Saturday, September 11, 2010

a stranger in a strange place

This time of year when the air is hinting at autumn I begin to be a bit nostalgic and start to think back to when I arrived in the south, almost 40 years ago.  I came on October 15, 1970.  Alone.  Almost 9 months pregnant and about a month from my due date (the doctor thought).

We were living in California, where I grew up mostly (I was born in Texas and lived in Kansas briefly....yes, I was an Air Force brat).  Steve was due to finish his service in the Air Force, but it was about the time the baby was supposed to be born, so he talked to me, and to my mom, and we decided the best thing to do would be to ship me back before he got out so that we wouldn't be trying to move all our household plus a new baby. I had to get an affidavit from my doctor at the base hospital saying I wouldn't deliver on the plane (like that was a guarantee of anything) and before I knew it I was packed and off on my own.  I can remember saying goodbye to Mom and Steve but at that point I was numb with fear so I don't remember much of what was said. 

What had me so scared wasn't the flying.  I'd been flying since I was two weeks old.  It was the idea that I was leaving everything I had ever known and coming to a place completely alien to me and to meet my in-laws, whom I had never met.  We'd spoken briefly on the phone, but this was a first for me.  I had turned 18 years old about 2 months before.  Mom and Steve had no idea how terrified I was.

My memory being what it is, I have no memory of which airports I went through or the stops I made.  The next thing I remember is getting to Birmingham after dark, and as the plane was circling to land I was trying to get a look at the city, and wringing my hands.  I remember that about the landing....me wringing my hands and squirming in my seat so much that the gentleman next to me patted my hands and said "it's going to be ok, I fly all the time and nothing ever happens".  He had no idea, and I didn't open my mouth to tell him it wasn't the flying scaring the shit out of me, it was the in-laws on the ground!

We landed, I walked off the plane and of course the in-laws knew who I was immediately because I was the only woman on board with a big belly...then something happened.

They hugged me.  Real hugs, not fake ones.  You can always tell the difference you know.  These were real because the icy fear inside me started to melt.  And suddenly I knew it would be ok.  These people weren't monsters (they'd raised the man I loved after all) and they treated me from the very first moment like I was one of their children.

I quickly grew close to my mother-in-law.  And loved her.  Still do even though she is gone.  She was always there for me.  She held my hand when I went into labor two weeks early, a week after I got there and before Steve could get home.  And never left my side for the almost 12 hours I cried and begged for my Mom and Steve, until the baby was born.  She taught me how to cook like a Southerner.  How to garden, can, and freeze.  She taught me how to take care of the baby.  She fussed at Steve to send me home for visits when I got so homesick I thought I would die.  And she left an indelible stamp on my heart forever. 

Because of her, I learned how to be a mother-in-law...and I hope I treat my daughter-in-law at least half as well as she treated me.

Yes, fall in the south is my favorite time of year.     
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