasis that seemed to echo back through all the previous years to that initial meeting in her kitchen.

Dolores passed away in that dream home of her daughter’s during one of those Atlanta visits. Maybe she felt her work of protectress had been completed at long last, and she could trust me to do the right thing from there on in. From many perspectives, Dolores had died too soon, but from the point of view of trusting me to do the right thing, it may have been the most untimely of those perspectives. There followed two questionable and unfulfilling moves out to the Midwest, before the sensible one of returning her daughter to the Philadelphia area finally took place. But even with that, there was one more twist of fate that I’m certain would have made her rue her decision not to put something in those eggs back when she had had the chance.

A friend once described my decision to leave the relative security of the corporate world to become a fulltime writer as “courageous and foolish.” The decision still bounces back and forth between those two poles. After ten years, there are still many afternoons when I am pacing the floors of my home, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a freelance check in the day’s mail needed to pay bills that are due. I swear at those times I can sense a stirring in my mother-in-law’s grave. It makes me think she is somehow maintaining a presence that prevents even more foolish decisions.

As a precaution, though, I insist on making my own eggs to this day. For there are times when Dolores’s daughter, who over the years has transformed her mother’s distant gaze into something that can only be described as The Look, suggests that it is probably a wise course of action to take.

~Reid Champagne

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