To My Wife-In-Law

Matt and Jon

Matt and Jon

Rebecca, the best thing that happened to our family was you. How could I not care for someone who loved my children as much as you did. You became my wife-in-law and the boys’ other mother. You filled in pieces that Bob and I didn’t have the ability to bring. I became the father, and you, the mother. You brought the fun, the Easter baskets, and laughter. I brought the rules, the household chores, and curfews.

You made sure I got child support, and when you learned I was getting $150 a month, you had Bob double it, and a few years later, double it again. You were a much better wife to Bob than I ever could have been. You had patience and a way with him that I did not. You worked around him. I butted up against him, busily making him incompetent and wrong; we only made it for five years. You remained married to him for eighteen, and now that you are remarried with a child of your own, your new family has become part of ours.

In the beginning, you worked with Bob at the carpet store, and then moved in with him. You were good to the kids. At the time in my life when I was trying to get Country Fresh started, I went to you and asked if you’d take Jon for me, just for a while, just until I could get my feet on the ground, and I would see him every weekend and please make it okay for him and that it would just be temporary. Matt was just starting Moon Valley School, so he was taken care of during the day.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done was parting with Jon for those two months. It was painful for both of us. It was too hard to say goodbye and bring him back or visit him each weekend, so my visits got further apart. You drove him to My School in the morning and when you got to the Washoe House, the two of you would sing, “Wash your hands, wash your face, wash yourself at the Washoe House.” You couldn’t tell me how much he missed me because you knew it would break my heart.

He still had ear infections, and they got worse. Just to prove a point, Bob gave him milk because he didn’t believe that both the boys were lactose intolerant. Each time they stayed with you and Bob, they’d come home with a cold followed by an ear infection. You said, “Well, Bob is Bob,” and you never expected him to be any different.

When Jon was in the seventh grade and Matt a freshman in high school, you planned a trip for the five of us to Mexico.

“Are you nuts? I’m not spending three weeks with Bob, nor am I interested in sharing a hotel room with two teenagers for that length of time. I don’t like kids that age.”

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” you said. “Bob will lie on the beach and drink beer all day, the boys can play basketball and fish, and we can shop and sightsee,” you said. “We’ll spend Christmas and New Years in Oaxaca for the festivals, then we’ll hang out on the beaches of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa through New Year’s. We’ll have a great time.” 

Rebecca and Catherine, Mexico

Rebecca and Catherine, Mexico

You talked all of us into it. Then it dawned on me what people would think.

“Look Bob, when people ask, say I’m your sister. They aren’t going to get this otherwise. It’ll be easy, we all have the same last name.”

A Southern woman travelling with her two granddaughters got wise, however. After observing us for a bit, she arched her eyebrows and drawled, “Well now, just how are all of you related?”

I looked her in the eye, raised one eyebrow, and drawled back, “Bah marriage.”

We sat in the bleachers together at the boys’ baseball and basketball games. You bought them matching cowboy shirts, helped with their college, and stood with us when Matt got married. We spent nearly every holiday together. You live in Canada now, too far for frequent visits, but close enough to be in my heart.

In 1993, I did the Sterling Women’s Weekend. You did too. So did my friend Cindy, along with Kristin, Barbara, both Shirleys, Kathy, Jean, Mary, Julie, Lisa, and about fifty other women I knew. We have many women in our lives. After doing that weekend, I understood why I’m not married. And don’t intend to be. I do better in my working relationships with men, and have had five great work husbands over the years: I helped Charlie run Moon Valley School and kept it open for a few years after he left. I took on the role of managing and partnering in two real estate companies with Art and Ron, and assisted in two long-term coaching endeavors with Michael and Charlie. I had boyfriends to sleep with. I didn’t have to marry someone just to have sex. I did that once.

Rebecca & Catherine, Florence

Rebecca & Catherine, Florence

In the summer of 1994, you and I traveled to Italy with Sandy and her family. We rented a car to meet them in Florence. I was in charge of the map. Florence was in big letters, but the road signs all said Firenze. After circling the city for an hour, you figured it out. A few days later we hooked up with Matt in Milan. He’d been traveling for several months after graduating college, and when we met up with him, he’d been hitchhiking for days. The hotel nearly didn’t let him in because he looked like a vagrant. He was happy to see us and even happier for a bed and a shower. We hiked Cinque Terre, ate pasta and clams to die for, and shopped the flea markets. Shopping rules, according to the boys: “It has to be fragile, expensive, bulky, heavy, and totally useless.” Sandy and I wanted to buy a matching pair of bronze angels that weighed a ton, but we didn’t have enough lire on us and her mother wouldn’t lend us any money; she thought it was a ridiculous purchase. You bought a complete set of dishes from Deruta and had them shipped home. When you split up with Bob, he got the credit card bill and you got the dishes: I thought you were brilliant. When I split, I got the kids, a 1950 Dodge pickup, and the red couch from Mexico. I’d have rather had the dishes… and the kids, of course.

Matt, Jon, Rebecca, Becky, Dennis, Lesley in front

Matt, Jon, Rebecca, Becky, Dennis, Lesley in front

You left Bob shortly after that trip, but remained a part of our family. You asked me to stand as your witness when you married Dennis. The small town of Ridgecrest, where you both grew up, was a bubble of a bowling-alley-and-beer mentality, and your friends couldn’t wrap their arms around that one. You had Lesley soon after. She was adorable and funny. I put ice cubes down the back of her jammies. She called me Cathysevenau, as if that was my first name.

