My husband’s family has given different names to various female relatives – there was no “Mama”, but there was a “Mutti”, a “Grossmutti”, an “Omi”, an “Uromi” etc. . . . It was Omili who would become my mother-in-law – or at least that is what I have been calling her for the past 30 years. Today at her 80th birthday party, I found out that it is actually spelled “Omeli”. I guess it is never too late to learn something new – even if I won’t go so far as to change what is now my own personal name for her.
In honor of her birthday, I am going to write a few select thoughts and memories – two of which, oddly enough, have to do with laundry.
My very first impression was made before we had even met and it turned out to be totally wrong. I was at my (later-to-be-) husband’s apartment as he was packing up things to take home to his parents for the weekend. I watched him throw dirty laundry into a bag.
“Oh, do you do your laundry at your parents’ house?” I asked him.
“No, my mom does it,” he answered, which made me laugh out loud. He stopped what he was doing and looked at me with a confused expression on his face.
“What is so funny about that?” he asked. It was my turn to stare.
“Well . . . you are kidding, right?” It dawned on me that he wasn’t. So I added “I mean, you are 26 years old. Your mom still does your laundry?”
“She . . . she likes to do it!” he said. In all seriousness.
Oh boy. What was this woman going to make of me?
The thing is, in all the years since this day, she never once gave me the feeling that she disapproved of me or the way I live my life (married or otherwise). I felt at times that there were some raised eyebrows and judgments coming from other corners, but never from her. Not when my husband and I moved into together before we were even engaged (- in fact, I think she was the first person to suggest the idea!) Not when my husband basically took over the job of cooking in our household. Not when she had to take on the entire planning and execution of my wedding because I was in over my head (and useless to boot). Not during the eleven years of childlessness my husband and I went though. Not when, 7 years into our marriage, I took off for the States for a year to finish my Master’s Degree. Not when my husband and I brought two Ethiopian children into the clan. In fact, she even seemed to get a kick out of our unconventional arrangements. My husband used to joke that if we ever got into an argument, she would probably take my side. It wasn’t inconceivable.
“C. I have to tell you something,” Omili said to me one day, shortly after my return from my year in the States. “While you were away, (my husband) brought dirty laundry here once on the weekend. I told him to just throw it on the bathroom floor and I would do it later. He said ‘I can do it myself!’ and he did!” The smile on her face made it clear how much she liked that.
I have been known to say that my husband inherited the best qualities from each of his parents. From his father, he got his sentimentality and strong sense of family; he gets his seemingly endless reserves of energy and athleticism from his mom. At 80, her greatest passion is a nice 18-hole round of golf. Probably followed by a quick swim, some gardening and housework and then cooking a meal . . . I’m in awe. I’d love to say that I hope I will still be so energetic and active when I am her age, but, let’s face it – that’s not very realistic. Just thinking about that amount of activity already makes me feel tired. On the other hand – if Omili has taught me anything, it is that it is never too late to learn something new . . . except, maybe, spelling.