You heard us before you saw us. With a jubilant scream, we'd run across rooms to embrace--startling bystanders and timid animals alike. At this point our heads would tilt together as we jabbered and finished each other's sentences. So much to catch up from the last time we'd been together. My wonderful, BFF mother-in-law, Bea, and I were together again!
Yes you heard me right, my mother-in-law.
This atypical friendship began in the summer of 1972 when Bea non-judgmentally took me into her heart and home in Lima, Peru. Having come for a short-term visit her son Gary, Bea went from being my boyfriend's mother to my mother-in-law when Gary and I married.
In the rear view mirror, I believe she sensed my fear of my parents. I distinctly remember the day we went to the Lima airport to pick up my parents for the wedding. Arriving early, she said she wanted to get a coffee. "What would you like to drink, a real drink. How about a Cuba Libre?" she offered.
It was daylight, but I was nervous so gladly accepted the offer. Another she encouraged? I had to smile, she'd never tried to get me tipsy before.
Consider her son, my poor husband Gary. In the rough sea of the early days of marriage, in any disagreement, Bea always took my side. "Why, oh why does my mother always take your side?" he'd moan. "It isn't fair!"
He was right. It wasn't fair. Oedipus and Freud aside, it must be said that Gary had married a younger version of his mother. Having some of the same quirks, we drove the poor man up the wall. Together.
Strangers would note Bea and my similar coloring and ask. "And which of Bea's daughters are you?"
Biology aside, Bea became one of my best friends. After all, who but a best friend would be there when you need her most?
When I went into labor with our second child, Bea came to help with our first child. Due to our middle of the night rush to the hospital, we forgot to leave her a key to our home. When she came to the hospital to get it, I enlisted her as a secondary birth coach as our son was born. With our number one child safely tucked into bed at a neighbor's, there was time.
For years afterwards she'd proudly announce to one and all that it had been her first birth. At least it was the first one she remembered. For although she had 6 children, they'd all been born through the haze of commonly used drugs at the time. Our son's birth was the first one she remembered. It was why she always tried and was at his birthday party.
When a lump appeared in my breast, the only mammogram in Ecuador was busted so I went to the USA. Bea met me at Newark Airport and drove me to medical tests for the thankfully false alarm.
Living on the beautiful, but boring Caribbean island of Curacao, Bea came to stay with us during the New Jersey winters. Having lived in Lima, Peru for about 17 years, she knew what it was like to live as a stranger in a strange land, so she just settled in and made friends with other grandmothers wintering with their offspring.
Even when she wasn't with us, she was always with us. Once upon an airline flight home to Asunción, Paraguay, we heard another English-speaking family on the airplane. Apparently the family of four had lived in Kenya when Gary's brother's family had lived there and knew them.
"Your Mother was there too," remembered the family's father, to which Gary and I responded in unison, "Of course she was!"
From Bea I learned about the diversity of human opinion. In 1976 when an extended group of the family went shopping for a picnic lunch, three of the women bought three vastly different vinegars for one potato salad. My mouth dropped open with amazement as Bea sidled up to say, "They're all right you know. About which vinegar to use."
I also learned from her how to meet new people. Putting aside her introverted nature, I watched her work a room of strangers. Emulating her I discovered that as I put the stranger at ease, I put myself at ease too. With 18 moves through seven countries in 45 years, it's a handy skill as I always seem to be in the company of strangers.
Bea also taught me that the mind is a muscle that must be constantly exercised with new ideas and novel experiences. Exercise it daily and it will help you stay mentally nimble--hopefully years younger than your chronological calendar would indicate.
So I must note that I wrote Oprah in the 1990s to suggest a show on mothers-in-laws, using Bea as the positive role model. Sadly, nothing ever came of that. And although the mortal Bea--my role model, playmate and mother-in-law died in the fall of 2002, she will always be the pebble in my pond whose ripples will affect me forevermore. Quoth my chum Bea, evermore.