My husband’s mother died just before Christmas about eighteen years ago. She was a force of nature with unparalleled wisdom and compassion. We were devastated by her death because she was like unbreakable glue holding our family together. Sadly she never met the youngest of her great grandchildren and of those that she doted on while she was alive only two were old enough to actually remember her.
We muddled through the Christmas season that year, celebrating in the ways that had become our routine, but it all felt quite strange and flat without her. Over time we moved forward with our lives just as we humans must do. Now her life and essence are but memories for us that brighten our hearts as we recall the fantastic woman that she always was.
I suppose that I have thought more about her this Christmas season than ever before. Two of the grandchildren that she did not get to meet are now eighteen years old and preparing to graduate from high school and head to college next fall. One of them is the only girl in the pack of six boys, and that young woman is so much like her great Granny that it almost boggles my mind.
My mother-in-law, Mary, was a brilliant woman with a strong will. She was one of those people who suffered no fools. She had once dreamed of becoming an interpreter and moving to Washington D.C. or New York City to work with the power brokers of the political world. She was a student of many things including history, religion, and government. She had an uncanny business sense and had no qualms about standing up to men even in an era when women were sometimes thought to be little more than caretakers for their husbands.
Mary was born with a heart defect and had been told by doctors that she would probably die before she was thirty. She was advised to never have children because of her damaged heart. She defied the predictions on both points. With extraordinary medical measures she delivered a son who was the light of her world. She lived for seventy-six years, long enough to gain a bit more longevity by having open heart surgery when she was in her forties.
Mary never got to the halls of power with her linguistic talent, but she made a mark on the places where she worked as a bookkeeper and accountant. She was a defender of civil rights and women’s issues in the pioneering days. She read voraciously about philosophies and religions. She attended continuing education classes and Rice University where she had once been a student. There she learned about political currents and historical impacts on our world. In conversations she predicted much of what is actually happening across the globe today and particularly in our country.
When I hear people spouting ridiculous commentaries about Covid 19, vaccines, mask mandates and the innocence of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, I can envision Mary raising one of her eyebrows and quietly refuting every hoax and lie in a quiet but commanding tone. I can practically recite what she might say because she had discussed such things with me for a very long time.
Mary was a Republican of the old school, a fiscal conservative who had rather liberal views of most social issues. She was proud of her support for candidates like Ronald Reagan but I cannot even imagine her voting for Donald Trump. She had no tolerance for the kind of beliefs that he pandered. She would no doubt have been dubbed a RINO, Republican In Name Only, but would have believed that those who follow Trump were the ones who had deviated from Republican ways.
She would have also insisted that everyone follow the guidance of doctors rather than being mislead by propaganda and politicians. She gave much credit to the physicians who had helped her to lengthen her time here on earth. She followed their directives to the letter excepting the time when she decided to risk pregnancy. She had great faith in the modernization of medicine that had extended her life in a way that had been unimaginable when she was a child back in the nineteen twenties and thirties.
Mary would have adored all of her great grandchildren as well as her two granddaughters who have proven themselves to be the kind of woman that she hoped they would be. She would have been particularly delighted by her great granddaughter, Abigail, for in Abby she would have seen a reflection of herself. Abby, at the age of eighteen, is a strong woman with a plan for living life on her own terms. She wants to eventually study law and use her talents and her influence on the national stage just as Mary once dreamed of doing. Abby is a kind of reincarnation of Mary with her dogged independence and grit. Like here great grandmother, Abby is highly intelligent and persuasive with her arguments about what the future of the world should be. Sometimes I wonder how it is possible for someone to be so much like one of her ancestors.
Somehow Mary’s spirit is filling my rooms, my thoughts and my heart this Christmas season. I wish she were here with us again, if only for a day or a few hours. I have so much I want to say to her, so much I want to ask her. I suppose that she is telling me that she taught me all that I need to know. She always looked to the future while treasuring and learning from the truths of the past. She would urge me to encourage Abby and all of my grandchildren to seek knowledge and justice just as she so brilliantly did.
There are presents for everyone under my tree, but my time with Mary will always be one of the greatest gifts of my life. I hope that I will be able to adequately pass down her beliefs and her spirit to all of her descendants. They have much of which to be proud in the stories and facts of her life. Memories of her make this season bright.