A Coke, A Smile and a Mother-in-Law

"You sure you don't want a Coke?"

“You sure you don’t want a Coke?”

Well, I took some time off from the blog because of a family emergency. After a long battle with cancer, my husband lost his mother on Monday July 15th. We dropped what we were doing and booked the first flight we could find and were in Texas the next day. Although she had only officially been my mother-in-law for about fifteen months, to me she had been in that role for over twenty-two years. From the beginning of my relationship with her son, she welcomed me into her home, her arms and her heart and I know that she considered me another one of her sons. Like so many mothers-in-law before her, she had a way about her. She was stubborn and hard-headed, but never once did I doubt Vera’s love for her family, me included. I remember the first time I went to her house.

“Well, do you want something to drink?” she asked me, as I sat in the living room with Matlock, or some other rerun playing on the television.

“No, ma’am, I’m fine. Thank you.”

“Are you sure? You don’t want anything? I’ve got Cokes and Dr. Peppers in the fridge.”

“No, thank you,” I’d say. “I just drank a Coke on the way over here.”

“What about water, then? You want some water? It’s cold. It’s in the fridge. I’ll get it for you.”

“Oh, yes ma’am, I’m sure, thank you,” I insisted.

“We’ll, okay then. But those Cokes are cold, I put ’em in the fridge last night so if you want one, you just go help yourself.”

“Alright, I will, thank you.”

We’d sit on the couch for a few minutes watching Andy Griffith solve a crime and then, “Are you sure I can’t get you some water or something? I might have some orange juice in there but I don’t know if it’s any good or not. You don’t want a Coke?”

This was typical of her. She lived to serve her family and she was most happy when she could be doing something for them, whether it be getting them something to drink or making them something to eat. I truly believe that she only felt complete when she was making sure the needs of her family were met.

One time on a trip to Texas, Mark and I decided to take her out to lunch to a Vietnamese restaurant. She was usually content to stay at home, but after much convincing, we finally got her to agree to go out. Me, being unfamiliar with downtown Houston, got behind the wheel of the rental car and headed in the general direction of Kim Son. Of course, we got lost because this was in the days before iPhones and GPS systems. We went back and forth on the one-way streets, criss-crossing wrong roads and never getting closer to the restaurant. The whole way, Vera sat in the backseat making sure I was aware of every single car that may or may not be about to swerve into us or hit us head-on. Tensions were higher in that rental car than the temperature was outside of it. Finally, after many wrong turns and the passing of too much time, we made it to the restaurant and sat down at a table. As I looked over my gigantic menu pretending that I was going to order something other than summer rolls and orange chicken, I noticed that Vera wasn’t really looking at hers.

“Vera, do you already know what you’re going to get?” I asked.

She set her menu down and rested her chin on her hand. “I don’t think I’m gonna get anything. I don’t even know why I came. I’m not hungry.”

I reached under the table and squeezed my fingernails into Mark’s knee as I threw daggers at him with my eyes.

“Mom, you have to eat,” he said sweetly. “How about I order you something, is that okay?”

“Well, I guess so, but I’m not that hungry.”

Mark proceeded to choose what he knew she liked and twenty minutes later she was eating, clearing her plate with ease. Vera liked to be coerced into doing things, always pretending that she didn’t want to do it, even though everyone knew she did. And she always enjoyed whatever it was she had been talked into doing. Isn’t it funny how a day that was so difficult at the time has now become one of my fondest memories of my mother-in-law? After years of telling that story, Mark and I can both laugh at it now. Time can be a wonderful editor of events.

It goes without saying that Mark will miss his mother, but I will miss her too. She was “only” my mother-in-law but over the last twenty-two years she told me that she loved me many many times. Whenever I saw her, she hugged me just as hard as she hugged her own son and just as hard as my own mother hugged me. I will miss her repeatedly offering me something to drink and I will never forget how she would cook us a meal and then say she didn’t know how it would taste. We knew when she said that, it was our cue to tell her it was delicious. And it always was.

Goodbye, Vera. You will me missed, not just by your sons and daughters, but also by the people they married. You taught us all that family is the most important thing in a life well lived. Based on that criteria alone, your life was full to the brim. In your honor, the next time I drink a margarita, I will, after the second or third sip, raise my glass high into the air and tell everyone within earshot, “I’m wasted!”

Thank you for being a part of my life, Vera. And I’ll take that Coke now.

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