29. The Tide-Turning Whisper

29. The Tide-Turning Whisper

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Tide-Turning Whisper

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.

~Mark Twain

From day one, I made my ill feelings toward my mother-in-law crystal clear to my new husband. “Joe, why does the photographer keep inviting your mother into every photo?”

“What? He’s not.”

“Sure he is. All I keep hearing is, Mrs. Beck, we need you for a photo.”

“Annie, he’s talking to you. YOU are the Mrs. Beck he wants in the photos.”

“Oh,” I said, a bit chagrined. I was so certain that the photographer had her in mind as the star of the day instead of me, the bride. And thus it started. My silent declaration of war against my mother-in-law.

Oh Mary Beck was pleasant enough, but she had ulterior motives. I’d been observing her and Joe’s relationship for three years. Her slightest whim, once stated, became Joe’s main mission. Whatever we had planned always took a back seat to Mary’s wants and needs. Or so it seemed to me.

She also incessantly dropped little innuendoes about “her Joe” and always within earshot of me. She knew it got on my nerves. Well, we were married now. Clearly Joe belonged to me and I had the paperwork to prove it.

After our wedding in January of 1984, Joe flew back to Centerville Beach Naval Facility in California. I was not expected to join him until June, after which we would be mother-in-law-free for two whole years. Yay!

About mid-February, Mary invited me to lunch. She wanted to share some wedding photos. Ha! Did she expect me to sit there and act interested in photos she took of “her Joe”? Forget it.

I could have called her to say “no thank you” with a suitable excuse. Instead, I had the audacity to write a letter and explain that I simply wasn’t a social person, which shouldn’t upset her. In other words, “don’t expect to see too much of me, lady.”

In June, Joe came home to Philadelphia to collect me and say goodbye to his family. Then we would be off to California. When the day came to say goodbye to his mom, I declined the opportunity. After all, she wasn’t my mother. Joe could just go over and say goodbye himself. And so he did, without ever being cross or asking why.

Paradise waited on the other side of the map, where Joe would be mine—all mine. Once settled, Joe called his mom once a week and every time I discretely made my way to the front door and slipped out for a nice long walk.

Two years went by, and before long, we were packing to go home. My sulking started right at the Pennsylvania border. I’d just spent two years avoiding all contact with Mary Beck and now I’d have to face her again.

Joe’s mom lived in the city, and as soon as we arrived home, I insisted we get an apartment in the suburbs. When holidays came along, I dutifully purchased a gift and handed it over with a forced smile. Of course I never missed an opportunity to grumble a snarky remark or two, especially if she invited us to come for dinner or worse, suggest that we all go to the movies or a show.

As the months passed and I made no attempt to improve my attitude toward Mary Beck, my relationship with Joe spiraled downward. I repeatedly made mountains out of molehills where she was concerned. Though Joe said nothing about that issue, we grumbled at each other about everything else. As time went on, Joe and I stopped communicating all together and he began sleeping on the couch. That went on for months.

One Saturday I decided I’d had it with him too. I wanted him and everything he owned out the door and out of my life. I was tired of him lying on the couch and ignoring me, and saw no way out other than to split. I told him to pack his things and leave. He changed position on the couch and ignored me some more.

I’ll fix him, I thought. So I called his mother and told her flat out that I was through with her son and she’d better get his brothers over to our apartment to collect him and his belongings. She didn’t agree to it. She just asked me to give the phone to Joe. When he hung up he said his mother wanted to see us right away.

“Good,” I snapped back. “Let’s go over and get this move organized. The sooner you’re gone the happier I’ll be.”

Mary opened the door and let us in. Joe headed toward the couch, but before he had a chance to flop down, Mary barked at him in a tone I’d never heard before.

“Oh no, mister, you get right back over here. I want to talk to you.”

Joe sheepishly turned and stood beside me.

“Joe, I don’t care one bit what this is about. I’m telling you right now, Annie is right and you are wrong. She is the woman who is going to take care of you for the rest of your life. You’ll never find anyone who loves you more. Now, listen to me—stop being an idiot and make up.”

Then she hugged me and whispered in my ear, “Annie, I learned a long time ago a man will never treat his wife any better than he treats his mother. That’s a good thing to remember. Joe will behave himself now he knows I mean business.”

And there you have it—the tide-turning, life-changing moment.

Snippets of my past outrageous behavior flashed in my mind as I looked at Joe and saw him smile, and I started to cry.

After years of pushing nothing but snide remarks and selfish behavior in Mary’s face, she instantly forgave every transgression and stood up for me. Never was a person less deserving of forgiveness or more grateful for it than I.

Unfortunately we only had about fifteen years to share before Mary passed away, but she and I made the most of it. She loved me as strong and true as any mother could love a daughter, and I returned that love with the same sincerity.

At the very end as Joe and I were at her bedside, I held her hand as she tried to sing something in a whisper, but I couldn’t make it out.

Later that evening I asked Joe if he knew what she was trying to sing.

“She was singing, ‘So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You.’ ”

What an understatement.

~Annmarie B. Tait

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