When I think of my Mother-In-Law, Janet, I think of a smile, and then of a sandwich. Everything seemed to make her smile, and she was always trying to give me something to eat. She was a pretty woman with Italian features, who liked to pepper her speech with Italian phrases. My face was a facia bello. Hands were maninas. When I first met her, and visited thereafter, I found this funny and exotic. More mysterious was the way she was able to keep her house spotless with two dogs and a husband. But it always was.
I liked to watch her with Rebecca, my wife. Rebecca was Janet and Dennis Golland's only child, and they doted on her. Janet was constantly taking Rebecca's face in her hands, hugging her, and telling her she loved her. The love she had for her daughter was a palpable thing. It filled whatever space we were in and was renewed over and again with phrases like, "You're so beautiful Honey," or "I love you Baby." The bond between them was immediately apparent to anyone around. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a mother like Janet.
I saw a picture of her once as a young mother. She couldn't have been more than twenty-five. She was so young and beautiful in the picture, with my baby of a wife splashing in a swimming pool that it made my heart ache. We so often see our parents as only middle aged older people that to see them as someone we could have gone to school with is a little disconcerting. I think of that picture a lot, with her so young, starting her family. She had the almost gangly look of a teenager. I often see her in my wife's face when she smiles or in the way she laughs sometimes. She looks so much like her, just for an instant, that it's startling. I don't always say anything, but I think, "There she is." She pops up, smiles for a second, then is just as quickly gone. I find myself looking for these little visits. They make me feel like she's still here.
We lost Janet just last year. Twelve days before my son, her only grandson, was born. The cancer that she had managed to hold off for six years finally became too much for her. She passed away quietly, with her family around her. Her life in the days before were so full of excitement at the impending birth of her grandson, that to have them miss each other so closely, by mere days, is like a stab in the heart.
I watch my wife with my son. She makes him laugh. Brushes his hair back with her fingers, just like Janet must have done with her thousands of times. She splashes with him in a pool, like Janet did with her on that sunny day so many years ago. The bond between her and my son is a lot like the one between her and her Mother. Unbreakable. Almost fiercely strong. I can see the joy he brings to her in her smile as he does some mischievous boy thing involving a stick and a mud puddle. Mothering comes naturally to her but she also had an excellent teacher. We will tell my son about Janet. And someday, when the timing is just right and I catch a flash of her in one of her daughter's looks, I'll point to her and tell him, "Look quick! There's your Grandmother."