This mother-in-law doesn#8217;t fit the mold

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 16, 2008

At the risk of ruining my Guy image, I have a confession: I like my mother-in-law.

Her name is Berniece and she will be 87 years old next month.

Berniece is a cancer survivor.

If you soaked her real good, she’d probably weigh 85 pounds.

But, until a couple of months ago, if you could find a 16-year-old who could keep up with her, you’d have surprised me.

Berniece is a widow. Has been for a while.

She’s big on church. She’s a Baptist and if they open the doors, she’ll be there. If there’s some sort of covered dish thing going on, she’ll take at least two, probably three.

Come to think of it, that’s just an extension of what she does at home. Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas are big deals at her house. On each of those days, she’s going to cook a ham and a turkey and all the stuff that goes with them. Her kids and their kids will all gather there and she won’t sit down the whole day, no matter how hard everybody tries to get her to.

And nothing will ever be good enough. She’ll tell you she should have put more salt in the potatoes or the turkey should have cooked a little longer or…

Berniece lives in a little, tiny town in Mississippi. Always has and always will.

Until those two months ago, she drove a Lincoln Town Car that replaced another Lincoln Town Car that was probably 12 or 15 years old when she got the new one. The old one had better than 200,000 miles on its odometer, and Berniece would be quick to tell you the new one isn’t as good as the old one was. Of course, she liked what she had before the old one better than she liked it, too.

Berniece owns a house at Gulf Shores, Ala. (If you live in Mississippi and are worth your salt, you own a house at Gulf Shores.)

I could give you Berniece’s phone number, but up until those two months ago, you’d have had to leave her a message because she wouldn’t

have been at home. She doesn’t like to sit still. If she wasn’t at church, she would have been visiting somebody and if she wasn’t visiting somebody, she’d be shopping and if she wasn’t shopping she’d have been gone to Gulf Shores (where she goes shopping n are you sensing a trend here?).

Berniece has four or five sisters-in-law. They’re all widows. Until those two months ago, it was fairly common for them, at a moment’s notice, to decide to all pile into Berniece’s Town Car and go spend three or four days at her house in Gulf Shores.

There’s an outlet mall at Gulf Shores and when they go there, they wear it out.

One of the sisters-in-law is kind of funny. She buys stuff one day, then returns it all the next day. Some kind of catch-and-release program, I guess.

Not Berniece, though. She keeps what she buys. She has closets full of stuff she’s never worn. But if she ever needs it, it’ll be there.

Berniece is country singer George Strait’s biggest fan. She’s only been on an airplane twice. The first time was after she broke her ankle while on a bus tour to Nashville and they made her fly home. The other was when she came to Texas to see us because her daughter (my wife) had press passes to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Strait was to perform there. I’ll always wonder if she’d have boarded that airplane if it had been just Sherry and me at the other end of the flight, rather than Sherry and me and George.

If she never hit another lick, Berniece wouldn’t go hungry, but n until those two months ago n she still worked. Ask her what she does and she’ll tell you, “I sit with old people.” Chronologically, most of them aren’t much older than she is, but chronology is pretty much irrelevent when you’re talking about Berniece. Or at least it was until those two months ago.

Two months ago, Berniece had a stroke n or maybe a seizure of some sort. Neither Berniece’s regular doc, who has been caring for her for a lifetime and whom she adores, nor the neurologist called in after whatever happened happened, can say for sure exactly what happened.

But they’ve put her on medicine that precludes her being able to drive. She’s coping. She still makes it to Gulf Shores, riding with family members or friends to whom she has, over the years, and continues to loan her weekend house.

But it’s hard.

She treasures her independence and being able to get into that car and go anytime she wanted to was a big part of that independence.

Don’t write her off. Right now, she is still dealing with things. She kind of hasn’t decided yet how well she is going to get.

But my money’s on her. I’m betting that six months or a year from now, if you dial her number, you’ll wind up leaving a message on her machine because she’ll be halfway between Gulf Shores and Enterprise, probably with a carload of sisters-in law.

All of which is to say, next time you hear one of those mother-in-law stories, just know that there’s one guy out here who thinks his is top notch.

David Sullens is publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.