I was just a teenager the first time that I met my future in-laws. We congregated in their living room, where the television was turned on, because the conversation was not flowing.  During awkward silences, they all stared at the TV, while I stared at the beautiful painting hanging on the wall above the TV.  Ron’s dad shared brief stories about himself and his life, but Ron’s mom was noticeably quiet, appeared disinterested in our conversation, and was grasping to try to make small talk.  I did not think that my introductory visit with them was going very well.

After an unusually long period of silence, I asked Ron’s mom what her hobbies were.  She told me that she really did not have many, except that she loved to sew.  I would soon learn that sewing was one of the few interests that Ron’s mom was very passionate about.  I pretended to also be interested in sewing, not revealing my past sewing mishaps.  I dared not to tell anyone that day, that the only subject that I almost failed in school, was the sewing component of Home Economics; and that I was voted worst sewer in the class by my teacher and classmates.  Our class was assigned to sew a pair of “gauchos” (knee length shorts), and the whole class exploded with laughter as I modeled my inept design, where the piece separating my legs was wrongfully sewn into the bottom of the garment, separating at my knees. So, when Ron’s mom asked me what I liked to sew, I quickly changed the topic and asked her about the beautiful painting that I had been staring at.  She did not share much information with me that day, other than that the painting was of her family home and farm in Germany, where she was born.  

Ron and I attended the same high school, but we really connected at our part-time jobs. From my cashier stand at Canadian Tire, I would inconspicuously check out Ron at the automotive section of the store, where he worked.  He would regularly drive me home from work and we would often go out for pizza and ice-cream.  Sunday afternoons were spent exploring apple orchards, conservation areas, ski hills, and any place in nature and the great outdoors.  It did not take long for us to become inseparable, and for my visits to his family home to become more frequent.

My conversations with Ron’s mom remained strained.  We were cordial to one another, but we shared very few commonalities or interests.  She did not have a career or full-time job, and she spent most of her time watching daytime soap operas and sewing.  She never shared much about her life, and she never asked me much about myself or my life.  She preferred to talk mostly about her sewing projects, which I always made a point of asking her about.  She would recount her daily trips to the fabric store and the new projects that she would sew with her newfound bargain fabrics. 

Ron’s mom preferred to spend time alone, not having many friends and family that she was close to and confided in.  It would take many years of conversations with her before I would eventually learn about her childhood growing up in Germany, losing her father in the war when she was a child, and her leaving her family in her early adulthood, to come to Canada by herself and start a new life. It would take even more years before I would fully understand how devastating it must have been for her to lose her father so young, lose her family home and farm, and move away from her family and friends to a new country, where she did not know anyone, and English was not her first language.

My life changed dramatically before I finished my last year of high school.  My parents sold our family home and moved into a modern, tiny, high-rise, condominium, an hour from the city where we were residing.  I could not move with them because it would have been almost impossible for me to complete high school, and to find a summer job.  Furthermore, their new condominium purchase was not really large enough to accommodate me or any other family members.  Their move left me frantic to find someplace temporarily to live, prior to starting university that September.

I was very relieved and extraordinarily grateful when Ron told me that his parents invited me to stay with their family.  Their invite was the kindest gesture that anyone could have provided me.  They welcomed me into their home with open arms, making me feel comfortable, secure, and a member of their tribe.  They treated me as if I were part of their family, even though we were not yet engaged or married.

Ron’s dad and I loved to play poker and other card games in the evenings, where he would recount funny and inspiring stories to me about his life.  Our conversations were always plentiful and full of laughter.  Ron’s mom cooked extra food for dinner, making sure that I had plenty to eat and felt cared for.  I tried to repay them for their generosity by volunteering to do the dishes and other chores around their house.  After everyone went to bed, Ron and I often snuggled together on the couth while watching television.  One night, his mother came out of her room to get a glass of water and caught us doing a little more than just cuddling.  She pretended not to even notice us, and she never said one word to either of us that night or the next day.

Ron and I eventually married and had a family of our own.  I affectionately referred to his parents as the outlaws throughout our marriage.  From our very first meeting, I was immediately drawn to my father-in-law’s warm heart and generosity which he openly displayed by his kind words and actions towards me.  It took many more years for me to fully comprehend and appreciate all of the kind gestures that my mother-in-law provided to me over our many years together. She rarely complimented me, asked me very few questions about my job, and appeared disinterested in our daily family life.  We were always respectful towards one another and never shared one cross word.  I always left their house with baskets full of vegetables from their garden, pies that we did not finish during dinner, beautifully sewn Christmas stockings and Easter baskets, special sweaters that she knew I liked, and so many other gifts and surprises for our children.  I now appreciate so much more than I did then, all the sacrifices that they both made by welcoming me into their home and allowing me to stay with them before we were even married.  I have learned that kindness is demonstrated in many ways, and not only through words.

My father-in-law passed from cancer several years ago.  We honor him and other family members that we have lost to cancer, by participating in the Terry Fox Run/Walk every year.  Shortly after his passing, my mother-in-law developed dementia and eventually no longer recognized her son or any of our family.  I now believe that she suffered mental health conditions throughout her life.  She lived with dementia for many years, until her recent passing.  We will honor my mother-in-law by getting involved with Alzheimer and Dementia causes.  Today, I pay tribute to my outlaws who were really wonderful in-laws. They both had the most generous hearts (that their son inherited) and I am so grateful for their kindness towards me over the many years that we shared together.


Submitted: October 02, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Denise Svajlenko. All rights reserved.

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