How to be a great mother-in-law

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by

The funeral service for my mother-in-law, Peggy Sanford Peyton, was held last week.

I’m certain there are a lot of guys who in their private-most thoughts have been good with seeing their mothers-in-law put 6-feet under, especially in those cases where in her later years the mother-in-law had moved in.

I’m not one of them.

In the course of the recent services and receptions and other gatherings since Peg’s (we called her “Peg”) passing, I’ve been asked about how it was to live with her.

Here’s the secret to her success. 

Peg spent a couple of years as a single woman in New York at the Juilliard School during World War II, and four years as a single American woman completing her schooling in Paris in the years immediately after World War II. She didn’t speak much about those years, but I suspect she saw a lot of life at a crucial time in her life then. Being a sophisticated person means a lot more than knowing which dress or necktie to wear, when to pick up which fork, the difference between prosecco and rococo and Chopin and Cezanne. It also means having seen situations that look good go bad, and finding to your surprise things that start badly that end up well.

That was Peg. A sophisticated woman, she had seen too much to be caught off-base. She was devotedly non-judgmental.

What she wanted from life was just, well … life. Peg loved parties because she loved action. That’s what brought the glint to the eye. 

There’s more.

As a grandmother, she understood that her children and their spouses were already fully-baked. So she concentrated on her grandchildren, of which as her years increased she had many. In this pursuit Peg had one speed only: full blast positive. In her eyes her grandchildren could do no wrong. One sobbing in wet pants and diapers, the other caked in mud and spitting mad, these were the very best children in the firmament.

There’s more.

Peg pitched in. Even when you knew she hurt (and she would never say she did) she would clear tables, fold laundry, put things right. It was easy to say to her with utter sincerity that she’d put in her time raising four children, that now it was time for her to rest and for the children and the grandchildren to pick up the slack. It didn’t matter. If there was something to be done, Peg was on it. But she never kept score the way some people — especially children — do. It was never “Well I just emptied the dishwasher, so how about you feed the dogs.”

Not once.

Then there was the piano. When it comes to live-in grandparents, war heroes should occasionally tell war stories, ballplayers should when the time’s right play ball with the kids, great cooks should from time to time show the uninitiated around the kitchen, and musicians should in moderation play their favorite music. A concert pianist, Peg could knock out Chopin, Bach, Mozart and Rachmaninoff tunes right up to the end. If her memory sometimes let her down, her piano never did.

We’re the worse for your leaving us, Peg. But there’s a coming home party and a bunch of your long-lost pals awaiting you where you’re going. 

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.