By Terry Boers-
(CBS) You probably didn’t know that Sunday, Oct. 26 is officially Mother-in-Law Day in these United States.
Believe me, I actually looked it up, thinking that with all the days we have, including those dedicated to caramel popcorn and grilled cheese sandwiches, why wouldn’t such a day exist?
Who knew? And more importantly, who cares?
Do you know anyone who celebrates?
After the ceremonial burning of the brooms, what do you do the rest of the day?
Funny thing is, this generation of married comedians seems to be laying off what would seem to be one of their easiest targets. At least the ones I’ve heard of lately.
I can remember back in the day when some of the funniest comics in the history of the business used to torch their mother-in-laws in a variety of ways, going all the way back to the great Henny Youngman, who famously said, “I wanted to do something nice so I bought my mother-in-law a chair. Now they won’t let me plug it in.”
I once felt that way. That was before I came to realize that a mother’s job is to ride herd on every guy who comes through the door, even if he seems likely to one day to become her son-in-law.
No such ideas were floating in my head when I first met my mother-in-law-to-be in the summer of 1969. At that point, I was working at Jack-in-the-Box in Chicago Heights, and I’d made it through my first year of junior college, so I didn’t think of myself as a bad guy.
And I was hardly a serial dater for one simple reason: Girls didn’t seem to like me very much. Not in high school and not in juco. I’d had some blind dates here and there, but apparently they weren’t blind enough. No second meetings were necessary. And that didn’t bother me a bit. My feelings weren’t bruised, and neither was my ego. It just didn’t matter to me. Just so you know, I did have a steady girlfriend when I was in eighth grade, but that breakup was painful at the tender age of 14.
The bottom line is that I didn’t think about dating — it just didn’t enter into my mind at that stage of my life. I was much more interested in pro wrestling, drag racing and baseball. If you’re thinking my waters didn’t run very deep, you’d be absolutely correct.
That was before Carolyn came along. Little did I know what I was in for when we started seeing each other.
Her mom, as you might have guessed, wasn’t too keen on the idea.
By the third time I walked in the door she asked me, “Don’t you have a house?’ I shrugged. My evenings in her living room were generally limited to a few hours, although that gave her more than enough time to invade my space with whatever else was on her mind, the recurring theme being, “Who are you?” and “Why do you keep showing up here?”
I didn’t have a sufficient answer for either question.
I did, however, have an escape plan. Even though I was almost always low on funds, my buddy would pick me up from her house in the Heights at 9 o’clock or so, and we’d steam out to the late, great Sportsman’s Park with a total of six dollars between us to bet the harness horses. You got in free after the sixth race in those days, and we’d bet a buck-buck on a horse to win and hope for best.
That was also the place where I crossed paths with the creepy old troll who’d sidle up to me and say that the next time he saw me, “the boys from Cicero” were coming to get me. I have no clue why the disheveled runt picked me out of the crowd. Talk about the walls closing in. Now I had the boys from Cicero and Rita Imgruet from Chicago Heights to worry about.
Anyway, we’d spend our time on the way back bemoaning the loss of six bucks, playing the woulda-coulda-shoulda game as we drove.
To further demonstrate how my childish mind worked, if Carolyn’s mother had given me a hard time — which was almost always the case –I would start up my new Charger RT parked in front of the house and rev it when I got back. It was as loud and obnoxious as you might expect. A real door-rattler by any Mopar standard. My plan was to wake her mother up and make her pay for her nasty nature.
Such a dope. How could I not know that her bedroom was on the other side of he house and she never, ever heard a thing?
Eventually, Carolyn’s 7-year-old sister, known in folklore only as “The Blister,’’ joined the party. She was sent to spy on us, and she seemed to enjoy it a little too much. I couldn’t win, so I didn’t try.
And it’s just as well. We were married in February of 1971, and I distinctly remember my mother had spend a lot of time commiserating with Carolyn about me. I’m sure my mom did the same with the mother-in-law.
Because some memories have escaped me, and probably with very good reason, I asked my mother-in-law recently what she really, truly thought of me way back in 1969.
Even the age of 87, she didn’t pause a second — “Sullen, smart-alecky and annoying.’’ And now? “Better,” she said.
That’s progress. And there should be, considering that she has been part of my life for the last 45 years, which is longer than I knew my own parents combined.
I remember several years ago after she’d had one of her health scares, we were driving to Carolyn’s sister’s house and for some reason we were alone in the car, which rarely happens.
Now being alone in a car with me can be scary for any number of reasons, but I was actually doing my best to compliment her on her resiliency, her toughness and keeping it together mentally when times were so tough. And this hadn’t been the first time she’d bounced back, nor would it be the last.
But for whatever reason, she seemed to be not listening. It seemed as if everything I said wasn’t registering, that it was going in one ear and out the window.
It was a bit disconcerting, but it’s just possible that me saying nice things was just so foreign to her that she couldn’t take it.
No matter either way. I can honestly say I’ve come to love the woman who once made my life as miserable as possible for about a year-and-a-half.
And I’m pretty sure she’d say the same thing about me, even though I’m every bit as annoying as I ever was. And proud of it.