Friday, September 15, 2006

Happy Birthday Mama K

When most people mention their mother-in-laws, they describe them as hideous, hell breathing demons that suck out their souls every holiday. They moan at the slightest hint of a holiday gathering, claiming they've come down with the black plague.

There are a few people in this world that you honestly love and adore. Not necessarily in a romantic way, but as a true friend. These are the people who are always there, and can always make you laugh. My mother-in-law is one of these people that you can't help loving.

The first time I met her, I was struck by how open and friendly she was. She and Maggie were getting ready to go out, and she was half dressed when Ben strolled into her room. He saw nothing wrong with bringing his first college girlfriend to his mother unannounced. I was impressed by the gracious way she welcomed me into her home.

I was nervous around her. For the first year or so, I felt like a bumbling fool. I felt I never dressed right or said the right things. I would sit and chatter for hours in the mornings, only to learn that she had a routine and needed quiet. She was always very gregarious and outgoing. For months, I was bewildered by her. I couldn't understand how anyone could easily laugh easily about a dog humping a toy and calling it "his ho." My parents never said the word ho. How did parents know the word ho? I just couldn't figure out this easy tone and way about her. Nothing was off-limits, nothing was taboo. Ben used to start conversations with her that made me turn red with embarrassment. She wasn't fazed at all.

Although there's been many moments that I've nearly fallen over laughing over something she said, my favorite occurrence was last fall. We were visiting Shreveport and Mama K and I were in Dillards to get Ben some dress clothes for job interviews.

Mama K strolled into the store confidently, as I trailed behind her. She posed at the counter and looked at the thin, greasy haired man behind it. He was elegantly dressed, with scruffy facial hair. From the moment he opened his mouth to coo, "How can I help you?" at us, I knew he was gay.

"Well, Star," Mama K said, glancing at his nametag. "My son is a college senior and about to start job interviews soon. We need to get him some good clothes."

"Say no more," Star said, clutching his hand to his chest. "Let's go darlings."

Trailing after Star and Mama K, it was all I could do not to start laughing. They were both picking out bold, rich colors and jabbering to each other all the way.

"So who are you sweetness," Star glanced down at me.

"The fiance", I replied.

Star looked dramatically at Mama K. "Oh honey, you must be so thrilled! A wedding to plan!"

"Oh yes, we're very excited," she said. "We do love this girl. Now if we can get my hard headed son into something but those awful shorts, we'll be peachy!"

"Oh tell me he doesn't wear shorts," Star cringed.

"Let me tell you, Star, he wears nasty goober shorts," she cackled, demonstrating the stretchy band with her own hands. "They're nice and stretchy so nothing touches him. He doesn't like his clothes to touch him. Full of holes and dreadful things."

"And he wears those underwear shirts," she whispered conspiratorially, pointing at a pack of hanes t-shirts. "That's all he wears. To class and all around town."

Star looked like he was about to faint. "You should only wear something that dreadful when you're sick, or in the yard," he gasped, clutching his hands to his mouth.

"He wears it out to dinner," I piped up.

"He wears it out to dinner?" she gasped.

"He wears it out to dinner." Star looked nauseous.

"He wears it out to dinner," Mama K said, looking even more determined. "He's got a closet full of big beautiful shirts. Gorgeous colors and fabrics. And what does he wear?" Mama K and Star looked at the Hanes t-shirt display dramatically.

"Underwear shirts," they said in unison.

And that was how it went all night. Star fawned over Mama K, emitting a chortling laugh every now and again. Mama K switched between cackling over the joy of buying Ben clothes and being despondent over the fact he continued to wear underwear shirts and shorts. I spent the whole time laughing.

It's Mama K's birthday on September 18, but she's about to head out to Arkansas. I wanted to give her a nice warm fuzzy for her trip. She is not simply a mother-in-law to me. She's a friend, and a very dear one. Her support has been invaluable through the wedding, the moving, and the start of my freelance career. She has been very attentive and loving ever since my Mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Still, what amazes me is the connection she keeps with my Mom and sister. She sends my mom presents and flowers, calls her to check on her. She recently sent her a bunch of head scarves since my mom couldn't find any. She does it all with a sense of humor and briskness, never wallowing with whispered "How are yous" and "It must be so dreadful to be in your...condition." Mama K has kept us all laughing through the past few months, and to top it all off, she won over my heart: She pledged to buy me puppies. Two short squirming white Chihauhaus. And she didn't do it to be nice, she didn't do it out of obligation: she did it out of love. We should all be so lucky to have someone like her in our lives.

Happy Birthday, Mama K. Ben and I love you.