Friday, October 28, 2016


27 August 1904 - St. Andrews, TN
15 July 1987 - Orange, CA

Mothers-in-Law get a bad rap, I think.  I suppose there are some of them, like some daughters-in-law, who leave something to be desired, but I've had two Mothers-in-Law and I count myself lucky with both.

I became Ida May Kirkpatrick's daughter-in-law in 1955. I was young, only 20 and in college.  I didn't really know then why people said that about mothers-in-law, because my dad's mom lived far away and died shortly after my mother and dad married.  Hence, I didn't even have a pattern of a mother-in-law's function in the larger family.  All I really knew was that often, there was mother-in-law trouble in a family.

Well, Ida May knew instinctively how to be a good one.  She was born and raised in the south.  Her first child was a girl, a few years older than her only son - the one that I had married.  She adored both her kids and was predisposed to adapt and adopt into the family whoever her kids wanted.  I was the beneficiary of her open arms as she welcomed me as if I had always belonged there.

She was a warm and caring person, good natured and very giving.  My new husband probably told her that I didn't know how to cook, so almost every weekend we were invited to their house – early enough to let me help in the kitchen, where we learned a lot about each other all the while I was learning how to cook.  (I never mastered fried okra, much to my disappointment!) 

After the babies began coming, the weekend visits didn't end.  She made sure we learned some of the southern tricks to entertain the little ones as well as the bigger ones as they grew.  I was always so grateful for her warm loving arms around the newest baby when it was fussy, and by singing to them, she taught me lots of old southern rhymes and songs to add to my repertoire of mainly Girl Scout ditties from my childhood!

Later after our kids got older, she made sure that when summer came there was always fresh plum juice in the fridge for the kids, because she introduced them to it, along with the fried okra and other southern delicacies.  My own mother, who hated to cook and therefore wasn't very good at it, had little to teach me about cooking, and I literally and figuratively ate myself to a substantial size on Ida May's lessons!

She worked hard during the day as a cook at a little local diner, but she was never too tired to do what needed to be done.  When she saw that a certain item would help me in my wifely cleaning or cooking duties, she always tucked one in my purse (or diaper bag!).   

She was a traditional southern wife to her husband, who was a somewhat difficult man who worked hard as a blue-collar worker in the Southgate area, and she also took care of her mother-in-law Gertrude, who lived in the tiny garage apartment.  Once Ida May's children left home to be married, Aunt Bettye, her single sister-in-law, moved in.  All this was Ida May's responsibility, but the only time I ever heard her complain was when Gertie hid a pound of bacon in between her box-springs and the mattress and it was up to Ida May to trace where that awful smell was coming from.   Gertie was nursed by Ida May until her dementia drove her into a nursing home.  And Ida May nursed her husband Ray until he died at home of emphysema.   

Life was not easy for her.  Between her two children she ultimately had twelve different sons and daughters-in-law – (yes, her adult kids were the marrying kind).  She was my mother-in-law for 16 years, and never once during that time did I ever have an occasion to "roll my eyes" at something she did or said.  I loved her a whole lot, which made the dissolution of my marriage to her son a double loss. 

She spent her own final year in a nursing home, and I was able to spend some time with her there.  She barely could carry on a conversation, but she was able to tell me that "Aunt Bettye" (her younger sister-in-law) was a good person and asked me to tell her that, and she apologized to me for my ex-husband's behavior.  She also said she loved me a lot. 

Ida May Barry Kirkpatrick was truly a good-hearted, warm person.  My children, now mostly grandparents themselves, know how lucky they were to have her in their lives, and I am glad that I had as much time with her as I did.  She helped me understand the role of a mother-in-law, though I really think I fall short of her in the image I try for.


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