Rebecca and Bob Jon, Matt, Catherine

Rebecca and Bob
Jon, Matt, Catherine

We have Christmas with your new family and you have Thanksgiving with us. Bob comes, too. You share your mother, Pat, with me. At my Thanksgiving table one year, Bob was at one end, I was at the other, and seated on one side were you, Dennis, Pat, Lesley, and your brother. On the opposite side were Matt and Jon, my niece Julie, Dennis’ daughter Becky, and Bob’s fourth wife. Bob started in on the embezzler in the family (who was not present) and I held up my hand like a traffic cop at a crosswalk, “Look, it’s Thanksgiving. Could we not do this at the dinner table?”

He stabs his fork in the air and says, “Oh, so you live in some fairyland and think time heals all wounds?”

I paused two beats and retorted, “Well, darling, you certainly wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t.”

Everyone busted up, especially Pat, who thought Bob had said, “So you think time wounds all heels?” This made everyone except Bob laugh even harder, since in this case, it was pretty much the same thing.

Was that the year that Pat suggested we order the whole kit and caboodle at Safeway and go for a hike Thanksgiving morning instead?

I was shocked. “Can we do that?”

“Of course we can,” she said.

Your mother had style. We ordered it the day before and picked up everything that morning: stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans with onion rings, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pineapple and marshmallow salad, and three pies. Then we hid the boxes and no one knew. The boys went on and on, saying it was the best Thanksgiving dinner I’d ever made.

When your brother died, the pastor failed to show, so you asked me to take his place. I was so nervous that I can’t remember how it went, other than looking for support at the woman in the back coordinating the microphone and giving me hand directions as to what to do next, watching your mother nodding in grief, and everyone crying, I spoke about him as best I could. I think it went okay.

When your mother was dying, you called and asked me to come immediately, to be with you both at the hospital in Palm Springs. It was too big for you to do by yourself. I was there within hours. I sat with Pat to give you a break. We held hands and looked into one another’s eyes and communicated with finger pressures, saying we loved each other and that it was okay and not to be scared. You were her hospital advocate, and one of your biggest concerns was that in more than a week she’d not had a bowel movement. When I returned home a couple of days later, Lesley called in great relief.

“She pooped!” It was headline news.

You brought me friendship, support, and love. You kept Bob out of my hair. You loved our sons. The only time you ever got mad at me was when we were on a street corner in Spain, you were studying the map, and I asked you which way we were going. You snapped, “How the f*** would I know? We’ve only been here two hours. Why am I always in charge of the directions?”

Tearing up, I said, “Well, I don’t think you want me to be in charge.” It was my birthday that day, and at lunch, you apologized and gave me a pair of gold angel earrings.

Catherine and Rebecca, April 2016

Catherine and Rebecca, April 2016

Thank goodness you were in our life while the boys were growing up. Between the two of us, we made a good mother. I am grateful that you are still in my life! We’ve been related for more than forty years. When it’s time to leave, maybe we do it together, giving each other a last smooch and going over the cliff like Thelma and Louise or Butch and the Sundance Kid. Although, as I’m not all that adventuresome, maybe we just call it a day, have one last cup of tea and a cookie, kiss one another goodbye, and turn out the lights.

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Comments

  1. Juliette Andrews says:

    I am so happy to read your words. This early Sunday morning before Thanksgiving You are ever so fortunate to have had Rebecca. Of course you both are unique. I send love.

  2. Renea Magnani says:

    A beautiful friendship. Reading kept me laughing and crying. Feeling strength and weakness. Reminding me we can’t do much on our own. Seek those who love us and support us. Thanks for being one of those someone’s to me.

    • Thank you for letting me be.

      • RENEA MAGNANI says:

        I read this as “thank you for letting me be me…” A song that played many of times on my way to and from the hospital to visit my mother had the verse of “why don’t you be you and I’ll be me.” A song that made me remember she did the damn best she could and her story is hers, not mine. Our stories overlap but they aren’t the same. I learned to let her be her in the end as best I could. Looking back is so much easier now. It was you who told me “No mother wants to leave her child. Hold her. Love her.” I did. Thank you.

  3. A lovely story and beautifully written. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Catherine, this is a lovely tribute to Rebecca and I appreciate it more than most, as these days my own life is definitely not what my acquaintances consider “normal” and you’ve made me feel like I may actually be doing the right thing! Everyone’s situation is different and if everyone lives in harmony what is wrong with that? Thank you very much for this!! Happy Mothers Day!!

  5. Laura powers monterosso says:

    Cathy … This is an amazing tribute to the beautiful person you are. You’ve done it all right!! As a school teacher I see the turmoil so many children go through when their parents get divorced.. You did it right! You are the reason why Matt and Jon are such incredible adults. Rebecca is an amazing women as well! I can feel your bond just reading your words! You are each other’s greatest gift and you have celebrated that gift everyday of your lives together even living far apart. You are both an inspiration!! Happy Mother’s Day ❤️

  6. Judith Hunt says:

    On Saturday morning, while the house is sleeping, I read my emails. There is this sweet story of a beautiful friendship. Thank you for the read. I’ve been to Cinque Terre!

  7. What a wonderful tribute. I never knew about Rebecca and am so glad to finally meet her through you! She sounds like an angel. What a great pair you are. Thanks for this great story.

  8. What a wonderful mother’s day admiration. Such warmth and gratitude and….wit. Happy Mother’s Day, m’dear.

  9. Jeff Elliot says:

    Remarkable!

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